Seyfarth Synopsis: 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 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 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.
However, the Act raised questions about new potential liabilities for Illinois employers. First, the Legalization Act amended the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees for their use of “lawful products” outside of work (defined as lawful products under state law), including cannabis and marijuana. This created a potential cause of action for applicants who test positive on a for marijuana at the post-offer, pre-employment stage. Because the applicant has not started working, such a test could only detect marijuana use outside the workplace. Return-to-duty drug testing presented similar liabilities, typically detecting off duty drug use during a leave.
Employers who test current employees, e.g., post-accident or based on reasonable suspicion, faced new exposure if a discharged employee claimed the employer lacked a “good faith belief” that the employee had been impaired by or under the influence of cannabis. For example, if the employer discharged some employees who tested positive but not others, a discharged employee could claim the employer lacked a “good faith belief” regarding impairment. Alternatively, because there is no legally or medically accepted definition of what constitutes his or her “impairment” (or being “under the influence” of marijuana), the employee could assert he was not in fact impaired at work, and that a positive test result alone cannot prove otherwise.
With the January 1, 2020 deadline approaching, Illinois business community representatives raised numerous concerns with lawmakers. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce proposed revising the Act to clarify permissible drug testing and to limit possible causes of action against employers. Both Houses have passed SB 1557, a bill which amends and clarifies many portions of the cannabis-related laws. The Act as amended would say:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to create or imply a cause of action for any person against an employer for:
(1) actions taken pursuant to an employer’s reasonable workplace drug policy, including but not limited to subjecting an employee or applicant to reasonable drug and alcohol testing, reasonable and nondiscriminatory random drug testing, and discipline, termination of employment, or withdrawal of a job offer due to a failure of a drug test.
SB 1577 Sec. 705-10(50)(e)(1). This new provision is separate and apart from the Act’s safe harbor for employer decisions based on the employer’s good faith belief that an employee was impaired or under the influence of marijuana while performing his or her job duties.
For post-accident, random, or other forms of current employee testing, the Legalization Act now more effectively limits employer liability by expressly limiting causes of action based on discipline or termination on account of a failed drug test. However, the language regarding an employer’s “good faith belief” remains in the statute. Employees may therefore still pursue litigation alleging such a belief is required for lawful termination, and that the employer lacked this requisite belief in discharging the plaintiff.
With regard to pre-employment, post-offer testing, revisions to the Legalization Act seemingly eliminate employer liability for revoking offers due to failed drug tests. The Legalization Act as amended would explicitly permit “withdrawal of a job offer due to a failure of a drug test.” Section 705-10(50)(e)(1). While the original law amended the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act to allow for discrimination claims founded on the use of “lawful products” (e.g. cannabis) outside work, the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act specifically invokes 705-10(50)(e)(1) of the Legalization Act. Consequently, employer liability for withdrawing offers to applicants who test marijuana-positive – under either the Legalization Act or the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act – has been effectively eliminated.
Governor Pritzker has not yet signed the bill into law. The Governor has sixty days in which to sign or veto or veto the bill; otherwise it becomes law effective January 13, 2020 – twelve days after the Legalization Act’s January 1, 2020 effective date. We do not know whether Governor Pritzker will take action on the amendments before the New Year. Regardless, we do not anticipate courts enforcing the Legalization Act as regards employment during early January with the amendments potentially taking effect two weeks later. We will continue to monitor developments in this area closely, and will keep employers informed.