Friday, September 29, 2023

Woman Fired For Consuming Cannabis After Work Is Not Going Down Without A Fight

Do you know how many people consume cannabis in the United States? Although the cannabis plant isn’t federally legal here, it’s medically and/or recreationally legal in select states. According to 2017 findings, there are close to 40 million cannabis consumers in North America, which equates to about 22 percent of all worldwide cannabis users. Out of the U.S. states that have recreationally legalized cannabis, Massachusetts is one of them. Although cannabis can be legally consumed for recreational purposes in Massachusetts, this is not to say that state employers won’t fire their employees for this personal choice. Bernadette Coughlin is one individual who lost her job because she tested positive for cannabis on a drug test after she had a work accident.

Background Of Bernadette Coughlin’s Work Accident And Lost Job

Bernadette Coughlin is a 55-year-old woman who occasionally consumes cannabis in her free time, which is perfectly legal in Massachusetts. One day at work, Coughlin experienced a fall in the hospital kitchen where she worked day in and day out. After her fall, Coughlin’s employer required her to take a drug test, which then led to Coughlin getting fired this past May. Since Coughlin’s drug test revealed that cannabis was in her system, her employer wasn’t willing to reason with her even though she consumed cannabis after her work shift ended.

On the other hand, if Coughlin decided to consume another drug like alcohol or tobacco, the story would end very differently. Unfortunately, as a result of the fall Coughlin experienced at work, she broke her arm, and she had to undergo physical therapy. The termination from her job was life-altering to say the least, especially because Coughlin lost both her benefits and her salary.

Initially, Coughlin thought she’d continue her job at Sodexo hospital until she retired. However, life had different plans for her. Now, Coughlin has embarked on the job hunt, and she’s a bi tuneasy and anxious about the employer who will hire her next, which is what most of us would probably feel like if we were in her position.

Coughlin’s Continuing Fight Against Her Employer—Sodexo

Moreover, after Coughlin was fired, she fought back by persistently pleading with Massachusetts lawmakers to fix the state’s issue with their cannabis laws. Even though cannabis usage is legal in Massachusetts, numerous employers in the state and other states have severe rules in place regarding cannabis consumption. Coughlin’s fight didn’t stop there though. For example, she and her husband spent time flooding state official’s offices with numerous emails and phone calls.

In addition, currently, Coughlin has a pending arbitration claim against Sodexo, which is the multinational corporation she worked for. According to Coughlin’s lawyer, her case is partially centered on whether Sodexo violated her privacy via drug-testing her an entire week after her fall. Also, there was no evidence that indicated Coughlin being impaired while on the job.

Then, on Tuesday, July 3, Coughlin and her husband met up with Steve Hoffman, chairman of Massachusetts’s Cannabis Control Commission. Hoffman expressed that he feels bad for the situation Coughlin is in. Unfortunately, though, under Massachusetts law, employers have the right to restrict recreational cannabis usage. Hoffman also went on to mention that protections for employees is a key aspect that Massachusetts legislature should consider moving forward.

Other Individuals Who Were Also Fired For Cannabis Consumption

Sadly, Coughlin isn’t the only person who was fired due to her personal choice of legally consuming cannabis. For example, in 2010, a Colorado customer service employee who worked for a satellite TV provider was fired from his job after testing positive for cannabis. However, he possessed a state registered medical cannabis card, and he was still fired. Then, in 2015, an Oregon television anchor was fired based on similar circumstances.

Although Massachusetts state laws provide some employee protections for individuals who are medical cannabis cardholders, this didn’t do any good for Bernadette Coughlin.

Attempted Bills To Fix This Issue

On another note, there are several people in office who are motivated to help people like Coughlin and others with similar situations. For example, state Senator, Barbara L’Italien mentioned that it’s essential for lawmakers to figure out a solution to this issue. She went even further by pushing for an amendment to be added onto an opioid bill. If it passed, it would’ve given legal protections to individuals like Coughlin and others who were in similar situations. Unfortunately, though, the amendment that L’Italien proposed didn’t pass through the stages it needed to.

However, a bipartisan bill is in the works, and specifically in the House of Representatives. The bill would forbid federal agencies from refuting or terminating civil servant employees in U.S. states where cannabis has been legalized. However, this bipartisan bill would only provide protections for federal employees. Not only is this ironic because cannabis is a federally illegal substance, but it’s also unfair and unequal.

Aside from this bill, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Corey Gardner worked together to introduce a bill that would force the U.S. federal government to respect and honor state cannabis laws. However, both the bipartisan and non-bipartisan bills wouldn’t completely protect individuals like Coughlin.

Coughlin’s Workers’ Compensation Claim

Originally, Coughlin thought Sodexo would challenge her workers’ compensation claim. However, after a Boston Globe story was released about this situation back in June, Coughlin received a check. This means that workers’ compensation will cover a portion of Coughlin’s lost wages and medical costs due to her fall. With time, Coughlin will most likely get a new job offer, especially due to the experience she has. But, it may be a while before she gets herself back to where she was before her fall.

What would you do if you were in Bernadette Coughlin’s situation? Would you fight back too and stand up for your rights? Let us know in the comments.


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