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Employee granted unemployment after fired for medical marijuana use

Last March, a Coors employee in Colorado was fired after testing positive for marijuana. The man was denied unemployment benefits initially, but he recently won an appeal. The review board determined that the man was "not terminated through any fault of his own," and he is therefore entitled to unemployment benefits.

This case exemplifies how employment discrimination can have far-reaching effects. Coors' decision to fire the man based on his medical marijuana not only marred his employment record, but it also put him at risk of losing everything.

Last March, the employee was involved in a safety incident. He was supposed to be helping a crane operator life a motor onto a roof. The man's job was to guide the motor into its place. Unfortunately, the motor began to swing, and the employee was not able to get the crane operator's attention quickly enough. The motor ran into something instead of landing safely in its designated spot.

As is typical with this kind of incident, Coors conducted a mouth swab drug test of all employees involved. The man passed that test. Unfortunately, he also admitted to being a medical marijuana patient. That admission led him to be given the more invasive urine test, which did show traces of marijuana use.

Despite the fact that the man had not used medical marijuana in weeks, he was still fired from his job. He was legally using the drug to treat back pain, but Coors still chose to terminate his employment over the drug test.

This story brings to light an interesting question. Can Colorado employers fire their employees who use medical marijuana? State law allows people to use marijuana for medical purposes, but federal law still prohibits the use of the drug. So which laws are employers bound by? Regardless of the answer to that question, this case does prove that employees are not at fault if employers choose to terminate them because of medical marijuana use.

Source: The Colorado Independent, "Paul Curry wins unemployment case against Coors," Scot Kersgaard, 27 May, 2011

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