Reefer Sadness?  Illinois Employers Prepare to Grapple with Marijuana Legalization

As Illinois prepares to join the growing ranks of states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, employers in the Land of Lincoln may find it difficult—if not impossible—to legally maintain a drug-free workplace.  Signed into law on June 25, 2019 by Governor J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“CRTA”) goes into effect on January 1, 2020.  If you employ workers in Illinois, you now have less than six months to decide whether and how you will continue testing for marijuana.  You will also need to lay the groundwork so that you can reduce the risks associated with disciplining and/or discharging employees who appear to be impaired—due to cannabis consumption/use—while at work.  While the CRTA lists a number of indicia of impairment that may be used to determine if someone is under the influence, proving that an employee is impaired will likely be easier said than done.  Even then, the CRTA requires that you give the allegedly impaired employee an opportunity to respond.  When and how you do that, though, remains to be seen.

What the Law Does and Does Not Require

Beginning January 1, 2020, Illinois residents over the age of 21 can legally buy (in licensed stores), possess or use cannabis and cannabis products.  Possession is limited to: (1) 30 grams of raw cannabis; (2) cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 mg of THC; or (3) 5 grams of cannabis product in concentrated form. Non-residents may purchase half those amounts (i.e., 15 grams of cannabis, 250 mg of THC in a cannabis-infused product, or 2.5 grams of concentrated cannabis product).  Patients using cannabis for medical reasons, meanwhile, will be allowed to purchase cannabis seeds and grow up to five plants at their residence. The CRTA, however, limits home growth to five plants per household, regardless of the number of residents who are 21 or over.  These plants must be secured and out of view by the public. While medical cannabis patients may keep what they grow, the CRTA possession limits apply when they leave their residence.  Furthermore, they cannot sell what they grow unless they do so as part of a licensed cannabis business.

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Memorial Day Reminder: Remember Your Obligations to Employees Currently Serving and Those Returning From Service

As we pashutterstock_1371695303used on Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives in active military service, employers should not forget that employees who are currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard (collectively, the “uniformed services”) are afforded a broad range of rights and protections by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”).  USERRA is a federal law that protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of the Guard and Reserves.  USERRA, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, includes both substantive job restoration rights—at the conclusion of one’s service—as well as non-discrimination and non-retaliation provisions.  The job restoration rights provided by USERRA, however, impose heightened obligations on employers in an effort to ensure the returning service member is not disadvantaged when reentering the workforce because of his or her service.  Many employers also do not realize that returning service members—those that return to the same employer from which they took leave to serve—may only be terminated for just cause for certain periods of time depending on the length of their service.

No discrimination or retaliation.  Let’s start with the easy part.  As you might expect, employers must not deny initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment to an individual on the basis of his or her military service.  Additionally, an employer cannot retaliate against an individual by taking any adverse employment action against him or her because the individual has acted to enforce protections under USERRA, testified or otherwise Continue reading

Good Faith Goes a Long Way: The Benefits of Fully Engaging in the Interactive Process Mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act

On Monday, March 25, 2019, I had the privilege to co-present on reasonable accommodations and the interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) at the HR in Hospitality Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the issues Picture1covered during our presentation involved the fact that the ADA does not require that employers provide the specific accommodation requested by an employee as long as the employer offers a reasonable accommodation to the employee who made the request.  While employers can use their business judgment when deciding how best to reasonably accommodate an employee, a settlement recently announced by the EEOC underscores that many employers would be well-advised to develop internal procedures or guidelines to help ensure that those involved in the accommodation process understand what is expected of them and the company when responding to accommodation requests.   According to a lawsuit filed by EEOC in Minnesota, a Bath and Body Works store failed to reasonably accommodation a sales associate with type-1 diabetes suffering retinopathy who asked that a larger monitor screen be placed at the cash register.  Instead, a store manager purchased what the EEOC described as “a cheap, hand-held magnifying glass” to be used by the sales associate when working the register.

Under a consent decree settling the suit (EEOC v. Bath and Body Works), Bath and Body Works agreed to pay Continue reading

Have Faith: 4.9 Million Dollar Settlement Underscores Importance of Accommodating Religious Beliefs During Hiring Process

What happens when the religious beliefs of an applicant conflict with your grooming and appearance policy?  What if the applicant is seeking a public-facing position in which they will be the first (and only) representative of your organization with whom most members of the public interact?  shutterstock_EEOCWhile some employers may believe that “image is everything” when it comes to the appearance of their public-facing employees, a 4.9 million-dollar settlement of a religious discrimination lawsuit announced recently by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) serves as a stark reminder to employers that even your most straightforward policies may need to be modified in certain situations.  As detailed in our June 7, 2018 blog post, the EEOC has been aggressively making good on the promise made in the agency’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2017 – 2021 to focus on “class-based recruitment and hiring practices” that discriminate against people with disabilities by filing a series of lawsuits accusing employers of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by inquiring about prior medical histories, subjecting applicants to physical capacity tests and refusing to hire individuals who disclosed certain conditions.  The agency’s Strategic Enforcement Plan similarly committed to rooting out religious barriers to employment.  This is important because while many employers readily understand the need to reasonably accommodate disabled applicants and employees, it seems that some employers fail to grasp that they may also have to accommodate religious beliefs and practices of applicants and employees.

What the Law Requires

Title VII requires that employers, once informed that a religious accommodation is needed, accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.  If an employer’s dress and grooming policy conflicts with an employee’s known religious beliefs or practices, the EEOC expects Continue reading