Colorado Supreme Court Clarifies Employee Termination for Marijuana Use

The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 6-0 decision, has held that an employer’s right to fire employees for failing drug tests trumps state laws permitting marijuana use. Under the Court’s ruling, even employees using prescribed medical marijuana off-duty can still be subject to termination.

The case arose from the firing of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for Dish Network. Colorado permits marijuana use for medical purposes, and Coats was prescribed it to treat muscle spasms. Coats used the drug off duty. He was fired in 2010 following a failed drug test and subsequently sued. Dish Network was initially successful at both the trial and appellate levels, and the case was heard by the Colorado Supreme Court in September.

At issue was whether the drug, which is illegal at the federal level, is nonetheless considered “lawful.” Under Colorado’s “Lawful Activities Statute,” it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on the employee’s lawful activities outside of work. Both the trial and appellate courts held Coats’ marijuana use was not a “lawful” activity, a decision echoed by the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that under Colorado’s “Lawful Activities Statute,” the term “lawful” only refers “to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, those employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”

The decision represents a setback for medical and recreational marijuana proponents and could serve as a guide for other states addressing the increasing legalization of the drug. 


Reminder: OSHA’s New Hazard Communication Standard Went Into Effect on June 1

The deadline for chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers to begin complying with OSHA’s new hazard communication standard was June 1, 2015.

In 2012, OSHA updated the old hazard communication standard to bring it into compliance with the global standard for chemical product labeling. The new standard still requires that chemical manufacturers and importers evaluate the chemicals they produce and provide hazard information in the form of container labels and safety data sheets. However, it also provides an updated set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health hazards. The new standard also requires that chemical manufacturers and importers use labels that include a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard category. In addition, safety data sheets must follow a new format with sixteen sections, ensuring certain information is conveyed to employees. Finally, the new standard required employees to be trained in the new label elements and safety data sheet formats by December 1, 2013.

Employers should ensure they have updated their existing hazard communication programs and provided employees with training on the new label elements and safety data sheets. Chemical manufacturers and importers should make sure they have reviewed the new standard carefully, classified their chemicals according to the new criteria, and updated their labels safety data sheets.