Illinois employers discuss upcoming recreational marijuana laws

Updated: Jul. 17, 2019 at 4:58 PM CDT
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MARION, Ill. (KFVS) - With new laws legalizing certain amounts and use of cannabis in the state of Illinois rolling out on the first of the year, there are many questions from employers across the state on how to handle them in the workplace.

Attorneys working with Southern Illinois Healthcare attempted to answer some of those questions on Wednesday, July 17.

In the audience of approximately 120 people, Kevin Ralston sat toward the back listening intently to what attorney Shari Rhode had to say on the new laws.

Ralston said he needs to know how to handle these new laws, because he is the safety manager at Empire Comfort Systems in Belleville. There, he said they work with heavy machinery to build things like giant stone fireplaces.

“Thirty-two forklifts driving around in a small space, and we have large 3,000 pound rolls of metal,” he said. "We preach to go home everyday the same way as you came. With 10 fingers and 10 toes.”

After the meeting, Ralston said he was almost as confused as when they started.

“The thing about it is it starts in January. That’s five months away, and I don’t think anyone has a clue what to do,” he said, “I think that the state just threw out a bill real quick and didn’t have answers for it. At this point, those lawyers out there are going to have their hands full.”

Rhode led the conversation about how to handle the new laws in the workplace for about an hour. She was the first to admit to the room that there’s going to be confusion about them.

She explained some key things that are going to be impacted by legalization of marijuana. One big topic was what to do if you know that one of your employees is smoking pot at home.

“There is a law in the state of Illinois that is called the Workplace Privacy Act, which means you can’t discipline employees for what they do outside the workplace,” Rhode explained.

That means if you see your employee smoking a joint off the clock, that’s not grounds for discipline.

Rhode did explain that employers can have a 0 tolerance policy for drugs at the workplace. That means your employees will not be allowed to have cannabis or cannabis products at work and they cannot be at work while under the influence.

However, when the laws go in effect in January, employers will not be able to drug test for marijuana at random or for pre-employment, unless the employee is demonstrating behavior that may indicate they are under the influence while on the job.

“You can take disciplinary action as long as you have Good Faith Belief that the employee is under the influence,” she said.

Rhode explained that that means you have to have plausible reason to believe that your employee is high at work. Meaning they are showing symptoms like glossy eyes, slurred speech, slow movement, inability to finish tasks, and the like.

Rhode laid out that employers can still do random and pre-employment drug testing, you just won’t be able to test for marijuana, again, unless you have that Good Faith Belief.

Another point she added, if you know an employee is using marijuana and is also underage, that is grounds for discipline because it is not a legal consumption of the soon to be legal drug.

As far as being on call, Rhode said if your employee is given 24 hours notice that they will be considered on call, if they use marijuana within that 24 hours, it is terms for discipline.

Accidents and injuries was a topic that was difficult to tackle for Rhode, as it’s hard to test for pot on the spot. Other members from Southern Illinois Healthcare chimed in here, saying, like many other states still figuring out their recreational marijuana laws, technology to test on the spot is being researched.

There were many questions, and only some answers during this meeting. The newness of the recreational marijuana laws is going to create some new obstacles and policies for employers according to Rhode. She recommends taking a fresh look at your workplace drug policy as soon as possible for revision.

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