Hospital System Faces Lawsuit After Denying Job Candidate Because of Marijuana Use

The lack of federal legalization of marijuana leads to unequal—and unlawful—treatment of job candidates, even those who are using cannabis legally for medical purposes.

A healthcare worker in Arkansas is suing a hospital system there, claiming that his job offer was withdrawn after the employer learned he uses medical marijuana, which is legal in the state.

The case reflects broader national issues affecting job candidates who consume marijuana, including those seeking employment in states that have legalized the drug.

In his class-action lawsuit against Northwest Arkansas Hospitals LLC of Springdale, Arkansas, healthcare worker Balance “Lance” Reed claimed that he is one of as many 100 people who have faced employment-oriented challenges as a result of cannabis and medical marijuana use.

Chris W. Burks, Reed’s attorney, said that Arkansas state law prohibits employers from denying consideration to job candidates who possess a medical marijuana card. Burks hopes the case will create a precedent for the state, where Reed is among 77,000 people who possess a card.

If the court rules against the healthcare company, the system could face a fine of up to $300,000 per person with a similar claim.

The lack of federal legalization of marijuana complicates issues for a businesses that operate in states with variety of laws on marijuana use. Human resource professionals belonging to the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), for instance, must accommodate for the patchwork of marijuana laws and court cases in different states as they create drug-testing policies and procedures for their respective institutions.

The differing laws blur the lines about the legality of off-duty marijuana use, as well. About 20 states prohibit employers from denying candidates on behalf of their medical marijuana status or terminating employees for testing positive for off-duty marijuana use, while other states permit this behavior. Some states have no policies set in place regarding legal language issues.