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Workplace Rules on Drug Use Yet to Catch Up with Other Laws

Written by Ankin Law Office

Drug laws regarding marijuana use have changed significantly in recent years. Just a few years ago, marijuana was banned by state and federal law, but as a Bloomberg article points out, medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and Colorado and Washington recently legalized recreational marijuana use, as well. Medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and workplace rules have yet to catch up with the rapidly changing laws and perceptions surrounding medical marijuana use.

For instance, Bloomberg reports on Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who smokes medical marijuana to calm muscle spasms that are associated with his paralysis. Despite the fact that Coats uses medical marijuana under a doctor’s supervision, he lost his job as customer service representative at satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. when he tested positive for marijuana use.

In April, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Coats’ termination ruling and Coats has appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not decided whether it will hear the case or not.

Courts in several of the states that allow medical marijuana – including Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California – have held that laws permitting the use of medical marijuana don’t prevent employers from enforcing drug-free workplace rules. As a result, employees who legally use medical marijuana for various medical conditions are being fired when they fail an employer-mandated drug test, which are often applied in a discriminatory and unfair manner.

As the National Workrights Institute points out, “Indiscriminate drug testing is both unfair and unnecessary. It is unfair to force workers who are not even suspected of using drugs, and whose job performance is satisfactory, to ‘prove’ their innocence through a degrading and uncertain procedure that violates personal privacy. Such tests are unnecessary because they cannot detect impairment and, thus, in no way enhance an employer’s ability to evaluate or predict job performance. In jobs where impairment of performance might directly affect safety and where employees work away from supervision, easy to use tests which actually measure impairment are available to employers.”

Some legislators have proposed a law that would give state marijuana laws – including laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana – priority over federal drug laws. The House bill proposed by California Republican Dana Rohrabacher has 20 co-sponsors, including Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, Michigan Republican Justin Abash, and Texas Republican Steve Stockman.

The Chicago workers’ rights lawyers at Ankin Law Office, LLC focus on protecting employees who have suffered an on-the-job injury or were the victim of workplace retaliation or discrimination. We are committed to helping injured workers obtain full and fair recovery for their injuries, including workers’ compensation benefits and any personal injury damages in a third party lawsuit, as well as ensuring that they are not the victim of workplace retaliation as a result of filing a workers’ compensation claim. Moreover, we are committed to ensuring that workers are not discriminated against because of an injury or medical condition.

Contact our office at (312) 600-0000 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Chicago workers’ rights lawyers.