Employers considering a tolerant attitude towards recreational cannabis in the workplace should consider safety hazards and legal liabilities. 

In the heyday of the two-martini lunch, employers regularly tolerated alcohol in the workplace or employees presumably impaired by alcohol returning to work.  Over the succeeding decades, employers began to concentrate on the business and legal liabilities imposed by drug and alcohol use and impairment in the workplace — including increased absenteeism, mistakes, sexual harassment, workplace violence, and accidents/injuries.  Employers also discovered that their insurance companies claimed exemptions for certain claims if the employee that created the issue had been consuming alcohol at work. As a result, employers largely began to adopt policies that prohibited employees from using or being under the influence of alcohol (and drugs) while at work.  Most employers since have prohibited alcohol and drugs entirely or restricted alcohol to occasional company Christmas parties and social functions.
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Earlier this month, Governor Pritzker signed into law SB 1557, revising the Recreational Cannabis Law to expand permissible marijuana testing and related adverse action.

The Original Legalization Bill As Enacted

The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (410 ILCS 705) (the “Legalization Act”) legalizes recreational cannabis for Illinois adults starting January 1, 2020. The Legalization Act specifically allows Illinois employers to enforce “reasonable zero tolerance or drug free workplace policies, or employment policies concerning drug testing, smoking, consumption, storage, or use of cannabis in the workplace or while on call provided that the policy is applied in a nondiscriminatory manner.” The Act also permits employers to prohibit employees from being under the influence of or using cannabis in the employer’s workplace or while on call. Further, the Act (i) allows employers to discipline or terminate an employee who violates the employer’s workplace drug policy, and (ii) specifically insulates employers from liability for disciplining or terminating employees based on the employer’s good faith belief that the employee was either impaired at work (as a result of using cannabis) or under the influence of cannabis while at work.
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As previously reported, the Tenth Circuit created a buzz when it found that cannabis companies need to pay overtime under the FLSA even though marijuana is illegal under Federal law.

Since then, another case has emerged from the “weedwork” in the Northern District of California claiming that cannabis companies owe employees: overtime hours, expense reimbursements,

The Illinois General Assembly passed SB 1557, revising the language of the Recreational Cannabis Law to reduce but not completely eliminate employer liabilities.

As we previously blogged, the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (410 ILCS 705) (the “Legalization Act”) will legalize recreational cannabis for Illinois adults starting January 1, 2020. The Legalization Act

In a time where marijuana legalization is rapidly expanding, all employers should reassess their workplace drug testing policies to be sure they are in compliance with existing and soon to be effective state and local laws.  Currently, thirty-three states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. 

Following closely on the heels of a similar law in New York City, effective January 1, 2020, it will be unlawful for Nevada employers to reject a job applicant who tests positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug test. While there is debate as to whether some medical and recreational cannabis laws, including in Maine, allow an employer to take action based on off-duty or off-premises cannabis use, when it comes to job applicants, Nevada law could not be more clear.
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The Illinois General Assembly has been working on a marijuana legalization bill this session.  The Senate Bill would protect employer rights to ban marijuana and discipline employees for use.

Across the country, states are moving to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.  In states that legalize recreational marijuana, employers and drug testing services have seen significant increases in positivity rates for marijuana metabolites.  Wider marijuana use will require employers to take action to ensure safe work environments for their employees, especially in safety sensitive settings.  Drug policies must be updated and must address discrimination concerns.  To that end, we are closely monitoring new forms of discrimination claims from medical marijuana users and regarded-as disabled employees.  See our recent blog concerning a related Arizona court decision.
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