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A Healthcare Worker Is Suing a Hospital System for Not Hiring Him Because He Uses Medical Marijuana

The Arkansas lawsuit points to a larger national issue. What rights do medical marijuana users have?

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A healthcare worker in Arkansas is suing a hospital system, claiming it withdrew a job offer after learning he uses medical marijuana. The drug is legal in the state. 

The incident is the latest example of how employment and marijuana legalization continues to create conflict even in states with legal marijuana.

In this case, the suing employee claims he is not alone. As many 100 people may have been denied consideration for a job because of cannabis use and their status as medical marijuana patients, the worker, Balance “Lance” Reed of Washington County, claimed in a lawsuit.

He wants class-action status against Northwest Arkansas Hospitals LLC of Springdale, Arkansas. The company operates several hospitals, including the Willow Creek Women’s Hospital and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, where Reed tried to get a job.

Related: 5 Ways To Reverse The Toxic Workplace Culture Of Cannabis

Safety sensitive

The case also shows the need for workers to understand local cannabis laws, as they vary from state to state. 

For example, under Arkansas law, an employer must designate a position as safety-sensitive in order to use cannabis as a barrier for employment consideration. 

 

Reed’s attorney, Chris W. Burks, told the Arkansas Business Times this provision of the law means “the trucking industry could designate positions as safety-sensitive and then not be forced to hire someone on drugs. The problem is that a lot of employers in Arkansas don’t understand that they have to designate that position as safety-sensitive … on the front end.”

Burks said state law prohibits employers from not considering people for a job who have a medical marijuana card. He hopes the case will become a test case for the state, where about 77,000 people already have a card. The healthcare company could face a fine of up to $300,000 per person if the court rules against them.

Related: There Are Fewer Worker Compensation Claims in States Where Marijuana Is Legal

 

Lack of national legalization complicates matters

Not surprisingly, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) has followed evolving marijuana laws in different states. They said the situation remains complicated because of the patchwork nature of laws across the country.

The organization wrote: “Cannabis has long been heralded for its calming properties. But lately, it’s having quite the opposite effect on HR professionals, as they navigate the myriad state laws and court cases affecting the controversial substance to create drug-testing policies and procedures.”

These differing laws also impact marijuana use while off duty. The legal site Nolo.com writes that about 20 states prohibit employers from discriminating against medical marijuana cardholders or firing employees for testing positive for marijuana due to off-duty use. On the other hand, some states explicitly allow businesses to do just that, while others don’t address specific legal language issues.

The best advice for employees is to understand state laws around marijuana use where they live. They also should read any workplace policies that address cannabis use before deciding to tell potential employers about medical marijuana use or use cannabis while off-duty.

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