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Medical Marijuana and Wrongful Termination

Medical Marijuana and Wrongful Termination

Nevada law has allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes since 2001. Holders of valid, state-issued medical marijuana identification cards have certain rights beyond those of users under the state’s law decriminalizing recreational use. Among these are certain protections in the workplace, but these protections have important limits.

Nevada law requires employers to “attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the medical needs of an employee who engages in the medical use of marijuana.” NRS 453A.800. The statute provides that an accommodation needn’t be made if it poses a threat of harm to people or property, imposes an undue hardship upon the employer, or would prevent the employee from completing his or her job responsibilities.

Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws that require employers to make reasonable accommodations for protected traits, Nevada’s medical marijuana law requires only that employers “attempt” to make such accommodations. Between the “reasonable business purposes” exception and the “attempt” proviso, an employer has ample room to fire an employee after only a half-hearted effort to find a workable accommodation. This may mean that an unscrupulous employer might fire an employee after engaging in an empty, bad faith compliance exercise. Employees fired in this circumstance needn’t accept it.

There are other significant limits to an employer’s obligations to accommodate an employee’s medical marijuana use. Employers are not required to allow the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. And an employer is also not required to modify a job or an employee’s working conditions if they are based upon the employer’s reasonable business purposes. Though a “reasonable accommodation” might be to allow an employee to use marijuana in a designated spot, an employer might conclude that an employee’s job isn’t compatible with being under the influence. These are close questions. Some employers are likely to be more accommodating than others.

Bear in mind that federal law still outlaws the use of marijuana for any purpose. Even though state laws permit medical use, federal laws that address healthcare rights don’t extend to marijuana. Federal antidiscrimination laws like the ADA therefore do not protect workers from being fired solely because they use marijuana to treat a medical condition. On the other hand, an employer might still violate the ADA if it uses an employee’s medical marijuana use as a pretext to discriminate against a protected disability.

Given the conflict between federal and state law, marijuana has an awkward legal status that creates ambiguities for employers and their employees who use it to treat medical conditions. An employee who gets fired due to medical marijuana use should consult with an attorney to explore whether the termination was wrongful. The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez defends the legal rights of clients in the Las Vegas area. Call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or send us a request on our contact page.