x

Webinar: Keeping Up with Compliance on July 25 Register Now

Connecticut Court Supports Medical Marijuana User’s Employment Termination

Back to Blog
Employers in Connecticut worried about medical marijuana users and wrongful termination lawsuits should take note of a recent decision from the Connecticut Court of Appeals. The court ruled an employer may terminate a medical marijuana user who is impaired while on the job. 

Case Background

The employer is a non-profit that provides educational services to qualified children. The plaintiff was hired as a teaching assistant working in classrooms with preschool aged children. 

The Employee Handbook provided to, and signed by, the employee specifically called out that working under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs was prohibited. Further, the plaintiff signed the employer’s drug free workplace policy and testified she was aware her employment could be terminated if she was impaired while working.

Suffering from epilepsy, the plaintiff experienced a seizure at work and received a number of accommodations, including the possession of valium. Later on, she told another staff member that “she uses medical marijuana and that her 'head is just not right from it yet'”. Following the employer’s investigation, the plaintiff admitted to being impaired in the workplace after taking too much medical marijuana. At no point prior did the plaintiff disclose to the employer her medical marijuana card or use. The plaintiff was drug tested six days after the incident which returned as negative for marijuana but positive for valium. Following this incident and an investigation, the plaintiff was terminated. 

The plaintiff filed suit alleging disability discrimination, a failure to accommodate, violation of Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA) and violation of the state’s urinalysis drug testing law.   

PUMA Analysis

The court determined the employer did not improperly terminate her employment due to her status as a qualified medical marijuana user. In this case, the investigation was initiated prior to the employer’s awareness she was a qualified patient. Further evidence demonstrated the employer told her she could not come to work impairednot that she couldn’t use medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy. The court also reaffirmed an employer’s right under PUMA to prohibit the use of substances, such as medical marijuana, during work hours, and the right to take disciplinary action if an employee is impaired while working.

Drug Testing Law Analysis

Turning to the plaintiff’s claim that the employer lacked a reasonable suspicion to drug test her, the court analyzed what constitutes reasonable suspicion as it is not specifically defined under Connecticut’s urinalysis drug testing law. The court looked to the criminal context of “reasonable suspicion” for guidance finding there should be specific and articulable facts that reasonably warrant such an intrusion. In the case at hand, the employer had a myriad of such facts including observations from other employees, the plaintiff’s disclosure during the investigation interview that she used medial marijuana and her admission she reported to work impaired. Taking into account these factors, the court determined that a reasonable person armed with this information would suspect that the individual was under the influence while working and thus there was sufficient reasonable suspicion to order the drug test.

The court also found her disability discrimination and accommodation claims to be without merit. 

The employer in this case certainly did itself a favor by conducting what appears to be a comprehensive investigation with thorough and detailed notes. Effective documentation helped tell the employer’s story, supporting its claims that the termination was due solely to the employee showing up to work impairedand not due to her disability or status as a qualified patient.

Takeaways

Employers are encouraged to review this case with their legal counsel to evaluate their investigation procedures, workplace policies, and reasonable suspicion drug testing protocols. 

Keep Up with Compliance: Webinar Resource

Join Asurint's General Counsel Kelly Uebel for a look at the latest industry and legislation trends, litigation activity, and marijuana updates on our webinar "Keeping Up with Compliance: Q2 Updates."

The live event takes place April 25 and will be available for on-demand viewing.

Sign up here to get access.
 

Share Post