Could Your Drug Policies Go Up In Smoke?

On November 3rd, Ohioans will vote on the legalization of medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. However, this proposed amendment is leaving many questions unanswered for Ohio’s employers. One of the biggest questions is whether or not employers can terminate current employees or deny employment to new hires based on a  failed drug test. This question was answered by the Colorado Supreme Court on June 15th, 2015.

EmployeeHandbookBrandon Coats, a quadriplegic and former employee of Dish Network, was granted a medical marijuana license by the state of Colorado in 2009 to control violent spasms and seizures caused by a paralyzing car accident when he was a teenager. In 2010, he was terminated for failing a random drug test after using medical marijuana while off-duty. Coats claimed to have been wrongfully terminated based on the Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute which state employees cannot be discharged based on “lawful” activities performed while off-duty. Coats battled this for five years through trial court, Court of Appeals, and State Supreme Court. However, all three came to the exact same ruling. The statute only applied to activities deemed lawful under both state and federal law. Because the use of marijuana, both recreational and medicinal, is illegal according to federal law, Dish Network had the right to stand by their drug-free workplace policies and terminate Brandon Coats under valid circumstances.

We know going forward this will be an ongoing issue for both employers and employees if this amendment passes. We encourage all employers to review their workplace policies pertaining to both on-duty and off-duty drug use and clarify any language that could present itself as a gray area, should any incidents occur in the future.

By: Halie Baker, Staff Accountant

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