When Might It Be Discriminatory to Fire a Medical Marijuana User?

By Eric B. Meyer

OK, let’s assume that I’m looking to fill another Blogprentice position.

All hires must then pass a background check and drug screen.

She’s killing it in the interview! She’s hired.

Then comes the drug test, which she fails due to the medicinal marijuana she tells me she’s taking because of her epilepsy. So, I rescind the offer.

A violation of the ADA?

But, let’s say that, before I rescind the offer, my conditional hire and I have a little chat about her epilepsy, from which I form an opinion about the impact it could have on her ability to perform the essential functions of the job. That is to say, I’m concerned.

So, between the drug test and the epilepsy, I rescind the offer.

Is that OK? Or might I have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act? Well, according to this recent federal court opinion (EEOC v. The Pines of Clarkson) , it’s a close enough call that a jury would have to decide:

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While defendant is no doubt correct that discharge for illegal drug use is a permissible non-discriminatory reason, plaintiffs have introduced evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the reason articulated in defendant’s motion for summary judgment is pretext. Holden testified at her deposition that during her employment interview with Legault and Gepfrey, Gepfrey grilled her about her epilepsy and told her that she thought the position would be too stressful for her based on her medical condition. Notes from the EEOC’s investigation and interview of Gepfrey state that she questioned Holden about her epilepsy, including the nature and frequency of her seizures and how she controlled them. Those same interview notes state that Gepfrey’s recommendation after meeting with Holden was “[n]ot to hire her for medical issues said (seizures) and didn’t feel she could handle the stress.”

Zero tolerance vs reasonable accommodation

The federal court later implied that, if the employer had a zero-tolerance drug policy and simply rescinded the offer based on the failed drug test (without discussing the employee’s disability), the employer would have prevailed under the ADA. (Note: Some states with medical marijuana laws may have added protections for employees).

So, you can go the zero tolerance route under the ADA. Or, maybe consider a slightly more flexible drug policy with a carve-out for medicinal marijuana, provided that its use does not pose a safety threat in the workplace. (Or have no drug testing policy at all, unless your business is in a regulated industry).

Presumably, the marijuana would serve as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA for the employee who needs medicinal marijuana to treat a disability.

By the way, I was just kidding (not kidding) about the Blogprentice position.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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