Connecticut Supreme Court Reinstates Employee Fired for Smoking Marijuana on the Job

In State of Connecticut v. Connecticut Employees Union Independent, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld an arbitrator’s determination that termination was too harsh a punishment and was not mandated by the employer’s drug-free workplace policy.

The case involved a UConn Health Center employee who was discovered by a Health Center police officer smoking marijuana in a state-owned van during his shift. The employee was in possession of two bags of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. The employee was arrested and the Health Center terminated his employment. The Health Center asserted that the employee had violated numerous workplace policies, including the Health Center’s drug-free workplace policy, and had demonstrated that he was untrustworthy to perform his duties.

The employee’s termination was arbitrated, and the arbitrator determined that that termination was too harsh a punishment and was not required by the Health Center’s drug-free workplace policy. The arbitrator also noted mitigating factors including the employee’s claim that he had been using marijuana to treat his anxiety and depression. The arbitrator determined that a six (6) month unpaid suspension and random drug testing upon his return to work was appropriate discipline. The Health Center sought to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, stating that it violated a defined public policy against drug use in the workplace. The trial court found for the Health Center.

The case eventually made it to the Connecticut Supreme Court, where it was reversed. Specifically, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that Connecticut has a strong public policy against recreational marijuana use in the workplace, but that the arbitrator’s decision did not violate the public policy.