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Unemployment Claims in an Era of Medical Marijuana

Unemployment Claims in an Era of Medical Marijuana

Brandon Grysko, Esq.

When handling claims for unemployment benefits, Michigan business owners, managers, and human resources professionals need to be aware how medical marijuana impacts the claims process. The Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) is the law responsible for unemployment benefits. Under Section 29 of MESA, a former employee (called the claimant) can be disqualified from unemployment benefits if he or she was fired for testing positive for controlled substances or for violating workplace drug policies.

However, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, grants patients immunity from "arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner" for the use of medical marijuana. In Braska v Challenge Mfg Co, 307 Mich App 340 (2014), the Michigan Court of Appeals found that unemployment is a state benefit, so denial of unemployment claims for legitimate medical marijuana users was an improper penalty. In fact, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency's website mirrors the court of appeals decision.

But employees still don't have free reign to use marijuana whenever and however they want. The agency may still deny unemployment benefits if a positive marijuana test resulted from the claimant's workplace drug use, or if the claimant was fired for working while under the influence of marijuana. An employer seeking to disqualify a claimant on those grounds should be ready to present proof of its position by thoroughly documenting the situation leading up to termination. A well-prepared employer will be ready with incident reports, affidavits, or other evidence that shows the claimant was either using marijuana at work or under the influence at work.

Employers should train their managers and supervisors to identify and document the signs of impairment that come along with being under the influence of marijuana. That training investment will give businesses the best chance of success down the road when it comes time to defend an improper claim for unemployment benefits.

If you have questions about Michigan's unemployment law or if your business needs representation or training in unemployment claims or appeals, contact an Brandon Grysko at Fausone Bohn to advise you how to protect your business from improper claims.

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