The Sydney Morning Herald reports
A worker sacked after failing a drug test, because he was taking medicinal cannabis prescribed by his doctor, is taking his former employer to court.
Mitchell Rice, 26, has launched a claim against Queensland Rail in the NSW Federal Circuit Court alleging QR dismissed him and discriminated against him in contravention of the Fair Work Act.
He had worked as a support maintainer for the state transit authority since July 9 last year and his last day in the job was August 16, 2021.
Mr Rice is seeking $91,750 plus interest in economic loss, and a lump sum of $150,000 for distress.
In December 2020, Mr Rice began suffering from anxiety and sleep deprivation caused by his shift work and his mother’s declining health after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
He was the main carer for his mother. His brother suffers from mental disabilities and does not work, and his father had been on a disability pension.
According to court documents, later that month, Mr Rice was prescribed medicinal cannabis, specifically THC Flower Relax Daylesford Bud, by his treating physician Daniel Van Dijk.
Dr Van Dijk advised Mr Rice to not take the medication within eight hours of starting work, to ensure he was not impaired.
Mr Rice emailed a supervisor at his Geebung depot a notice of him being prescribed the medicinal cannabis. Less than three weeks later, he was placed on light duties, court documents said.
On 21 January 2021, Mr Rice was advised that QR’s chief medical officer had deemed him temporarily unfit for work and he was stood down with pay.
In February 2021, Mr Rice’s mother died. As a result, her life insurance and superannuation fund payments ceased, leaving Mr Rice as the sole financial earner for his family.
Mr Rice contacted QR on February 25 expressing his desire to return to work and offering to refrain from taking his medication. He returned to work soon after.
On June 1, Mr Rice was subject to a random drug test. He declared he had taken started taking his medication again and had a dose two nights earlier. This was allegedly not noted on his form.
His test results came back positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, a main component in cannabis. That day, he received a letter from QR suspending him, according to court documents.
On August 16, Mr Rice received a termination notice.
Mr Rice’s solicitor Jeremy Kennedy, who has taken on the case pro bono, said he was not aware of any similar cases and believed this would be a test case for future claims.
“The evidence is that providing the drug like any prescription, there is no impairment at work,” he said.
“This drug has some prejudices and social stigma.
“We think this is a social issue that needs to be determined by the courts to try to change employers’ views on this drug and how it should be used and considered in the workplace.”
Mr Kennedy said by the time the case comes to a head, Mr Rice could have suffered a year or two of economic loss and be entitled to $200,000 or more in compensation, plus damages.
A QR spokeswoman said in a statement that because the matter was before the courts, there was limited comment that could be made on the case.
“Safety is Queensland Rail’s number one priority, with all employees and contractors required to be fit for work at all times while on duty,” it read.
“This includes having a blood alcohol concentration reading of zero and a level of other drugs under the target concentration level as outlined in the Australian standard.”
The case will be heard in court for the first time on Tuesday.