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A case pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals could have a big impact on whether employers will be able to fire workers who smoke marijuana off duty.

The case concerns a former Dish Network telephone operator and medical-marijuana patient who was fired after testing positive for pot, even though there was no evidence he was impaired on the job. The operator, Brandon Coats, says it is against state law to fire someone for doing something off duty that is legal.

While Coats’ case concerns medical-marijuana law, it is drawing extra attention after the passage of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana use for everyone age 21 and older in Colorado. Some employers said during Amendment 64’s campaign that they worried that the measure would prevent them from enforcing workplace drug policies that prohibit any marijuana use at all.

What Coats’ case may answer: Does it?

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Drug Testing Isn’t Always Legal at Work

 Pre-employment drug testing is a common condition for a job offer. But once an employee is hired, when is it legal to ask for a drug test at work?

State laws often limit the situations in which an employer can conduct drug testing of current employees. In general, they include situations in which safety is an issue, or when an employer suspects an employee of illegal drug use. In all cases, an employer should have a written drug-testing policy.

Here are three scenarios in which drug testing at work is generally legal:

1. The job requires it, or poses safety risks.

State and federal regulations require workers in certain professions, like airline pilots and commercial truck drivers, to submit to random drug testing during employment.

Jobs with inherent safety risks, like the operation of heavy machinery, may also call for random or periodic drug testing, as specified in a written policy. But some states like California prohibit most types of random drug testing. You may want to check with a local employment attorney to see what the laws are where you live.

2. An employer has “reasonable suspicion” that an employee is using illegal drugs.

“Reasonable suspicion” may include physical evidence, like drugs in an employee’s locker, or an employee’s behavior, such as slurred speech or lapses in work performance. Drug tests at work based on “reasonable suspicion” are generally upheld when an employer’s suspicion is legitimate, and the testing follows an employer’s established written policy.

3. After an employee accident, or an employee’s participation in a drug rehab program.

Post-accident drug testing may be allowed, if an employer had reason to suspect drug use led to the employee’s accident. Employees enrolled in, or who have completed, a drug rehab program may also be tested. However, these drug tests must fall in line with an employer’s written policy, and an employer must consistently follow the policy — or risk getting the drug test tossed out in court.

Employers who want to keep drug testing at work as an option may want to have employees sign-off on the policy to show they understand it. Consulting an employment lawyer will also help ensure your drug testing policy conforms to the law.

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Smokers in the medical field now have another reason to quit as a Pennsylvania hospital has said it will no longer hire smokers and is introducing nicotine tests in order to enforce the rule.

Geisinger Health System’s smoke-free health policy will go into effect on Feb. 1, according to

“Not only do we want to practice what we preach, but we also want our employees to feel healthy, we want our patients and visitors to feel that they are in a healthy environment. So it’s an overall commitment to the well-being of all those people,” Geisinger spokeswoman Marcy Marshall told the Vancouver Sun.

Those exposed to second hand smoke will be exempt from the test, which screens applicants for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and cigars.

For those who fail the test, the hospital says applicants can reapply after six months, reported.

According to CNN, Pennsylvania is among 19 states that allow employers to screen job applicants for signs of smoking.

While there’s certainly an incentive to keep employees healthy for work, the economic benefit of having non-smokers on the payroll is also notable. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts a $3,391 price tag on each employee who smokes: $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenditures.

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People will go to great lengths to pass a drug test, but the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office says there is a popular trend among young people who try to beat these tests and it could kill you. Some have been ingesting bleach.

With a quick search, your browser will be flooded with products claiming to wash away any drugs in your system. There are drinks, chewable tablets and a prosthetic called the Whizzinator.

Sergeant Joe Mahoney with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office said there is a reason this market exists.

“As far as kids go, if they fail a drug test, they get kicked off the team. A probationer – over at the probation office – they go back to jail. An employee, if they fail a drug test they may lose their job,” said Mahoney.

Not everyone scours the web for a drug test solution. Mahoney said some people look no further than under their kitchen sink.

“We have had cases where they have ingested straight bleach, and it caused significant damage to their body,” said Mahoney. 

Household bleach strips chemicals and odors from surfaces and fabrics, so you can only imagine what it does when consumed.

“It can eat away at your esophagus and enough of it can cause death,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said he sees this trend mostly with juveniles.

“There is more emphasis on drug testing in school, especially with sporting events and things like that, but there should be education to these Juveniles. You need to say ‘Yes, we are going to drug test and don’t try to mask it because if you do, you’re going to harm your body and this is what can happen,’” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said wreaking havoc on your insides is all bleach will do. Drug tests have gotten sophisticated and can determine the presence of foreign chemicals.

“Specific gravity tests will let us know the urine is not just pure urine coming from the body or if these other compounds are present or if there is a tremendous amount of water in the system where they’ve tried to flush the system,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said there is one way to pass a drug test: Steer clear of illegal substances.

Mahoney said if you see someone drinking bleach, call poison control immediately or take them to the hospital.

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Federal officials want to fine United Airlines $584,375, saying the company failed to perform required drug and alcohol testing on 13 employees who were transferred to safety-sensitive jobs.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that United also failed to use a proper method for random selection of flight-crew members for testing.

The FAA said it had already warned United twice that the airline’s random selection process wasn’t scientifically valid because all employees didn’t have the same chance of being picked.

The airline, owned by United Continental Holdings Inc., has 30 days to respond to the charges.

“Safety is United’s top priority,” said spokesman Mike Trevino. “We are reviewing the letter and will cooperate fully with the FAA to resolve their concerns.”

Federal rules require pre-employment drug and alcohol screening and random testing of current employees in safety-sensitive jobs in the transportation industry.

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