It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke: on April 2nd the government said you can’t get fired for being high. Well, maybe not that exactly, but a new law went into effect in Nevada requiring businesses to make reasonable concessions for employees with medical marijuana cards, a local Las Vegas news outlet reported online. Las Vegas lawyers point out the vagueness of the terminology “reasonable concessions,” and given the lack of standardization of marijuana, anticipate that interpretation of the law will vary widely.
But weed in the workplace? Employers are having a hard time getting on board with this idea, and not least because most associations of marijuana users contain imagery of knit hats, dreadlocks and doobies (cf the video short in the linked article above). Contradicting the stereotype can be difficult for medical marijuana patients, many of whom contend that their “prescriptions” make them more, not less, productive on the job. One patient takes pills and uses ointment on her skin for chronic pain and reports being grateful that she can no longer be chucked out of her job for testing positive for THC.
But Las Vegas lawyers like Ian McMenemy who practices business litigation, have identified more than one issue with the state of affairs in Nevada concerning the new law. The vagueness of “reasonable concession” is only the start. As another attorney questioned, “Do [employers] have to allow [employees] to fail a drug test? Do they have to allow them to use while they’re on their lunch break?”
As a state that recognizes all three exemptions that place limitations on the at-will employment status—including the public policy exemption—Nevada just became a state in which individuals in possession of a valid medical marijuana card who were terminated from employment could have their pick of Las Vegas lawyers under the public-policy exception to at-will employment. The exception states that an employee is wrongfully discharged when the termination is against an explicit public policy in the state. Like making reasonable accommodations for medical marijuana users.
People like Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who was fired for testing positive for THC, argue that the new law is finally providing patients like himself with much needed legal protections. Coats tries to distance himself from the “stoner stereotype” as well, emphasizing that his performance reviews were excellent. He contends “there are different methods of using cannabis and we’re not all just walking around a bunch of stoners.”
While the social stereotype may have no literal place in the new law, Las Vegas lawyers like McMenemy may soon be arguing in court that its impact is nonetheless insidious, resulting in wrongful termination suits across the state. Changing the laws to protect patients is one thing; rooting out that stereotype from the way employers treat their staff is another. Coats’s case went to court, and when rulings favored his employer, he appealed. Now under review by the Supreme Court, his case could have a major precedent setting impact for future medical marijuana patients in the work place in Nevada.