Home > Employee Benefits, Property & Casualty > Employer marijuana policies go to court over conflicting federal and state laws

Employer marijuana policies go to court over conflicting federal and state laws

gavel_potPress reports highlight new conflicts over the inconsistencies between federal and state laws over marijuana usage by employees. Federal law requires government contractors to have drug-free policies that apply to federally controlled substances. In Colorado, the application of that policy via Dish Network’s employment practice led to the firing of Brandon Coats, after a drug test showed him to be a medical marijuana user. Coats, having lost his case at two levels is now arguing his case before the Colorado Supreme Court.

Coats maintains that his marijuana use is essential medical therapy. He also says that his usage is during off-work hours, so any impairment caused by marijuana is not evident in his work. He compares marijuana usage to recreational liquor usage.

In addition to federal mandates, employers argue that a marijuana-free workforce will create a safer workplace for fellow employees, lower their insurance costs and keep drugs out of the workplace.

While the outcome of the case may be uncertain and likely to be fought in many other venues, one thing is very certain: there will many legal costs while the country is divided by conflicting laws and jurisdictions over medical and recreational marijuana use. Even if marijuana advocates are correct when they say that a “tipping point” has been reached on deregulating marijuana, it will still be many years before there is a cogent set of legal precedents to guide employers.

Employers look to their Employment Practice Liability (EPLI) insurers for reimbursement of those legal costs, above sometimes large retentions/deductibles. Right now, most EPLI insurers are not excluding these suits. But as litigation increases, look for insurers to focus on certain states or industries that employ drug-testing for more onerous policy terms and conditions including higher premiums.

About the Author

Phil Edmundson is the Chairman and CEO of William Gallagher Associates, insurance brokers and consultants for businesses with over 30 years in the insurance industry. He manages strategy, talent acquisition and development, and management / acquisitions at WGA.

617.646.0229 | PEdmundson@wgains.com | Connect with Phil on LinkedIn |
Follow Phil @PhilEdmundson

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