Employee Protections Under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act

Marijuana, while illegal under federal law, has been legalized for medical use in many states, including in Pennsylvania.

Employees may wonder how Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (“MMA”) affects their work. As background information, Pennsylvania is an “at-will employment” state, meaning that employers may generally change the conditions of employment or end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason, provided the employer’s reason is not unlawful. In many cases, an unlawful employer action will be one that is motivated by discrimination based on the age, race, sex, or disability status of an employee.

The MMA Protects Employees from Employer Discrimination

Employees and job applicants should be aware that under the MMA, they have similar protections from employer discrimination based on their medical marijuana use, as long as they are properly certified. This means that employers cannot refuse to hire someone, terminate employment, issue discipline, or take other “adverse employment action” solely because an employee or job applicant is a certified medical marijuana patient.

However, employee rights under the MMA are distinct from and do not always follow the framework of other anti-discrimination laws. Notably, the MMA does not require employers to break federal law, or make any accommodation of the use of medical marijuana on employer premises. Furthermore, the MMA does not stop employers from disciplining employees for being under the influence or for performing substandard work while under the influence.

How Employees Can Protect Their MMA Rights

Until recently, it was unclear how workers might actually protect and enforce their rights to be free of workplace discrimination based upon their medical marijuana use.

In Palmiter v. Commonwealth Health Sys., Inc., Palmiter was prescribed medical marijuana to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, fatigue and other medical conditions, and she brought suit after Commonwealth Health Systems fired her for failing a drug test. Palmiter alleged that her employer wrongfully discharged her on the basis of her legal marijuana use, in violation of the MMA.

The employer tried to get the case dismissed, arguing that the MMA established no clear public policy or private right to bring suit, and as a result, Palmiter could not bring her claims. The Superior Court disagreed, finding that the MMA’s enactment reflected a clear public policy prohibiting discrimination and termination based solely upon medical marijuana use. In doing so, the Superior Court opened the door to employee suits against employers who discriminate against or wrongfully terminate workers solely based upon an employee’s legal marijuana use.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Employment Law Attorney

If you were subjected to an adverse employment action or discharged from your position based on your legal marijuana use, you may have legal claims. In such cases, it’s essential to have an employment attorney on your side to ensure your rights are protected – and that you obtain the compensation you deserve. Located in Pittsburgh, Stember Cohn & Davidson-Welling LLC is dedicated to providing high-quality counsel to employees throughout Western Pennsylvania. Call (412) 338-1445 or contact us to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Blogs, Employment Laws