A recent lawsuit settled by Chipotle Mexican Grill highlights the challenges employers face with medical marijuana in the workplace. Zachary T. Spada, a former employee at a Chipotle restaurant in Summit Township, Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit against the company claiming discrimination. Spada was fired for bringing medical marijuana to work, although he did not use it on company grounds. As medical marijuana continues to be a contentious issue across the U.S., employers must navigate complicated employment laws and adapt their company policies accordingly.
Details of Spada’s Case and Settlement
Spada began working at Chipotle in October and brought medical marijuana to work in his jacket three weeks after starting his job. He obtained a medical marijuana card due to his medical condition, which necessitates the use of marijuana for treatment. According to the lawsuit, when Spada arrived at work on October 3rd after purchasing marijuana from a nearby dispensary, a manager noticed a strong smell coming from the employees’ office where personal belongings were stored. This same manager later fired Spada on October 9th, citing a violation of the company’s drug-free workplace policy.
The settlement details between Spada and Chipotle remain confidential, but the case exemplifies the legal gray area created by Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 with Act 16. Legal experts like Erie lawyer Mark T. Wassell, who specializes in employment law, predict that companies will continue to face challenges relating to medical marijuana in the workplace until the drug is removed from Schedule I classification.
Pennsylvania’s Act 16 and Employer Rights
While Act 16 legalized medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, it did not grant employees the right to possess or use the drug at work. Employers can still prohibit workers from bringing marijuana into the workplace or using it during hours of employment. According to Wassell, “the law is universally interpreted to allow employers to prohibit possession of medical marijuana at work even if it is not being used there.” As a result, businesses like Chipotle face the challenge of balancing employee rights with company policies and federal laws regarding controlled substances.
Accommodations for Medical Marijuana Patients
Another issue raised by Spada’s lawsuit involves accommodations for workers who require medical marijuana to manage their conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Still, the ADA does not classify medical marijuana use as a qualifying reason for accommodation due to its status as a Schedule I substance. Therefore, employers are not required to make special arrangements for workers who rely on medical marijuana for treatment.
However, some states have implemented legislation to protect workers who require medical cannabis. For example, some state laws include provisions requiring employers to accommodate off-duty use or allowing workers with medical marijuana cards to request alternative positions within the company that do not involve safety-sensitive tasks. Nonetheless, these additional protections vary by state, adding another layer of complexity to the issue.
Preparing for the Future of Medical Marijuana in the Workplace
As the legal landscape surrounding medical marijuana evolves, employers must update their workplace policies accordingly. Companies should consult legal experts on discrimination claims, employment law, and accommodations for workers with medical marijuana cards.
The case of Zachary T. Spada serves as an important reminder of the complicated intersection between medical marijuana legalization, employment law, and company policies. While such cases are likely to continue popping up across the United States, employers must stay vigilant in navigating these complex legal waters and protecting their interests and those of their employees.