An Alaska Airlines mechanic has been resinated at Alaska after successfully arguing that he did not knowingly ingest THC after failing a drug test.
Alaska Airlines Mechanic Admitted To THC In System, But Claimed He Did Not Know Where It Came From – He Won His Job Back On That Basis
Alaska Airlines randomly drug tests employees. If tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolites are found, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, the employee is terminated. Even in jurisdictions in which marijuana is legal, Alaska Airlines has a drug-free policy, particularly for those fixing critical systems and aircraft.
In July 2022, an aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) was tested and found with higher than allowable levels of THC in his system. He was immediately fired on safety grounds. But he appealed through his union and has now won his job back…on an interesting defense.
While he did not deny the THC readings in his system, he denied using drugs and speculated that he had “unwittingly ingested a marijuana edible at a block party/barbecue he had recently attended.”
The employee is not named beyond being the “grievant” and we know that he worked for Alaska Airlines for 22 years. We also know he had passed every previous drug test and had an unblemished record with the company.
Alaska Airlines responded that:
- He knew Alaska’s “zero tolerance” drug policy, as it was frequently emphasized in training
- His story about “accidentally” ingesting an edible was “a fantastical story” that amounted to nothing more than “bizarre speculation” and came forward only after he was fired
- He denied that the so-called edible had any effect on his body and failed to investigate the source of the “sweet” that may have contained THC
“A far more reasonable conclusion is that Grievant had THC in his system because he chose to use a marijuana product.”
However, the arbitration panel that reviewed his job termination disagreed and restored him.
A Bigger Case Than One Man
This is an interesting arbitration case in terms of the precedent it may set.
Alaska insisted that it had presented “conclusive proof that the employee ingested the substance at issue,” and had no need to prove intent.
“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.”
But the panel said that Alaska Airlines had allowed another worker to return to work in the past after voluntarily admitting that he had “accidentally” consumed a THC-laden cookie. If you take the word of the employee, it not unreasonable to conclude, as the panel did:
“Grievant could not 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.”
You can read the arbitration decision here.
Alaska Airlines lost and the mechanic is back…but can certainly expect more frequent testing going forward.
As much as I personally detest the smell of pot, I do have to wonder whether legal drugs like marijuana should be treated like another legal drug called alcohol. Perhaps instead of simply a “no tolerance” policy, an impairment test is the better practical solution as marijuana proliferates in this culture.