“Well, this makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Janet, the supervisor. “We’re supposed to ditch our drug-testing requirements because our state recently legalized recreational marijuana? You can’t be serious.”
“I’m as frustrated as you are,” replied Ralph, the plant manager. “But we just got slapped with a lawsuit from Mark, a job candidate we extended a conditional offer of employment to contingent on a successful drug screen. As you know, his test came back positive for marijuana.”
“Yes,” said Janet, “and we immediately withdrew our offer of employment. Done deal. Case closed.”
“I wish it were as simple as that,” said Ralph. “However, the marijuana legalization law in our state includes a provision that forbids employers from denying positions to people who fail drug tests, unless it can be shown that the job could be hazardous.”
“We were planning to hire Mark to handle a variety of duties,” said Janet. “Most significant, he would’ve been manually moving materials onto and off of conveyors.”
“Would you consider that an especially dangerous job?” asked Ralph.
“Absolutely,” said Janet. “I mean, the conveyor is in motion all the time. It’s not hard to get a piece of clothing stuck in a moving part, which could lead to a severe injury.”
“That makes sense,” said Ralph. “Can you think of any other hazards that Mark might have encountered on the job?”
“Dangers posed by a moving conveyor belt?” asked Janet. “Are you kidding me? There are a bunch of in-running nip points that a hand or arm could get entangled in. Plus, Mark would’ve been expected to drive a forklift truck from time to time. There’s a whole slew of hazards involved in the operation of forklifts.”
“So it sounds like there are several risks involved in the work,” said Ralph. “Does our job description detail those hazards?”
“Yes,” said Janet. “All the dangers posed by the position are included in the job description.”
“Good,” said Ralph. “That should help prove we were allowed to require the drug test. We’ll fight this lawsuit.”
Result: The company won. The court dismissed the case. The judge said the employer was in compliance with the state’s marijuana law when it refused to hire the man based on a failed drug test.
The court determined that the work the man would’ve been doing qualified for the drug-testing exclusion because it involved a considerable number of potentially hazardous activities.
The judge noted that loose-fitting clothing could get snagged in moving machine parts, especially if a worker is impaired due to the use of marijuana. And the conveyor had in-running nip points that could’ve caused an injury to a disoriented staffer.
The court pointed to the employer’s job description – which spelled out the dangers of the work – as proof of the hazards of the position, and why the employer was justified in pulling the job offer based on the failed drug test.
Based on Thomas v. Amazon.com, Inc.
(From the June 6, 2022, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)