February 22, 2010
Should job candidates be disqualified for medical marijuana use?
Last week, KUOW's Heidi Lang did a fascinating piece on how a woman who uses medical marijuana to alleviate migraines lost her job. A quick recap of the details:
"Jane Roe" -- an alias for the employee in question -- was a long-suffering migraine patient who hadn't had any luck with the variety of prescription medications she'd tried. Roe did, however, find relief in medical marijuana, which she began to use in the privacy of her own home upon her doctor's authorization.
Medical marijuana is legal in Washington State. But as KUOW reported, "Federal law still makes marijuana possession, distribution, or manufacture illegal for any purpose." As you can imagine, this gray area leaves much room for interpretation.
You can probably see where this is going: Roe started a new job as a customer service phone agent in Bremerton. As KUOW reported, Roe came clean about her medical marijuana use from day one, providing her employer's HR department with a copy of her doctor's note authorizing her use of the drug. According to Roe, the HR department waved away the note and told her "to still go take the drug test."
Roe complied and then began her new job's training program. On her tenth day of training, she was told she'd flunked the drug test and dismissed from her job, effectively immediately.
On KUOW, Roe had this to say about the experience:
"The whole thing went down in a way that was embarrassing and the fact that I'd worked there so many days and been so up front with them and tried to do the right thing. It was very discouraging."
Roe is now suing the employer. She and her lawyer are hoping to have their day in our state's supreme court. As KUOW's Lang reported, "A victory at that level could set a legal precedent for medical marijuana patients -- and companies -- across the country." (To hear the legal spin from attorneys on both sides of the issue, see Lang's excellent story.)
This obviously is a loaded issue. I can see why -- right or wrong -- employers hiring workers to operate heavy machinery or monitor a nuclear power plant might worry about candidates who use medical marijuana in the privacy of their own home after hours.
But many employers hiring workers for jobs that do not involve making split-second life-or-death decisions require drug tests too. I often hear desk job candidates grumble about the drug tests they've been asked to take during the interview process. They feel their privacy has been violated, regardless of their stance on (or experience with) medical marijuana, prescription drug, or recreational drug use.
I don't blame them. I'm about as substance-free as they come (one cup of coffee and I feel like I'm overdosing). But I'd been miffed too if asked to "go" in a cup before being hired to crank out a bunch of copy.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter, whether you're looking for work or looking to fill a job opening at your company. Are employers justified in just saying no to medical marijuana users? If so, when?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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