Colorado Bill Would Protect Employees from Termination due to Cannabis Use

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PHOTO: Impact Photography/ Shutterstock.com.

DENVER, Colo. – Representative Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) has introduced House Bill 20-1089 which, if approved by voters, would protect Colorado’s employees from termination due to cannabis use. The legislation will be considered during the 2020 regular session of Colorado’s House of Representatives.

Put more precisely, the introduction to an online draft of the proposed bill said, “Concerning clarification that the prohibition on an employer terminating an employee for the employee’s lawful off-duty activities extends to activities that are lawful under state law even if those activities are not lawful under federal law.”

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Though a 2014 state law already prevents employers from firing employees for off-duty activities, including alcohol use, it does not apply to cannabis, which was legalized for recreational use in Colorado in 2014. HB 1089 would specifically prevent employers from terminating an employee due to off-duty activities that are legal under state law, but illegal under federal law.

Melton said the proposed legislation does not apply to pre-employment drug screening tests. It also would not apply to federal employees or employees of companies that are subject to federal regulation.

“With alcohol, I don’t expect somebody to be able to come to work intoxicated. But at the same time, if you go home after your job and you had a drink—as long as you’re not coming back to work intoxicated, that’s your business,” Melton told local news site The Denver Channel.

“It’s discriminatory to say that you can drink alcohol during your free time but you can’t use marijuana when they are both legal here in the state of Colorado [and that companies operating in, but headquartered outside of Colorado] are still subject to our fines, our penalties, and our civil system,” Melton added.

States that already have employee protections legislation in place include Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Delaware. Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington have all seen court rulings that, despite adult-use legalization, have gone against employees.

Local Denver news publication Westword said the issue of company policy toward cannabis-using employees has been controversial in Colorado, and printed comments from several readers, which showed divergent opinions on the topic.

“The sad part is anyone in a safety-sensitive job can’t smoke weed to relax and get well-rested in off hours due to federal legalities, but you can get shit-faced drunk the night before and come in deathly hungover and drive commercial vehicles or operate heavy equipment as long as you can pass a breathalyzer or piss test,” said commenter Sean.

“Funny how every single pothead always tries to turn it around to alcohol. Hate to say it, we know, smell and can see when you are high at work as well,” said commenter Henry.

Finally, commenter Patrick said, “If they’re high, they should be fired. If they’re drunk, they should be fired. Just because they were high or drunk two nights ago does not mean they should be fired!”

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