How is Legalized Marijuana in Illinois Affecting the Workforce?

In the wake of the recently-passed Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), legalized marijuana in Illinois has led many organizations to change their workplace drug policies.

Employees can now consume legalized recreational marijuana — and they could be doing it before heading to work. At the same time, liberalization of marijuana laws is being associated with increased labor participation, reduced rates of absenteeism, and improved wages.

While it’s a big win for marijuana enthusiasts, employers’ concerns around productivity and safety are increasing. So how is legalized marijuana in Illinois affecting the workforce?

Safety and Productivity in the Workforce Has Become a Critical Area of Concern

While marijuana users are celebrating the freedom to consume legalized marijuana, the safety and productivity of the workforce are becoming a critical concern for employers. After all, marijuana is a drug that can damage the human body and mind. HR departments are also finding it challenging to assess the degree of marijuana impairment in employees and effectively manage it.

The good news for employers in Illinois is that they can still employ a zero tolerance policy for marijuana in the workforce.

Per the latest CRTA amendment, employers are free to curb the use of recreational marijuana in the workplace. In simpler words, employers can terminate employees under the influence of marijuana while working. In fact, many employers in Illinois are leveraging the amendment to prevent accidents at work.

The amendment prevents employers’ liability by stating that the CRTA cannot create a cause of action against employers who, based on their workplace drug-related policies, test job applicants or employees for drugs. Moreover, in the event of positive results, employers can terminate employees or withdraw an offer.

Legalized Marijuana in Illinois Has Led to Constraints on Workplace Drug Testing

While the amendment allows employers to take action against employees under the influence of recreational marijuana, it also strictly states that employers must not engage in any discriminatory or unreasonable practices when testing employees for recreational marijuana or evaluating the results. It also states that employees must build a team comprising trained managers and supervisors for maintaining consistent drug testing practices.

Instances Where Employers Must Accommodate an Employee’s Off-Duty Consumption of Marijuana

Even though the CRTA does not require employers to accommodate off-duty marijuana consumption, the recently enacted programs in Illinois — the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act and the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program — both permit patients diagnosed with specific medical conditions to purchase and consume marijuana meant for medical use.

Fresh rulings in various federal and state courts outside Illinois have permitted the off-duty consumption of medical marijuana and expect employers to accommodate the same.

Determining the Extent of Marijuana Influence

Employers are still struggling to find the best method to determine the degree of marijuana influence on employees. Even though there are some tests that can help employers measure marijuana content in employees’ bloodstream, they are not as accurate and full-proof as blood-alcohol tests. Therefore, employers in Illinois are constantly looking out for ways to set organization-wide standards of marijuana impairment in employees.