Court Ruling Limits Employer's Ability to Maintain a Drug-Free Workplace

October 27, 2014

The Michigan Court of Appeals, on Oct. 23rd, issued a key decision for employers maintaining drug-free workplace policies. The Court, in a 3-0 decision, held that, although claimants testing positive for marijuana would ordinarily be disqualified for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under the law, the same does not hold true for employees using marijuana under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).
 
The Court upheld three separate Circuit Court orders that granted unemployment benefits to employees who possessed medical marijuana cards but were discharged for failing a drug test in violation of their employers’ drug-free workplace policies. The Court of Appeals determined the MMMA preempts the Michigan UI law and disqualifying an eligible claimant for UI benefits due to a positive medical marijuana drug test represents a “penalty” under the MMMA. (The Court cited a clause in the MMMA providing:  “A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege…”.)
 
The Michigan Chamber Litigation Center filed an Amicus Brief challenging the lower courts’ decisions on this issue because it puts employers in a no-win situation: Either accommodate medical marijuana users and jeopardize workplace safety or discharge those employees and pay their UI benefits and, subsequently, higher UI taxes. No other state that has authorized the use of medical marijuana requires this type of accommodation by employers.
 
The State of Michigan is still determining whether to appeal this issue to the Michigan Supreme Court. Regardless of their decision, we will continue to advocate that employer and patient rights can be balanced under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and UI law, allowing employers to continue to enforce zero-tolerance drug policies without being penalized when a medical marijuana user violates that policy.
 
For more information, or if you have any questions, please contact Wendy Block, Director of Health Policy & Human Resources for the Michigan Chamber, at wblock@michamber.com.