Getting Fired For Smoking Weed After Work Hours

Matt Weeks August 15, 2018 0 comments

According to the termination practices of some corporations, you can be fired for smoking weed off-the-clock – in a legal state.

Workers don’t have the right to the medicine they need. That’s the message that some state laws are sending, as more and more workers are get fired for smoking legal weed after hours.

Take the experience of one Massachusetts woman, who legally used cannabis during her off hours, but was nonetheless fired from her job as a hospital kitchen worker after her office drug tested her following an injury sustained at work.

The woman is suing the corporation that operates the hospital, but the case doesn’t revolve around the legality of cannabis use off-the-clock. Instead, it centers on whether the hospital had the right to forcibly drug test her nearly one week after her incident when there were no indications that her injury was the result of an impairment.

This kind of treatment is unjust, but this woman is not the first and she won’t be the last. Many workers across the nation have faced hostile workplaces that have used drug tests to facilitate terminations, even when the usage didn’t happen during work hours. And, because most cannabis laws are very new and full of holes, there don’t seem to be many protections for recreational (and in some cases even medical) cannabis users who want to partake in a legal activity while also remaining employed.

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What Do the Courts Say About Being Fired for Weed?

For example, the California Supreme Court decided that even workers with physician-prescribed medical cannabis cards could still be fired for using it.

If you think that’s insane, you’re not alone. One justice, writing against the majority, opined that the ruling “gives employers permission to fire any employee who uses cannabis on a doctor’s recommendation, without requiring the employer to show that this medical use will in any way impair the employer’s business interests.”

Chefs Working in a kitchen on the line, who could get fired for smoking weed

In a different case, an Oregon television station fired a reporter after she tested positive for cannabis use (again, not on the job). Because cannabis is legal, the reporter couldn’t face criminal charges, but that didn’t stop the company from letting her go.

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This is a ridiculous standard. The idea of firing any worker who enjoys a happy hour drink on their way home from the office brings scorn and derision. People would laugh such a scenario out of a courtroom. Why does cannabis use not afford the same treatment?

How is Being Fired For Smoking Weed Different From Alcohol?

In part, the tests treat cannabis differently from alcohol because of its biochemical makeup. Put another way: Drug tests for cannabis do not operate the same way that drug tests for alcohol do. Alcohol tests can discover impairment at the time of the test. This allows employers to easily know whether or not a worker is using a mind-altering drug while on the job.

You can detect THC, one of the active ingredients in cannabis, in the system longer than alcohol. Today’s tests do not show whether someone is currently under the effects of cannabis. They only whether or not they’ve consumed cannabis at some point in the preceding days.

Clearly, this a problem. The issue forces society to balance the ability of someone to engage in a completely legal activity against the inability to test whether or not they’ve done so during work hours. Sounds logical, right?

a smiling african american police officer leaning on a cruiser. He could get fired for smoking weed.

What Can We Do Differently?

A fair-minded strategy might be to forget cannabis testing altogether. You could then limit firings to employees who cannot fulfill the functions of their jobs. That’s the track that some federal lawmakers are taking through a new proposal that would prevent the U.S. government from firing and not hiring workers who test positive for marijuana in states where it’s legal. The sponsors tout the bill as a way to protect American veterans. Vets make up a large portion of the federal government’s labor force. And, they are also more likely to consume cannabis for medical purposes.

The bill enjoys bipartisan support. One Democrat and one Republican co-sponsor it. Better, both from states with medical marijuana laws, but no recreational consumption. That’s a good step forward. But, it doesn’t solve the problem of cannabis’ semi-legality. It’s that which leaves employers and consumers alike in the dark about just what constitutes legal behavior. And, it puts the battle for rules in the hands of the courts.

As employment matters wind through the justice system, there have been disparate rulings. For example, Maine’s highest court had to make a cannabis ruling. They found that an employer did not have to subsidize the cost of an employee’s use of medical marijuana. The decision comes because under the federal Controlled Substances Act, the drug is still illegal. A New Jersey court, however, found the opposite. They ordered that a township had to reimburse an injured city employee for the cost of his medical cannabis.

Author avatar

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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