Preparing for Legalized Marijuana in Illinois

This summer, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Cannabis Act”), which takes effect January 1, 2020. Employers may want to take a look at their policies and procedures as they relate to drug testing their candidates and employees and how they discipline employees who test positive for cannabis.

The Cannabis Act provides that individuals who are 21 years of age or older may lawfully possess, consume, use, purchase, obtain, and transport cannabis for personal use. Notably, however, cannabis continues to be illegal under federal law. While the Cannabis Act legalizes recreational marijuana use, it explicitly allows employers to do the following in order to maintain a safe drug-free workplace:

  • Enforce zero-tolerance or drug-free workplace policies;
  • Implement and enforce 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 non-discriminatory manner; and
  • Prohibit employees from being under the influence or using cannabis in the workplace (this applies to the employer’s premises, including any building, real property, and parking area under the control of the employer, as well as employer vehicles), while performing job duties or while on-call.

Despite these explicitly employer-friendly provisions, the Cannabis Act makes disciplining employees for marijuana-use tricky. Specifically, before disciplining an employee that is perceived to be under the influence or impaired by cannabis, the Cannabis Act states employers must have a “good faith belief that the employee manifests specific, articulable symptoms while working that decrease or lessen the employee’s job performance.”  The Cannabis Act specifies this burden may be met by changes in the employee’s speech, physical dexterity, agility, coordination, demeanor, irrational or unusual behavior, or negligence or carelessness in operating equipment or machinery, disregard for the safety of the employee or others, or involvement in any accident that results in serious damage to equipment or property, disruption of a production or manufacturing process, or carelessness that results in an injury to the employee or others. The Cannabis Act also requires that employers “afford the employee a reasonable opportunity to contest the basis of the determination.

Perhaps the most complex portion of the Cannabis Act is that it amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (“IRPWA”), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for their off-duty (legal) behavior. Now, pursuant to the Cannabis Act’s amendment, those behaviors include use of cannabis. Under the IRPWA, employees may file a private right of action and be entitled to not only damages, but also recovery for statutory penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, where an employer takes adverse action for the employee’s off-duty and off-premise cannabis use.

The reason this poses a particular challenge for employers is because there are no existing drug tests that can test when someone last used marijuana. For example, a positive marijuana test may only mean that the employee used marijuana while off-duty and off-premises days (or weeks) ago – not that the employee used (or is impaired) while at work. Or it could mean the employee is still impaired. There’s no way to know solely based off a cannabis test.

Best Practices for Employers to Put into Effect Now

In preparation, employers should consider taking the following actions now:

  • Review existing drug testing policies, update policies accordingly and train managers and supervisors regarding any policy changes.
  • Develop discipline policies specifically for cannabis use and train managers and supervisors on the appropriate grounds for discipline and procedural requirements for discipline.
  • Develop specific procedures for documenting concerns that an employee is under the influence of cannabis.
  • Train managers and supervisors on the specific cannabis use/impairment symptoms referenced in the Cannabis Act and how to document those observations in order to provide evidentiary support of “good faith.”
  • Review/revise policies with respect to pre-employment applicant drug testing.

DOL Finds Gig-Workers Not Protected By FLSA


Last week, the Department of Labor issued an opinion letter finding that that at least some gig-economy workers can be properly classified as independent contractors — not employees — and thus are not covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This opinion letter is in stark contrast to the DOL’s prior position and to other decisions regarding the proper classification of gig-workers. You can read more about the Department of Labor’s recent opinion letter here.

Facebook move highlights risk of discrimination claims when targeting employment ads

Last week, Facebook agreed to withhold a wide array of detailed demographic information — including gender, age and zip codes (which are often used to determine race)  from advertisers when they market, among other things, job opportunities.  You can read more about Facebook’s move here.

Although these claims involve Facebook, employers advertising job opportunities on other online platforms should be careful not to target employment ads to specific demographics that could be seen as discriminatory.

Google stops requiring arbitration of employment claims

It was less than a year ago that the Supreme Court ruled that employees could be required to individually arbitrate claims (and waive their right to participate in a class action), but arbitration agreements aren’t a silver bullet.  In fact, some employers are responding to local legislation and employee resistance by pulling back from arbitration requirements.

Just last week, Google responded to employee protests and announced that it would no longer require its workers to arbitrate employment related claims.  Read more about Google’s decision here.

Whether or not employee arbitration agreements make sense is a very company-specific decision.  Think carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish with these agreements and talk to your legal counsel about the risks and benefits.

DOL Ditches Prior Intern Test in Favor of More Company-Friendly Test

600px-US-DeptOfLabor-Seal_svgLast week, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a news release stating that going forward, it will use the seven-factor “primary beneficiary” test — set forth by the 2nd Circuit and applied by other Circuits — to determine whether interns working at for-profit employers are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), expressly rejecting its previous test from 2010.

The “primary beneficiary” test that will now be applied by the DOL analyses the following seven, non-exhaustive factors:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands‐on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

The DOL noted that this new test will be applied in a “flexible” manner, and that whether an intern qualifies as an employee under the FLSA depends on the unique circumstances of each case.

It is widely agreed that the primary beneficiary test is easier for companies to satisfy than the DOL’s prior test, but it’s too early to tell how much of an impact this change will be. If you do have an internship program, it’s a great time to review intern classifications and make sure that they are being treated properly under employment laws.

 

 

Court Holds Extended Leave Is Not An Accommodation Under the ADA

fmlaIn a very employer-friendly decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not give employees the right to take an extended leave of absence.

In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., the 7th court considered a discrimination claim brought by an employee who was fired when his 12 weeks of FMLA-protected leave for a pre-existing back condition expired and he was still unable to return to work. The employee claimed that his firing violated the Americans with ADA because the “at least two additional months” that he needed to recover from surgery after his FMLA leave ended was a “reasonable accommodation.” The 7th Circuit strongly disagreed, holding that the employee’s proposed accommodation of at least two additional months of leave was not reasonable. According to the Court, the ADA “is an anti-discrimination statute, not a medical leave entitlement.”

This ruling is contrary to the position taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that multi-month leaves of absences may be required under the ADA. According the EEOC, leave or extended leave as a job accommodation should be considered when a worker’s doctor is able to estimate a specific endpoint for the leave, the employee asks for the leave ahead of time, and the leave will likely enable the employee to fully perform the job afterward.

In light of the decision in Severson, employers (especially those in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) can feel more comfortable refusing requests for multi-month and indefinite leave requests under the ADA. And while the language in Severson should apply to shorter leaves as well, its holding is limited to extended leaves, so employers still need to consider whether an employee’s request for a shorter leave (either after the expiration of an FMLA leave or if the employee did not qualify under the FMLA) would be a reasonable accommodation.