Arbitration Panel Decides Alaska Airlines Must Reinstate Worker Fired for Marijuana

An arbitrational panel has ruled that Alaska Airlines erred in firing an employee because they tested positive for THC, and they must reinstate the individual.

In July, 2022 John Doe (their real name was redacted by the panel) was fired from Alaska Airlines after receiving and subsequently failing a drug test because they had THC in their system. The 46 year old lead aircraft maintenance technician, who had worked with the company for over two decades, tested above the minimum threshold for THC and was given no option to retain his position.

The individual denied using marijuana and “could not explain the positive drug result other than speculating he may have unwittingly ingested a marijuana edible at a block party/barbecue he had recently attended”.

John had received multiple drug tests since being named lead in 2017, and passed all of them.

Alaska Airlines argued that John’s statements about unknowingly consuming marijuana were “fantastical”, saying that the positive THC test was “conclusive proof that the employee ingested the substance at issue”.

Previously Alaska Airlines allowed an employer to retain his position after admitting to accidently consuming marijuana edibles. The arbitration panel noted this decision, and said that John Doe could not similarly self-report unintentional ingestion of marijuana “because he did not know or have reason to suspect that it had even occurred, until he tested positive.”

Alaska Airlines, unsuccessfully, pushed back hard on this line of thinking.

“If any employee were able to escape the consequences of a positive drug test by simply denying drug use and claiming accidental ingestion – without any corroborating evidence, Alaska’s Drug and Alcohol Use Policy would be utterly toothless and the Company would have no meaningful way to deter drug use among safety sensitive employees.”

The panel, consisting of a neutral arbiter and one representative each from Alaska Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, ruled that Alaska Airlines did not have just cause for firing John. Because of this, the firing did not follow the company’s union contract and thus he must be rehired.

The panel concluded by noting that “The outcome of this matter has been determined based on its unique facts, applicable contractual language and just cause standards.”

The panel “will retain jurisdiction for 60 days.”

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