YORK – He totaled a company van and subsequently failed a drug test, but according to workers at the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL), he still deserves to receive employer-funded unemployment benefits.
“This is what we’re dealing with as employers in the state of Maine,” said Michael Estes, president of York-based Estes Oil Burner Service, Inc.
Estes said the former employee got into a car accident while driving a company van and was therefore drug tested as is company policy. “He failed the drug test, so we terminated him,” said Estes.
The worker then filed with MDOL for unemployment benefits. His claim was initially denied, but upon appeal an MDOL hearing officer decided to award the worker with unemployment benefits — benefits that Estes will be compelled to pay for.
“He totaled my van, failed a drug test and self-admitted to taking pot pills, so why should I have to pay?” said Estes. He said his former employee admitted to taking prescribed medical marijuana pills to manage pain following the accident.
Julie Rabinowitz, MDOL communications director, could not comment on specifics of the case due to state and federal privacy laws, but said the interaction of medical marijuana laws and unemployment insurance hearings was a “complicated and confusing issue.”
“There is no case law for employers to rely on,” said Rabinowitz. “There are five different jurisdictions, conflicts between state and federal rules — there’s a lot of vagueness in the law,” she said.
Estes said he will get one more chance to defend his decision to fire the individual at a third and final hearing. “Now I have to drive to Portland, take time away from my job in order to help the state do theirs.”