Colorado Supreme Court: Employees Can Be Fired for “Legal” Off-Duty Marijuana Use

Even though marijuana is technically legal in Colorado, the Colorado Supreme Court just ruled that employees can still be fired for using it:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday affirmed lower courts’ rulings that businesses can fire employees for the use of medical marijuana — even if it’s off-duty.

The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state’s highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats’ case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 after failing a random drug test.

Coats challenged Dish’s zero-tolerance drug policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

This raises some interesting questions about employer freedoms and discrimination. If employers are allowed to discriminate against pot-using employees even when said use is not on the job and technically legal, are they allowed to discriminate on the basis of other “state-legal” off-duty behaviors?

From a purely libertarian perspective, employers should be allowed to put whatever stipulations they want into employment contracts. If they say they don’t want employees to have Facebook accounts, that could be legally protected provided the employees are aware of those stipulations and agree to them.

But we’re not even talking about a purely libertarian situation. Hiring policies and employment contracts are not completely free. There are numerous “anti-discrimination” laws constraining employment stipulations. But what about other off-duty behaviors? Surely the Colorado Supreme Court would be less likely to uphold a company’s “right” to fire someone for donating to a particular political action community. What about if the company has strict “no-homosexual” hiring policies?

This is not necessarily comparing apples and oranges. Homosexuality probably has as much as, if not more of, an impact on job performance than off-duty pot-smoking. What I mean is that Dish Network’s customers might have an averse reaction to an obviously homosexual technician or sales representative, thus affecting Dish’s business. I’m not at all discussing the rightness or wrongness of the behavior here. I’m merely talking about what Dish’s interest would be in the behavior from a business perspective.

I’m sure the Colorado Supreme Court would probably consider any employment stipulations related to sexual orientation to be “unlawful discrimination.” So where do you draw the line? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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