Employers in Florida who have zero-tolerance policies toward all drug use may need to recreate their policies if a Massachusetts court ruling makes its way into Florida employment suits. A recent decision regarding medical marijuana use off-hours could have major ramifications now that Florida allows medical marijuana use in general.
One State’s Ruling
The court ruling essentially stated that using medical marijuana outside of work could be seen as a reasonable medical accommodation for a worker who has a condition that is generally treated with this drug. That puts these medical users at odds with employers who, for one reason or another, want a totally drug-free workplace. It is entirely possible that a worker in Florida who was fired for testing positive after using medical marijuana could try to sue based on the Massachusetts ruling.
While the ruling was in Massachusetts, and there is no guarantee that a Florida court would reach the same decision, the ruling does set a non-binding precedent. Florida courts may find different reasons to keep medical marijuana use as a fireable offense. However, employers in the state need to get legal guidance on maneuvering between marijuana users and job requirements.
This is going to be especially sticky for employers who require a drug-free workplace because they receive federal money (these contracts usually require that workers refrain from all marijuana use, including medically based) or because the workers operate machinery that is dangerous or because of discounts from their Workers Compensation insurance carriers.
Not the Only Precedent
For those employers who want a drug-free workplace in general, all is not lost. In 2015, the Colorado state supreme court heard a similar case and ruled unanimously that employers could fire workers for using medical marijuana off-hours. That case could be used as a non-binding precedent as well to keep medical marijuana use as an unprotected activity.
The upshot is that employers, whether they accept federal money, use dangerous equipment, have full-time workers or contractors, or want a drug-free workplace because that’s just what they want, all need to speak with their legal teams to determine what challenges might appear in the next few years. Each company needs to have a plan in place and, if the company still wants a zero-tolerance policy to be in effect, it needs to be very clear on why.
For some employers, a compromise may be the best way to go. But because it is so difficult to tell if someone who tests positive for pot use is actually impaired, even reaching a compromise may be complicated. It is best if companies start contacting lawyers now instead of waiting for a potential lawsuit.