Up in smoke: The ADA does not protect marijuana use

02/21/2024

Court pointed to the Controlled Substances Act

A federal court in Vermont ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not protect employees based on their use of marijuana, even if that use is legal under state law. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however, substance abuse can be a serious health condition that might mandate employee job protections.

Employers benefit from knowing how these laws affect employees and employers.

The ADA

In the case, Ivo, an employee, used his medical marijuana prescription to help manage his chronic pain and depression. When he failed a drug test because of the marijuana, the employer fired him, and he sued.

In court, the employer argued that Ivo’s marijuana use, even if under the supervision of a doctor, precluded his ADA claim, because the drug is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA indicates that, unlike some other illegal drugs (e.g., methadone) marijuana has no medical benefits or use.

The ADA does not protect employees who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs.

Therefore, because Ivo used an illegal drug, he was not considered a qualified individual under the ADA. Based on this, his ADA claim failed.

Vermont’s medical marijuana laws do not include job protections, although the state has other laws regarding drug testing and disability discrimination.

The FMLA

Under the FMLA, employees may take job-protected leave to obtaintreatment for substance abuse (e.g., receive inpatient care, attend meetings, etc.). Time off because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than for treatment, would not be protected by the FMLA.

In this case, Ivo did not ask for leave, as he was successfully performing his job. He failed a drug test, and the court sided with the employer in his ADA claim, and dismissed the case.

Skoric v. MVRTD, District Court of Vermont, No. 2:23-cv-00064, February 14, 2024.

Key to Remember: Employers benefit from remembering that the ADA does not protect employees who test positive for cannabis. Other laws, however, might have some protections.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.

The J. J. Keller FMLA Manager service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA requirements.