Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Protects Employment Rights of Medical Marijuana Users


WHAT’S NEW: After a decision yesterday by the highest court in Massachusetts, an employer cannot enforce an absolute bar against employee medical marijuana use, in all situations, without risking a violation of the anti-discrimination laws. In its decision, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a discrimination claim brought by a worker who legally used marijuana as part of treatment for her medical condition. When she failed a new employee drug screening, the employer terminated her employment. The lower court’s response to her complaint suggested to employers that they were on the right side of the law when they declined to employ medical marijuana users purely because the drug is illegal under federal law. Yesterday, when the Supreme Judicial Court overturned that ruling, it announced with certainty that employers may no longer take that position. An employer who rejects a prospective employee on the basis of the individual’s legal use of medical marijuana, with no analysis of the particular business, job position and employee situation, violates the laws against handicap discrimination in employment.

WHAT AN EMPLOYER SHOULD DO: Consult with an employment attorney about your company’s approach to employee marijuana use. There will likely be instances where particular employees who use medical marijuana can be legally prevented from performing particular jobs, or tasks. But employers may violate Massachusetts law if employees are met with a uniform prohibition against all medical marijuana use.

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