When prostate cancer survivor Michael Hirsch was prescribed medical cannabis by his doctor, he didn’t think twice about using it. But workplace medical cannabis attitudes weren’t quite what he was expecting. He only used his cannabis outside of the workplace after hours, but on two occasions, fellow-employees reported smelling marijuana on his clothing. After drug tests came back positive, Hirsch, 60 was dismissed from his job, but he fought back, and the Lane County court’s finding is encouraging.
Reinstated by arbitrator after workplace medical cannabis debacle
An arbitrator has ruled that Hirsch was unfairly dismissed on the following grounds:
- Cannabis use occurred outside of the workplace.
- His employer was unable to show any shortcomings in work performance as a result of Cannabis use.
- Hirsch’s employment contract stipulated that off-time activities were not subject to disciplinary action as long as work performance was not affected.
- The county’s policy allows for drug use under the supervision of a medical professional as long as such use doesn’t result in safety hazards.
- In previous, similar actions his employers had not dismissed employees, setting a precedent.
However, reporters say that this ruling is somewhat surprising since Oregon employers have the power to dismiss employees after drug testing should results be positive as they were in Hirsch’s case – even when cannabis use takes place on medical recommendations.
The arbitrator said that the wording of the employment contract and disciplinary action precedents were the primary factors behind his ruling.
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What are the implications?
Most employers want a drug-free workplace, and even using legal medical marijuana can be problematic to employees. Hirsch said that he “couldn’t believe” his employer’s reaction to his use of marijuana as a medicine for the lingering effects following his cancer treatment.
Now he’s looking for an alternative to marijuana as he wants to meet his employer halfway after reinstatement, but warns that if he can’t find an alternative, he will have to resort to marijuana again.
While the situation surrounding medical marijuana for workers remains unclear, medical marijuana users should be cautious, but there are alternatives: instead of smoking marijuana, patients can ask doctors if CBD oil can help them. CBD is a cannabinoid, but it has no psychoactive effects, won’t result in positive drug tests and doesn’t leave behind an odor that indicates marijuana smoking if used in oil or capsule form.
What should you do if you’re worried?
Not all employers will be sympathetic if their employees tell them they’re using medical marijuana. If you’re using medical cannabis and have concerns about your workplace status should this be noticed, check out the following:
- Examine options other than smoked marijuana.
- Ask about non-psychoactive cannabinoids for your condition.
- Read your employment contract carefully.
- Determine what employers have done about cannabis use in the past.
- Read through workplace drug use policies for your place of employment.
Knowing where you are likely to stand should your employer find out about marijuana use will help you to decide how much of a risk it is and make informed decisions. Although the recent ruling shows a softening in attitudes, there are currently no real guarantees.