Category Archives: employers

Are Employment Rules Getting Hazier With Legal Marijuana?

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, April 18, 2019

the cannabis leaf and judge gavel

Like a majority of U.S. states, Illinois’ legal stance on marijuana is becoming more tolerant and liberal – with regard to both medical and recreational use (also called “adult use”). As we previously reported on November 6, 2018, the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018, PA 100-1114 amended Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program to allow individual prescribed opioid medication to enroll in the Illinois Opioid Alternative Pilot Program (OAPP). The OAPP allows these individuals to seek relief through the legal use of medical cannabis, rather than opioid medications. In the first two months of the program, 1,000 patients registered (compared with 61,231 qualifying patients that have been registered under the medical cannabis pilot program since September 2, 2014). This can be attributed to the decrease in time it takes to register, as well as the decrease in requirements and restrictions for qualifying as a registered patient under the OAPP.

Additionally, like many other state legislatures, the Illinois legislature has proposed bills, including HB-0902 which would legalize recreational use of marijuana. (See our prior post on this proposed bill). Even the federal government loosened its regulations regarding marijuana products through the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (AIA), which specifically addressed and legalized the research and production of industrial hemp (marijuana plants having less than .03 percent THC concentration). In particular, the AIA legalized CBD (the non-psychoactive component of marijuana) derived from industrial hemp plants. (See our prior post on this act). It is important to note that while there are legal CBD products, which are derived from industrial hemp plants, CBD derived from marijuana plants with higher THC levels are NOT legal on the federal level.

It is likely that 2019 will see continued and increasing tolerance of medical and recreational marijuana on federal, state, and local levels. Employers should implement the following steps now to protect their businesses.

  • Determine corporate tolerance for marijuana use (at least off-duty), and how that will impact drug testing.  For example, if off-duty use is a non-issue, then consider the type of drug test used for testing marijuana or removing marijuana from the drug panel for certain tests (e.g. applicants) – which can only indicate the presence of the drug in the system and not actual impairment, or how you will treat positive tests for marijuana depending on the type of test and positions. However, be aware that making exceptions for particular candidates or employees could leave the company susceptible to discrimination claims (such as, but not limited to, disability claims).
  • Update policies to comply with the laws (disability, medical leave, registered user protections), company tolerance, and external pressures (e.g., contracts). 
  • Review and update job descriptions – especially for safety sensitive positions. 
  • Implement appropriate management training – including identifying impairment and mandating substance testing, how and when to involve human resources, medical nature of information and company’s policies on marijuana.
  • Understand that disability laws, which never protect at-work impairment, may protect an underlying medical condition, and as such companies should be prepared to engage in the ADA interactive process. 
  • Similarly, understand the implications of and interactions with other laws – like the FMLA, Workers’ Compensation, and equal employment opportunity laws.
  • Enforce policies consistently to avoid discrimination claims.
  • Seek the advice of experienced employment counsel to deal with difficult employees or potentially risky discipline/termination situations.

While these steps are useful for protecting businesses in light of developing marijuana legalization trends, they are also practical audit and compliance reminders under other laws, including but not limited to the Americans with Disabilities Act and mandated leave laws.

Social Security “No Match” Letters Are Back!

Contributed by Sara Zorich, April 5, 2019

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced in late 2018 that they would begin issuing SSA No Match letters again beginning in the Spring of 2019. Employers must be aware that the process has begun and the SSA No Match letters they could receive in 2019 look different from prior years. The letters will state “Employer Correction Request Notice” at the top and will not provide any employee names on the notice.  A sample of the notice can be found on the Social Security website

In order for the employer to determine what employees were identified as “mis-matches” by SSA, the employer will be required to register for the Business Services Online (BSO). Note, do NOT assume the notice conveys information regarding the employee’s immigration status or actual work authority. The receipt of the notice does not in and of itself mean the employee is not authorized to work in the United States. The employer must attempt to resolve the no-match by taking consistent and not-discriminatory steps for each identified employee. SSA has provided a sample letter for employers to use when contacting the employees and steps to resolve the error.

However, SSA is not the only agency that these new letters may affect. For example, during a Form I-9 audit from the Department of Homeland Security, you may be requested to provide copies of any “no-match” letters you have received from SSA. Also, the Immigrant and Employee Rights section (IER) of the Department of Justice (previously known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices) previously provided employers with a guideline for what to do and not do when an employer receives a no-match letter and some FAQ’s.  

Because this issue impacts not only an employer’s wage reporting requirements but could also impact the company’s Form I-9’s and immigration anti-discrimination statutes, employers will need to create a plan of action and protocols on how they are going to address these new SSA Employer Correction Request Notices (aka No-Match letters). 

Illinois Hotel & Casino Employee Safety Act on Way to Passage

Contributed by Brian Wacker, April 2, 2019

Croupier behind gambling table in a casino.

More than two dozen Illinois State Senators have signed on to co-sponsor SB0075, a bill to enact the Illinois Hotel and Casino Safety Act (the “Act”). Likely to pass in the coming weeks, the Act will impose new requirements on hotels and casinos operating in Illinois to provide “panic buttons” to certain employees and adopt specific anti-sexual harassment policies.

What Does The Act Require?

The Panic Button

The panic button requirement is directed at hotel or casino employees placed in certain positions that may involve interacting with guests alone. 

Under the Act, hotels and casinos will be required to provide any employee who works in a guest room, restroom or casino floor “under circumstances where no other employee is present in the room or area, with a safety device or notification device.”  The device is to be provided to employees to use to summon help if they reasonably believe there is an ongoing crime, sexual harassment or assault or other emergency occurring in their presence. 

The Act will require the device to be provided to hotel or casino employees at no cost to them.

Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies

The Act will also require hotel and casino employers to develop or modify their anti-sexual harassment policies “to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests.”  Specifically, those policies will be required to contain provisions that:

  • Encourage employees to immediately report sexual assault or sexual harassment by guests;
  • Describe procedures that the employee and hotel or casino employer are to follow in cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment by guests;
  • Instruct employees to cease work and leave the immediate area where the danger is perceived until hotel or casino personnel or law enforcement arrive to assist;
  • Offer temporary work assignments to complaining employees during the duration of the offending guest’s stay at the hotel or casino (this could include assigning the employee to a different floor, station or work area);
  • Provide employees with necessary paid time off to sign police complaints against the offending guest and to testify in any legal proceedings which may ensue as a result of the sexual assault or harassment;
  • Inform employees that the Illinois Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provide them additional protections against harassment in the workplace; and
  • Inform employees that it is illegal for the hotel or casino employer to retaliate against employees who reasonably use the panic button device or otherwise avail themselves of the Act’s protections.

These new policies will need to be provided to all employees in English, Spanish and any other language predominant among the employer’s workforce.  The policies must also be posted in conspicuous places in the areas of the hotel or casino where employees can reasonably be expected to see them.

Employee Remedies for Violation of the Act

The Act will make it unlawful for a hotel or casino employer to retaliate against any employee who “reasonably uses” the panic button device, avails himself or herself of the protections of the Act, or who discloses, reports or testifies about any violation of the Act.  The Act also creates a private right of action for employees who allege violations of the Act. 

Remedies for violation of the Act are significant. In addition to injunctive relief to cease violations of the Act, it authorizes an employee to recover up to $350 per violation, with each day that a violation continues constituting a separate violation. The Act will also permit employees to seek equitable remedies such as reinstatement, and require that a hotel or casino employer pay reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to successful employee claimants.  Note: this is a one-way street. The Act does not permit employers to recover attorneys’ fees and costs from unsuccessful claimants.

Employer Opportunity To Cure

Employees will, however, have to exhaust certain non-litigation remedies first.  Before bringing a claim under the Act, employees must (1) notify the hotel or casino employer, in writing, of the alleged violation and (2) allow the hotel or casino employer fifteen days to remedy the alleged violation. 

Effective Date

The Act will give hotel and casino operators in Illinois time to get into compliance. As currently drafted, the Act would not go into effect until July 1, 2020.

Illinois Mandatory Retirement Program Enrollment Deadlines Coming Later this Year

Contributed by Kelly Haab-Tallitsch, March 27, 2019

money plant growing

Illinois employers that have 25 or more employees and have been in business at least two years will be required to participate in the state-run retirement savings program or offer another qualifying retirement plan later this year.

The status of the Illinois Secure Choice Program was uncertain last fall following an amendatory veto issued by former Governor Bruce Rauner making the program optional, instead of mandatory, as discussed in a previous blog post. The Illinois legislature generally opposed making the program optional, and chose not to act on the amendment, effectively overriding the veto. As a result, the Secure Choice Program remains mandatory for covered employers that do not offer another retirement program. 

Employers with 100 – 499 employees must register for the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program by July 1, 2019 and employers with 25 – 99 employees must register by November 1, 2019 (employers with 500+ employees were required to register in late 2018). The Illinois State Treasurer’s office will notify employers directly (by mail or email) when they are required to register. Employers will receive two notifications – an early registration notice 120 days prior to the required registration date and a second notice 30 days prior to the registration date. 

During the registration process, employers will provide basic information for the state to determine if the employer must participate in the Secure Choice Program (e.g., number of employees, and whether another retirement plan is offered). Participating employers will be required to automatically enroll employees in the savings program, withhold five percent of an employee’s compensation (up to an annual IRS maximum), and remit employees’ contributions to the state-run savings program, unless the employee elects a different amount or opts out of the program. Employer contributions to the plan are not permitted.

After registration, employers will be given instructions on how to enroll employees and remit payroll contributions, and provided enrollment forms and communication materials to give to employees. Employees will have 30 days to opt out or make adjustments to their savings rate or investment choices. At the end of this 30 day period, the employer must record employees’ elections in an online employer portal. Payroll deductions must begin within the following 30 days. Employers can remit employee contributions to the Secure Choice Program by ACH, wire transfer or check.

Employee contributions will be deposited into Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for each participant and invested at the participant’s direction among a menu of investment alternatives.

An Illinois employer that offers another qualifying retirement plan is exempt from the Secure Choice Program. This includes a 401(k) plan, 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plan, 403(a) qualified annuity plan, Simplified Employee Pension plan, SIMPLE IRA plan, governmental 457(b) plan, or any other plan qualified under Internal Revenue Code section 401(a) (payroll deduction IRAs are not included). As such, employers required to participate in the Secure Choice Program should examine the options available to determine whether implementing a qualified retirement plan may be a better alternative. 

Employers can find additional information on the Illinois Secure Choice website.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Employee Background Checks at Skilled Nursing Facilities

Contributed by guest author Adam Doerr, with Suzannah Wilson Overholt, March 13, 2019

Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) are responsible for shielding residents “from abuse, neglect, misappropriation of resident property, and exploitation.” 42 C.F.R. § 483.12. This regulation implicates the employment process, since SNFs are prohibited from employing “or otherwise engag[ing]” individuals who have been “found guilty by a court of law,” had a “finding entered into the State nurse aide registry,” or had “a disciplinary action in effect against his or her professional license” as a result of “abuse, neglect, exploitation, mistreatment of residents or misappropriation of their property.” 42 C.F.R. § 483.12(a)(3)(i)-(iii). One of the most important ways that SNFs can protect residents is by properly screening and monitoring their employees.

cv review flat illustration. hand with magnifier over curriculum vitae

There are no federal requirements for how a SNF should screen its employees. However, there is a variety of agency guidance that describes what a thorough screening process should look like. According to the State Operations Manual, Appendix PP, a facility should conduct a thorough “investigation of the histories of . . . prospective staff.” Any individual hired or otherwise engaged by the facility should be screened, including “the medical director, consultants, contractors, volunteers” and students in training programs. The screening must also be thorough, including checking the State nurse aide registry and licensing authorities, contacting previous employers, attempting to identify prior criminal prosecutions, and checking the HHS Office of Inspector General’s List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (“Exclusion List”). The Exclusion List is a searchable electronic database of individuals and entities who are excluded from participation in any federal health care program, including Medicare and Medicaid, for the commission of certain crimes and violations laid out in 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7. A SNF may not receive payment from a federal healthcare program for any items or services furnished, ordered, or prescribed by an excluded individual or entity. If a SNF does receive payment for services provided by an excluded individual or entity, the SNF could be subject to civil monetary penalties. Because the consequences of hiring an excluded individual are so severe, CMS has issued letters to each state Medicaid director reminding them to have employers check the Exclusion List monthly. Certain states, such as Indiana, have made such monthly checks mandatory.

Finally, the Office of Inspector General has also issued guidance urging healthcare providers to check the System for Award Management (“SAM”) database maintained by the General Services Administration. The SAM database includes a list of suppliers, vendors, and individuals who are excluded from receiving contracts or other financial assistance from the federal government. Thus, checking this list should be part of any screening process for prospective employees.

Conducting thorough screenings of all prospective employees is important in a SNF’s ongoing efforts to protect residents from abuse or mistreatment. Following state and federal guidance and regulations is the best way to ensure that screenings are appropriate.

Do You Have to Let Your Employees Work from Home?

Contributed by Rebecca Dobbs Bush, March 8, 2019

freelance, work at home. flat design vector illustration.

“Do I have to let my employees work from home?”  With technological advances and with market demand for flexible work arrangements constantly increasing, the question comes up all of the time. 

Generally speaking, the answer is no. Some positions just don’t translate to working remotely. For example, an auto mechanic or a doctor certainly cannot perform their job from their kitchen table. On the other hand, other positions, such as many white-collar office positions, can be well suited for remote work arrangements.  

The key in allowing remote work is to communicate expectations clearly. If you’re going to allow remote work, how often is it allowed? Once a week? And will you need to have a specific day of the week when everyone has to be present at the office and available for meetings, etc.? Are employees expected to have a dedicated office space when working from home? Will you set minimum requirements, such as a year of employment, before an employee can ask to work from home? Will you be able to continue to protect confidential company data and information? And of course, you need to be able to continue to monitor your employees and the quality of the work they perform. If an employee can’t meet expectations in the office, you certainly shouldn’t expect him or her to be able to do so while working remotely. It is also important to communicate the expectation that remote work arrangements are not synonymous with vacation days nor are they intended to be a substitute for childcare arrangements. To address all of these questions in a consistent manner, an employer may find it necessary to create a formal written policy. 

Finally, remember that even if you take a strict approach and clearly communicate parameters to your employees, the Americans with Disabilities Act may require you to make exceptions. In years past, it was fairly reasonable for an employer to argue that physical attendance was an essential function of the job. However, as courts evolve with technology and a changing workforce, it is becoming a much weaker argument to claim that 100% physical attendance is an essential function of a position. Today, an employer may be hard-pressed to explain why it could not allow remote work on at least a temporary or part-time basis. In fact, the request to work from home as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA has become so commonplace that the EEOC has developed a FAQ devoted to the specific request.

If you find yourself dealing with remote work requests on a fairly regular basis, it may be time to consider a policy to clearly and consistently communicate parameters. With industry experts predicting a tight labor market in 2019, and with a recent indeed.com survey showing that nearly half of employees say remote work policies are an important factor in choosing a job (and that 40% of employees are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the option), a policy may not only help you set and manage parameters for handling such requests, but may also provide you with a competitive edge in recruiting top talent. 

Missouri Supreme Court Opens New Door To LGBTQ Protections Under The Missouri Human Rights Act

Contributed by Brian Wacker, March 1, 2019

gavel and scales of justice

In a pair of rulings handed down on Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court expanded the reach of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) to encompass, under certain circumstances, LGBTQ individuals and additional types of evidence that can support MHRA discrimination and retaliation claims. Both cases – Lampley, et al v. Missouri Comm’n on Human Rights, et al and R.M.A., et al v. Blue Springs R-IV Sch. Dist., et al – should have a significant impact on employers in Missouri and how they evaluate the risks of employment actions against LGBTQ individuals moving forward.

By its text, the MHRA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate or retaliate against an employee with respect to compensation, terms of employment, or privileges of employment because of that employee’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, or sex. The MHRA does not expressly prohibit discrimination or retaliation based on an employee’s sexual orientation. Missouri courts have interpreted the MHRA accordingly.

In Lampley, the complaining employee was gay, but his sexual orientation was not the issue presented to the court. Instead, the plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination complaining that his employer, the Missouri Department of Social Services, subjected him to sex discrimination and retaliation, which is prohibited under the MHRA. The plaintiff asserted he was subjected to sex discrimination and harassment at work because “he does not exhibit the stereotypical attributes of how a male should appear and behave” and that other similarly-situated co-workers (i.e., non-gay co-workers who exhibited stereotypical attributes) were treated differently.  He also complained that he received lower performance evaluations at work as retaliation for his complaints about the alleged harassment. His co-worker and co-plaintiff also filed a Charge of Discrimination, complaining that she was discriminated against based on her association with him. 

The court in Lampley distinguished claims of discrimination based on sex-based characteristics from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  According to the court, the plaintiff’s sexual orientation was “merely incidental” to his sex discrimination complaint. Since the plaintiff did not actually allege he was discriminated against based on his sexual orientation, he could pursue his claims under the MHRA since “stereotyping” can give rise to an inference of discrimination against a member of a protected class, and is considered an unlawful hiring practice by the Commission’s own regulations. 

Whether intended or not, it is easy to see that the court’s ruling in Lampley now provides LGBTQ employees (and their attorneys) a clearer path to pursue discrimination and retaliation claims under state law, framing their claims as sex-based rather than sexual orientation-based. This ruling, coupled with the court’s contemporaneous ruling in R.M.A., in which the court vacated a lower court’s dismissal of a transgender student’s MHRA sex discrimination claim against his school for refusing him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, constitutes a clear victory for LGBTQ advocates.   

The Missouri Supreme Court sent a message on Tuesday with regard to LGBTQ rights. Employers in Missouri should take heed.