Court of Appeals Rules on Medical Marijuana

June, 2008


On June 11, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that in some situations an employer must make reasonable accommodation for employee's lawful use of medical marijuana under Oregon's Medical Marijuana Act.  In Emerald Steel Fabricators, Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries the critical issue was whether an employer is required to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana outside of the workplace.  The Court upheld a decision by the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) ruling that the complainant in this case met the definition of an individual with a disability under Oregon state law, therefore was entitled to a reasonable accommodation by his employer.

Previously, in Washburn v. Columbia Forest Products the Oregon Supreme Court held that if an employee’s symptoms are mitigated by the use of medical marijuana, they do not meet the state's definition of an individual with a disability, therefore an employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation.  In this case, BOLI found that "complainant, like the plaintiff in Washburn, tried to obtain relief from his medical conditions through prescription medications and medical marijuana, but did not achieve the same result."  Thus, BOLI found that the complainant in this case remained substantially limited in a major life activity, even with mitigating measures, therefore met the definition of an individual with a disability under Oregon state law.  Accordingly, the complainant was entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

This decision is important because the specific issue discussed above was not resolved in the Washburn case.  However, this case did not address other critical issues such as the impact of such use on safety sensitive positions, or the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law.  Those issues remain unresolved.

What does this mean to employers?  Before refusing to hire an applicant, or disciplining an employee with a valid medical marijuana card, seek guidance.  Cascade will continue to keep you updated as this issue continues to unfold.

 

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