Mass. lawmaker: Losing jobs over cannabis is 'counter-productive'

Mass. lawmaker: Losing jobs over cannabis is 'counter-productive'

BOSTON — A woman who was fired from her job for using marijuana at home is firing back by lobbying state legislators to protect workers who engage in what is, in Massachusetts, legal behavior.

Bernadette Coughlin was a good employee who did not show up at work impaired, but was subject to disciplinary action simply on the basis of a drug test.

The test showed what is now a legal substance lingering in her body.

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“I don't want to see this happen to somebody else. I don't want people to be hurt at work,” Coughlin told Boston 25 news.

Two months ago, she was fired from her job at the Sodexo Company in Methuen after her drug test came back positive for tetrahydrocannabinol – also known as THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis.

“I miss my employees, I miss my job. I miss everybody I work with,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin's positive test was not a mistake, she admits to occasionally vaping cannabis oil before bed.

But she thinks firing employees over the use of cannabis at home is a mistake since recreational cannabis use is now legal in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, Coughlin took that case to Beacon Hill, telling her story to legislators.

“I think it's so important for her to tell her story,” Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) said.

Sen. Jehlen who says some state laws do differ from federal laws and companies have to adjust.

“It was just so counter-productive. And it was really devastating for her. She moved to Methuen to be near this job,” Jehlen said.

Jehlen says there probably will need to be some changes in state law to protect workers who use marijuana -- provided they are not showing up at work impaired.

“Everybody knows that every time you pass a law, you want to see how it works. And here we know,” Jehlen said.

Coughlin's attorney says what we know is that marijuana use is legal for adults in Massachusetts. But he says it's what his client didn't know that led her to this point.

“People in Massachusetts have been told that this is a legal substance adults are free to use it and it didn't occur to a lot of people, including Bernadette that you could face some severe repercussions,” attorney David Hadas said. “Someone should be able to go home, in the evening, and engage in that legal behavior without their employer essentially monitoring them.”

When Bernadette Coughlin signed on to work at Sodexo, she was required to accept an arbitration clause, which meant that if a dispute erupted between her and the employer, it would go not to a lawsuit, but to arbitration.

That is what is happening. At the moment, her attorney says they are in the process of selecting an arbitrator.