Category Archives: Illinois

More Tweaks to the IL Equal Pay Act

Contributed By Beverly Alfon, July 1, 2021

On June 25, 2021, Governor Pritzker signed into law additional amendments to the IL Equal Pay Act of 2003. 

March 2021 Amendments (Recap)

As outlined in our March 23, 2021 blog article, Will Employers Have to Give 1% of their Total Gross Profits to the State of Illinois? Gov. Pritzker Signs into Law Unprecedented Changes to IL Equal Pay and Corporate Laws, the March amendments to the Act require businesses with 100 or more employees to obtain certification of compliance with the Equal Pay Act from the IL Department of Labor (IDOL).

The certification process requires employers to submit an application that contains a statement affirming compliance with the equal pay principles set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the IL Human Rights Act, the Equal Wage Act, and the IL Equal Pay Act of 2003. Specifically, the statement must be signed by an officer or agent of the business and confirm the following representations: 

  • The average compensation for the business’s female and minority employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male and non-minority employees within major job categories when accounting for various distinguishing factors;
  • The business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex;
  • The wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified to ensure compliance with applicable anti-discrimination laws; and

In addition, employers who are required to file a federal EEO-1 report must also include a copy of their most recent EEO-1 report.

June 2021 Amendments

Deadline:  Employers subject to the certification requirement as of March 23, 2021, must apply to obtain an equal pay registration certificate between March 24, 2022, and March 23, 2024. Covered employers that obtain authorization to do business in Illinois after March 23, 2021, must apply for certification within 3 years of commencing operations, but not sooner than January 1, 2024. Recertification must occur every 2 years. 

Certification Application Requirements: Covered employers must also submit a “wage records” list of all employees in the past calendar year, categorized by the county in which the employee works, gender and race/ethnicity with corresponding wages paid to each employee over that period, the employee’s start date with the business, and “any other information the Department [of Labor] deems necessary to determine if pay equity exists.” Employers with fewer than 100 employees must certify that they are exempt from requirements.

Compensation Approach: The original legislative text required employers to provide the IDOL with the “system” used to set compensation and required employers to select from certain options (e.g., market-based, performance pay, internal analysis, etc.).  Under the new amendments, the employer is required to describe the “approach” used to determine wages, but the employer is not required to select from any specific system. Instead, the statute states that “acceptable approaches include, but are not limited to, a wage and salary survey.”

Penalties: The March amendments provided that employers who fail to comply with the certification requirements or provide false information to the IDOL would result in a non-discretionary fine of 1% of their annual gross profits. Now, the Act authorizes a penalty of $10,000 for violation of the equal pay certificate requirements.

Grace Period: There is now a 30-day grace period for an employer to correct an inadvertent failure to timely file an application or cure deficiencies in the application for certification.

Third Party Access:  A current employee of a covered employer may request “anonymized” data regarding his/her specific job classification, including pay rate/salary. “Individually identifiable information” will not be subject to FOIA requests.  The June amendments set forth penalties for IDOL employees who are found to have leaked confidential application information – but the IDOL is authorized to share aggregate data and “individually identifiable information” with the IL Department of Human Rights or Office of the IL Attorney General.

Side note: On June 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it is extending the July 19, 2021, deadline to submit and certify 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 Component 1 reports to Monday, August 23, 2021.

Our recommendations to employers remain the same as set forth in our March 23 blog article: 

  • Review and, if necessary, modify equal pay policies that demonstrate a commitment to IEPA compliance.
  • Audit equal pay compliance annually. This includes creating strong/reliable compensation systems that are in line with the law (base wage, benefits, commission programs and bonus opportunities).
  • Update job descriptions annually. Focus not only on job titles, but the actual duties, responsibilities, and qualifications of the position.
  • Evaluate performance reviews. These continue to be the “kiss of death” for many employers since very few evaluators are willing to be honest and direct.
  • Consider partnering with credible 3rd parties to help design and implement compensation systems in order to comply with all applicable anti-discrimination laws.

IDOL on the PROWL: Looking At Non-Union Contractors to Debar for Technical Violations of the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act

Contributed By Jeff Risch and Peter Hansen, May 7, 2021

hand signing contract on white paper

Contractors beware – the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) has ramped up audits of contractors as labor unions and related organizations flood the IDOL with “complaints. Remember, under the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act (IPWA), a prevailing wage “complaint” need not be verified or even submitted to the IDOL under penalty of perjury. The IDOL will investigate each and every “complaint” regardless of merit and, while historically the main focus of the IDOL was to ensure proper and full payment of the actual prevailing wage, it is now seeking to issue violations and debar contractors for technical violations (i.e. failure to post rates or provide written notice to contractors or lower tiered contracts).

Typically, debarment from contracting for public works (for up to 4 years) occurs only after the IDOL issues two distinct formal written notices of IPWA violations to a contractor within 5 years. Until recently, the IDOL considered the severity of the violation, the contractor’s history, and whether the contractor generally complied with other IPWA obligations before issuing a violation notice. The IDOL is now moving towards a philosophy of issuing a formal notice of violation for technical violations – especially when it comes to non-union contractors.

The IDOL’s increased activity is exceptionally troubling for all contractors given the IPWA’s broad definition of “violation” under its Administrative Rules. Pursuant to the IDOL’s prevailing wage rules, a violation occurs whenever the IDOL determines that the contractor:
• failed to pay the prevailing wage to one or more employees performing work covered under a public works contract;
• failed to keep, produce, or submit accurate records demonstrating compliance with the IPWA;
• refused to comply with the certified payroll filing obligations (this now requires the use of the IDOL’s own online electronic portal system);
• refused to allow the IDOL’s access to inspect the contractor’s records;
• failed to insert a written stipulation that prevailing wage rates be paid into each subcontract and into the project specifications;
• failed to obtain a bond guaranteeing performance of the prevailing wage clause (when required by the public body to do so); or
• failed to post or communicate to the workers the applicable prevailing wage rates on the public works project site.

There’s clearly a lot of room for the IDOL to issue violation notices for technical violations that have nothing to do with the actual payment of the prevailing wage to the worker. The IPWA arguably has the most complex and administratively burdensome laws in the country. That’s on purpose!

All contractors must be acutely aware of the IDOL’s increased audit activity – and unprecedented scrutiny. And, in light of Springfield’s allegiance to organized labor these days, non-union contractors are in particular need to be doing everything possible to make certain they are complying with the IPWA’s technical requirements, beyond the payment of the actual prevailing wage.

Illinois Legislature Considering Freedom To Work Act Amendments That Target Non-Compete And Non-Solicitation Clauses

employment law books and a gavel on desk in the library. concept of legal education.

Contributed By: Jeffrey Glass, April 19, 2021

In recent years, many states have enacted legislation directed at employment contracts containing non-compete and non-solicitation clauses. Illinois first did so in 2016 with the Freedom to Work Act (the Act), which bans certain Illinois employers from entering into non-compete agreements with low-wage employees.

Now, the Illinois General Assembly has taken the matter up again with additional proposed amendments to the Act.

Although the new legislation has not been finalized, some provisions that appear likely to be included in the final version are: income thresholds for employees who are not “low wage,” a requirement that the employer provide the employee with a copy of the contract in advance of signing it, employee-friendly attorney’s fee-shifting provisions, and exemptions for union workers.  While the legislation primarily is geared toward protecting employees, it also helps employers by clarifying the state of the law on several issues, including clearer standards for the enforceability of non-compete clauses.

The amendments are projected to take effect on June 1, 2021, and will not apply to contracts entered into before that date.  Employers should contact their employment counsel to make sure any agreements entered into on or after the effective date comport with the new law. SmithAmundsen attorneys are working closely with employer-side groups on the legislation and will update readers of this blog as further developments arise.

Save the Date! Complimentary Webcast April 29: NEW Illinois Law Prohibiting Use of Criminal Convictions: An Employer’s Guide

Effective March 23, 2021, new Illinois law generally prohibits the use of criminal convictions in employment decisions and creates additional new hurdles for employers who decide to rely on any conviction for employment purposes-unless otherwise authorized by law. Join Jeff Risch and Allison Sues on Thursday, April 29 @ noon CT for a timely discussion surrounding the new law. During this webcast attendees will learn:

  • How to navigate new hiring mandates
  • What to include in the mandated written notices to a denied applicant or terminated employee because of a conviction record
  • How to reconcile the new IL law with existing local, state and federal mandates (i.e. FFCRA, Ban the Box, etc…)
  • How to analyze whether a specific conviction history has a substantial relationship to a certain job position or poses a unreasonable risk to property or safety
  • What does “unless otherwise authorized by law” really mean for employers

NEW ILLINOIS LAW PROHIBITS USE OF CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS: Guide for Employers and Sample Forms

Contributed by Jeff A. Risch and Allison P. Sues, March 24, 2021

employment law books and a gavel on desk in the library. concept of legal education.

As we previously blogged about, the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 1480, which, in relevant part, provides that unless otherwise authorized by law, an employer may only consider an individual’s criminal conviction history if there is a substantial relationship between the criminal history and the position sought or held, or if the employer can show that the individual’s employment raises an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public. Governor Pritzker has now signed the bill into law – which went into effect immediately. SmithAmundsen LLC’s Labor & Employment Group has been intimately involved in the tracking of this legislation and continues to voice concerns on behalf of employers. With that in mind, our firm has created an EMPLOYER’S GUIDE to help employers not only navigate the new mandates, but also includes sample forms  that may prove useful to employers at this critical time.

While this law would not restrict employers from running criminal background checks on applicants or employees, it clearly creates many unique challenges. Undoubtedly, Illinois’ new law is the most restrictive and cumbersome in the country.

Will Employers Have to Give 1% of their Total Gross Profits to the State of Illinois? Gov. Pritzker Signs into Law Unprecedented Changes to IL Equal Pay and Corporate Laws

Contributed by Jeff Risch, March 23, 2021

Private employers in Illinois now have more landmines to navigate as the state’s legislature pushed through SB1480 during its most recent “lame duck” session.  Gov. Pritzker just signed the legislation into law today!  While there are many substantive provisions and amendments to various laws contained in SB1480 (including new restrictions on the use of criminal convictions as we blogged about previously), the law also amends the Illinois Business Corporation Act (IBCA) and the Illinois Equal Pay Act (IEPA); resulting in unprecedented compulsory reporting of race, gender and ethnicity statistics and related pay data.  These changes are part of a new national trend (see our previous blog on CA’s new law), while the Biden Administration begins to review similar pay data reporting mandates.

Amendments to the IBCA

Under the IBCA, private corporations who are required to file an Employer Information Report EEO-1 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will have to submit substantially similar data they report under Section D of the EEO-1 report — in a format to be approved by the IL Secretary of State (SOS) — as part of their annual corporate filing with the SOS.  For any corporation that must submit EEO-1 related data to the state, the SOS will then publish the corporation’s data on gender, race and ethnicity on the SOS’s  official website.  This new mandate is set to be in place for any and all annual corporate filings with the State of Illinois beginning on and after January 1, 2023. Employers who fail to comply with the new IBCA mandates will not be authorized to conduct business in Illinois and/or will have their status as a corporation involuntarily dissolved. 

Amendments to the IEPA

The changes to the IEPA are much more complex and employers who are not intimately familiar with Illinois’ unique Equal Pay Act law are playing with fire.  Private employers with 100+ employees within the State of Illinois must certify their equal pay compliance (including, demonstrating how they actually comply) and provide pay data information to the IDOL.  Employers who fail to comply with the IEPA certification mandates or provide false information to the IDOL will result in a non-discretionary fine of 1% of their annual gross profits

As a reminder, the IEPA generally applies to all employers with employees working in the state.  The state law is also materially different than the federal law in many aspects, including, but not limited to: the fact that any pay disparity is reviewed on a county level (not facility); encompasses African American status in addition to gender; limits the defenses available to employers trying to justify pay disparities; broadens what “equal” means by utilizing a “substantially similar” standard; and prohibits inquiry into salary/wage history. 

The amendments under SB1480 applies to any PRIVATE employer with more than 100 employees in the state. These employers will have to obtain an Equal Pay Registration Certificate from the IDOL within 3 years from the effective date of the new law (today, March 23, 2021) and must recertify every 2 years thereafter.  These businesses will be required to apply for an equal pay registration certificate by paying a $150 filing fee and submitting an equal pay compliance statement to the IDOL.  In addition to submitting their most recently filed EEO-1 report for each county in which the business has a facility or employees, they will also need to compile a list of all employees during the past calendar year (separated by gender and the race and ethnicity categories), and report the total wages paid to each employee during the past calendar year. The IDOL will then issue an equal pay registration certificate to these employers, who must also submit a statement signed by a corporate officer, legal counsel, or authorized agent of the business that confirms the following: 

  • that the business is in compliance with the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Equal Wage Act, and the Equal Pay Act of 2003;
  • that the average compensation for its female and minority employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male and non-minority employees within each of the major job categories in the Employer Information Report EEO-1; 
  • that the business does not restrict employees of one sex to certain job classifications and makes retention and promotion decisions without regard to sex;
  • that wage and benefit disparities are corrected when identified to ensure compliance with applicable anti-discrimination laws; and
  • that the business identifies how often wages and benefits are evaluated to ensure such compliance.

The equal pay compliance statement must also indicate whether the business, in setting compensation and benefits, utilizes:

  • a market pricing approach;
  • state prevailing wage or union contract requirements;
  • a performance pay system;
  • an internal analysis; or
  • an alternative approach to determine what level of wages and benefits to pay its employees. If the business uses an alternative approach, the business must provide a description of its approach.

The issuance of a registration certificate will not serve as a defense against any IEPA violation found by the IDOL, nor a basis for mitigation of damages.  The certification can also be suspended or revoked by the IDOL at any time.

While the pay data submitted to the IDOL will be considered private for the IDOL’s eyes-only, the IDOL’s decision to issue, not issue, revoke, or suspend an equal pay registration certificate will be public information.

There are also new anti-retaliation provisions in the amendments that make it financially painful for any employer found to have taken adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activities under the IEPA.  But, that’s not all… the legal burden is now placed on the employer to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have taken the same unfavorable personnel action in the absence of any protected conduct.  

What Employers Must Do Moving Forward:

  • Review and, if necessary, modify equal pay policies that demonstrate a commitment to IEPA compliance.
  • Audit equal pay compliance annually. This includes creating strong/reliable compensation systems that are in line with the law (base wage, benefits, commission programs and bonus opportunities).
  • Update job descriptions annually.  Focus not only on job titles, but the actual duties, responsibilities and qualifications of the position.
  • Evaluate performance reviews.  ***These continue to be the “kiss of death” for many employers since very few evaluators are willing to be honest and direct.
  • Consider partnering with credible 3rd parties to help design and implement compensation systems in order to comply with all applicable anti-discrimination laws.

Illinois Set to Enact New Law Limiting Criminal Convictions in Employment Decisions

Contributed by Allison P. Sues and Jeff Risch, February 15, 2021

Illinois has long limited employers from considering the criminal history of an applicant or employee in making employment decisions. The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits employers from considering an employee’s arrest history, for example. In recent years, Illinois’ “Ban the Box” law disallows employers from asking about criminal convictions prior to a job offer or before a candidate is selected for an interview and, therefore, assumed to be otherwise qualified for the position in question. Now, Illinois is poised to go a step further in banning the use of criminal history in employment decisions. 

In January 2021, the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 1480, which, in relevant part, provides that unless otherwise authorized by law, an employer may only consider an individual’s criminal conviction history if there is a substantial relationship between the criminal history and the position sought or held, or if the employer can show that the individual’s employment raises an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public. Governor Pritzker now has this legislation “on his desk” and is expected to sign this bill into law soon. Upon signing this legislation, the law will go into effect immediately. The law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act.

An employer may show that an individual’s criminal conviction history has a substantial relationship to the position applied for, or currently held, if the position provides an opportunity for the individual to conduct the same or similar offenses.  Six different factors guide this analysis: (1) the length of time since the conviction, (2) the number of convictions that appear on the conviction record, (3) the nature and severity of the conviction and its relationship to the safety and security of others, (4) the facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction, (5) the age of the employee at the time of the conviction, and (6) evidence of rehabilitation efforts. 

As to the phrase “unreasonable risk,” it is not defined. However, this phrase certainly places the burden on the employer to establish that a risk exists that no reasonable employer in similar circumstances should incur.

If an employer denies employment to an applicant because of a conviction record, the employer must provide written notice to the applicant that specifically identifies the relevant conviction record underlying the decision and the employer’s rationale for why the conviction disqualifies the individual from employment. The employer must then give the applicant at least five (5) business days to respond to the employer’s notice and provide evidence to refute the employer’s concern. If the employer still decides not to hire the individual, the employer must provide another written notice informing the candidate of their right to file a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. This same process must be used for employers taking adverse action against existing employees based on criminal convictions.

While this law would not restrict employers from running criminal background checks on applicants or employees, it clearly creates additional hurdles. In reviewing the laws created in other states, Illinois’ new law would be the most restrictive in the country.  Employers must not only justify any actions taken based on a criminal conviction under the Act’s two exceptions, but must also comply with the written notification requirements. 

Be assured that SmithAmundsen LLC’s Labor & Employment Group is working with business groups to try and create better and clearer language relating to this legislation. We are intimately familiar with that process, and will report as soon as we learn more. In the meantime, all employers hiring or operating in Illinois must tread carefully in navigating all aspects of conducting a criminal background check.

Illinois’ NEW COVID-19 Mitigation Plan to Impact Virtually ALL Employers – Effective November 20, 2020

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, November 18, 2020

New COVID-19 cases are surging in Illinois, and Illinois is ramping up more restrictions by instituting additional measures throughout the state. Generally, these measures have the objective of limiting gatherings and encouraging people to stay at home, but do not rise to the level of a stay-at-home order. Illinois’ Phase 4 remains in place with the following new restrictions:

State of Illinois
  1. Manufacturing (Implementation of safety guidelines): 
    • Additional COVID-19 training for all employees (even if previous training occurred)
    • Employers to coordinate with IDPH to implement testing protocols and contact tracing
    • Face coverings at all times, except for safety purposes
    • Only manufacturing staff and key personnel allowed in facilities
      • Non-production employees must work remotely
      • Non-essential staff and visitors are not permitted
      • Exemptions only for critical equipment repairs, supply deliveries and safety reasons (“critical visitors”)
    • All critical visitors must have an Employee Health and Safety (EHS)-approved risk-assessment done in advance, including travel history, tracking, and temperature check prior to entrance
    • Implement additional workstation realignment when feasible
    • Stagger and space shifts and entrances
    • Station sanitation required at beginning and ending of shifts
    • Suspension of COVID-19 incentive pay (promote staying home when sick or showing symptoms)
    • Implement temporary leave policies to accommodate sick workers
    • Develop and implement safety protocols for employee travel vans to promote spacing, require face coverings, temperature checks, air circulation, and vehicle sanitization
  2. Bars/Restaurants (including private and country clubs)
    • Closed between 11 PM and 6 AM
    • Outdoor service only
      • Patrons, limited to groups of 6, should be seated at tables (6 feet apart)
      • No multiple parties at tables
      • Reservation required (no standing/congregating while waiting)
    • No service at bar
    • Indoor gaming terminals must suspend operations
  3. Offices
    • All employees who can work remotely should do so
  4. Retail Operations
    • Operation at 25% capacity for general merchandise stores, “big box” stores that offer groceries and pharmacy, and convenience stores
    • Operation at 50% for grocery stores and pharmacies may operate at up to 50% capacity
    • Curbside delivery and pickup options wherever possible
    • When in-store shopping is necessary, promote efficient trips and consistent circulation
  5. Hotels
    • Occupancy limited to registered guests only
    • Fitness centers should be closed, or operated only on a reservation model, with capacity limited to 25% of the maximum occupancy for the room
    • Grab and go food allowed
    • Event and meeting space closed
  6. Personal Care Services
    • Operate at lesser of 25 clients or 25% capacity
    • Face coverings required (suspension of facials, beard trims and other face services)
    • Physical, occupational and massage therapy allowed as deemed necessary by a medical provider:
      • Appointments must be spaced by a minimum of 15 minutes and facilities should take steps to sanitize and circulate clean air through service rooms before and after each service
    • Virtual consultations recommended
  7. Health/Fitness Facilities
    • 25% capacity or less
    • No indoor group classes
    • Face coverings must be worn at all times, including while engaged in individual exercise regardless of person or machine spacing
    • Reservations required
    • Locker room areas to be closed
  8. Meetings and Gatherings
    • Limit home gatherings to household members
    • No gatherings at meeting rooms, banquet centers, private party rooms, private clubs and country clubs
    • No party buses
    • Funerals are limited to 10 family members of the decedents, not including staff
  9. Recreational and Sporting Activities (includes park districts and travel leagues)
    • Pause all indoor group sporting and recreational activities (youth and adult recreational sports)
    • Individual training may remain (with facility reservation)
    • Outdoor sports and recreation allowed, but limited to 10 persons or less with social distancing (no locker rooms)
    • Face coverings required for all activities at all times
  10. Gaming, Theaters, Museums, and Indoor Amusement
    • Gaming and casinos closed
    • Indoor recreation centers, including theaters, performing arts centers and indoor museums and amusement centers closed
    • Live streaming of performances encouraged (social distancing of performers and minimum operational staff)
    • Outdoor activities (reservations required) allowed at 25% capacity or less
    • Outdoor group activities limited to 10 persons or less (participants must wear face coverings at all times)

Previously exempt functions (i.e. infrastructure, governments, logistics and warehousing etc.) may continue regular operations, but Illinois is encouraging voluntarily and proactive application of mitigation steps whenever possible.

As with all matters involving COVID-19, these mitigation measures are fluid and subject to change. We will continue to monitor and update as needed. For continued information regarding COVID-19 restrictions, visit SmithAmundsen’s COVID-19 Resource Center or contact a member of our task force here: https://www.salawus.com/practices-covid19-task-force.html

BREAKING NEWS: Illinois Recreational Cannabis Law Protections for Employers & the Workplace Clarified!

Contributed by Jeffrey A. Risch, November 15, 2019As Illinois set out to become the first state to legalize recreational cannabis through statutory authority, the legislative intent for protections for employers and the workplace were intended to include some of the strongest in the nation. However, when the dust settled and the statutory framework was analyzed, there appeared to be room for reasonable minds to have differing opinions on what the law actually meant for the workplace.

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clipboard and pen.

On one hand, could employers lawfully implement reasonable, non-discriminatory drug testing policies aimed at prohibiting applicants and employees from lawfully using recreational cannabis and gaining or maintaining employment? On the other hand, would employers be violating the law if they did not hire someone who tested positive for THC or if they could not ultimately demonstrate that an employee was actually impaired while on the job? These sorts of questions lingered. A quick online search trying to find answers would only frustrate HR professionals, safety managers, and business owners further. Clarity was needed.Therefore, through the efforts of several business groups and trade associations (including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce) working across both political aisles, SB1557 passed the Illinois General Assembly on November 14, 2019. While SB1557 includes wrinkles for the licensing, manufacturing and distribution of recreational cannabis in Illinois, it also contains language found below designed to protect employers from litigation.In essence, the language attempts to clear up concern that an employer may have been required to show actual impairment in the workplace vs. simply being able to implement and follow a reasonable, non-discriminatory drug testing policy.   Specifically, Section 10-50 of the law will now read as follows (changes in bold):

(410 ILCS 705/10-50) Sec. 10-50. Employment; employer liability.(a) Nothing in this Act shall prohibit an employer from adopting 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.(b) Nothing in this Act shall require an employer to permit an employee to be under the influence of or use cannabis in the employer’s workplace or while performing the employee’s job duties or while on call.(c) Nothing in this Act shall limit or prevent an employer from disciplining an employee or terminating employment of an employee for violating an employer’s employment policies or workplace drug policy.(d) An employer may consider an employee to be impaired or under the influence of cannabis if the employer has a good faith belief that an employee manifests specific, articulable symptoms while working that decrease or lessen the employee’s performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position, including symptoms of the employee’s speech, physical dexterity, agility, coordination, demeanor, irrational or unusual behavior, or negligence or carelessness in operating equipment or machinery; disregard for the safety of the employee or others, or involvement in any accident that results in serious damage to equipment or property; disruption of a production or manufacturing process; or carelessness that results in any injury to the employee or others. If an employer elects to discipline an employee on the basis that the employee is under the influence or impaired by cannabis, the employer must afford the employee a reasonable opportunity to contest the basis of the determination.(e) 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; , including but not limited to subjecting an employee or applicant to reasonable drug and alcohol testing under the employer’s workplace drug policy, including an employee’s refusal to be tested or to cooperate in testing procedures or disciplining or termination of employment;actions based on the employer’s good faith belief that an employee used or possessed cannabis in the employer’s workplace or while performing the employee’s job duties or while on call in violation of the employer’s employment policies;actions, including discipline or termination of employment, based on the employer’s good faith belief that an employee was impaired as a result of the use of cannabis, or under the influence of cannabis, while at the employer’s workplace or while performing the employee’s job duties or while on call in violation of the employer’s workplace drug policy; orinjury, loss, or liability to a third party if the employer neither knew nor had reason to know that the employee was impaired.

(f) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to enhance or diminish protections afforded by any other law, including but not limited to the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act or the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program.(g) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to interfere with any federal, state, or local restrictions on employment including, but not limited to, the United States Department of Transportation regulation 49 CFR 40.151(e) or impact an employer’s ability to comply with federal or state law or cause it to lose a federal or state contract or funding.(h) As used in this Section, “workplace” means the employer’s premises, including any building, real property, and parking area under the control of the employer or area used by an employee while in the performance of the employee’s job duties, and vehicles, whether leased, rented, or owned. “Workplace” may be further defined by the employer’s written employment policy, provided that the policy is consistent with this Section.(i) For purposes of this Section, an employee is deemed “on call” when such employee is scheduled with at least 24 hours’ notice by his or her employer to be on standby or otherwise responsible for performing tasks related to his or her employment either at the employer’s premises or other previously designated location by his or her employer or supervisor to perform a work-related task.

Additionally, much needed clarification for public employers was also included concerning how off duty use of cannabis by certain emergency personnel should be administered. The following was added to Section 10-35. Limitations and penalties:

(410 ILCS 705/10-35)(8) the use of cannabis by a law enforcement officer, corrections officer, probation officer, or firefighter while on duty; nothing in this Act prevents a public employer of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, probation officers, paramedics, or firefighters from prohibiting or taking disciplinary action for the consumption, possession, sales, purchase, or delivery of cannabis or cannabis-infused substances while on or off duty, unless provided for in the employer’s policies. However, an employer may not take adverse employment action against an employee based solely on the lawful possession or consumption of cannabis or cannabis-infused substances by members of the employee’s household. To the extent that this Section conflicts with any applicable collective bargaining agreement, the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement shall prevail. Further, nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit in any way the right to collectively bargain over the subject matters contained in this Act;

These changes help to better assure employers that they have the ability to implement fair, reasonable drug testing policies designed to protect their employees and the public. Recreational consumers will certainly have the legal right to use cannabis, but the employer should have the legal right to say “you better not have THC in your system to become or remain employed here.” Of course, any drug testing policy must be carefully vetted, designed, and implemented. After all, lawyers will be lawyers. 

While many questions still remain and medicinal usage requires a different analysis (for now) it appears employers can take better comfort and be more confident in creating policy designed to maintain a safe and healthy workplace through reasonable drug testing policies. However, employers must continue to carefully examine their own unique industry, risks and risk tolerances, together with their geographic footprint and applicant pool. The drug testing policy and drug-free workplace program for the “widget manufacturer” in Peoria is likely to be vastly different than that of the “accounting firm” in Schaumburg.

Up in Smoke: Recreational Marijuana and its Impact on the Illinois Workplace

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, Michael D. Wong, and Jeffrey A. Risch, May 31, 2019

It appears Illinois will become the 11th state to permit recreational cannabis. Once Governor Pritzker signs the legislation, as promised, beginning January 1, 2020, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“Act”), will allow adults (21+) in Illinois to possess and consume cannabis. While there is a lot “rolled” into the 600 plus page law (pun intended), there are significant employment pitfalls for employers with regard to enforcing drug free workplaces.

Marijuana and a gavel

The Act expressly permits employers to adopt and enforce “reasonable” and nondiscriminatory zero tolerance and drug free workplace policies, including policies on drug testing, smoking, consumption, storage, and use of cannabis in the workplace or while on-call – which is good for employers.

However, the Act’s language indicates that employers are not allowed to take an adverse action against an applicant or employee for marijuana usage outside the workplace. This is bad for employers, as it makes it much more difficult for employers to identify and address use of marijuana by employees. In particular, the Act amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (“Right to Privacy Act”), which prohibits employers from restricting employees from using legal products outside of work. Specifically, the Right to Privacy Act is amended to provide that “lawful products” means products that are legal under state law, indicating that recreational and medical marijuana are legal products that must be treated like alcohol and tobacco. Thus, employers may not discriminate against an employee or applicant who lawfully uses cannabis (recreationally or medically) off-premises during nonworking and non-call hours. 

Much like with the Illinois medical marijuana law, the Act changes the emphasis from whether an employee “used” marijuana while employed, to whether the employee was “impaired” or “under the influence” of marijuana while at work or working. As a result, drug testing without any other evidence of the employee being impaired at work or while working will open the door to legal challenges. Specifically, refusing to hire, disciplining, terminating, refusing to return an employee to work or taking an adverse action against an employee or applicant who fails a pre-employment, random, or post-leave return to duty drug test for marijuana will arguably create a claim for the employee against an employer for a violation of Illinois law. For example, an employee who undergoes a urine drug test (which shows use of marijuana within 30-45 days) following a workplace accident may argue that “recreational cannabis was lawfully used outside of work, and the accident/injury was unrelated to the employee’s legal use of cannabis outside of work.” Without more than the drug test result, the employer would be in a vulnerable position to argue against or defend such a claim. However, if the employer completed a post-accident report, which included a reasonable suspicion checklist, in which a trained supervisor observed and recorded symptoms/behaviors of drug use, the employer would be in a much better position to take an adverse action against the employee and dispute any such claim by an employee based on the observations and positive drug test.

With the changes to the Right to Privacy Act, it is important for employers to understand the potential exposure and damages. Under the Right to Privacy Act, aggrieved employees can recover actual damages, costs, attorneys’ fees and fines. As such, employers should make sure their practices and procedures are practical in light of these changes, until and unless the legislature or a court provides further clarity. Of course, the Illinois Department of Labor can provide such clarity through administrative rulemaking. However, that will likely not happen any time soon. 

Interestingly, the Act neither diminishes nor enhances the protections afforded to registered patients under the medical cannabis and opioid pilot programs (while cannabis use is not protected under federal law, the underlying medical condition is likely an ADA and IHRA-covered disability!). Much like under the Illinois medical marijuana law, the Act appears to require employers to take an additional step before disciplining or terminating an employee based on a “good faith belief” that the employee was impaired or under the influence of cannabis while at work or performing the job. After the employer has made a “good faith belief” determination and drug tested the employee, but before disciplining or terminating an employee, the employer must provide the employee with a reasonable opportunity to contest that determination. Once the employee is provided a reasonable opportunity to explain, an employer may then make a final determination regarding its good faith belief that the employee was impaired or under the influence of cannabis while on the job or while working, and what, if any, adverse employment action it will take against the employee without violating the Act. Requiring an employee to go through drug testing is still currently the best practice as a positive drug test will provide additional support for a supervisor’s reasonable suspicion determination.

What Employers Should Do to Diminish Legal Risks and Protect ‎their Workforce?

  1. First, get educated and evaluate all policies and practices that touch on providing and ensuring a safe workplace, including job descriptions. Review the law. Talk to legal counsel on an intimate basis. Assess workplace cannabis-tolerance (in general) and implement policies that can be enforced consistently amongst similarly situated employees. Policies that should be reviewed (and that could be affected) include those addressing health and safety (including accident reporting, smoking, and distracted driving), equal employment opportunity policies, workplace search/privacy policies and drug testing policies. Companies should also review with legal counsel, their drug testing vendor as well as their Medical Review Officer, the drug testing methodology being used to make sure that such is producing results that are useful, accurate and well vetted.
  2. Second, ensure managers and supervisors are well trained and capable of enforcing policies. Remember – exceptions and favoritism lead to discrimination claims.  Conducting training, especially training on reasonable suspicion detection, will be necessary to avoid legal challenges to a supervisor’s reasonable suspicion determination. Creating and/or updating forms for accident reporting (including witness statements), reasonable suspicion checklists, and established protocols for addressing suspected impairment in the workplace, is now more critical than ever.
  3. Third, clearly communicate management’s position and policies to employees, especially where there is a shift in current policy or practice. Educate employees on the effect of lawful and unlawful drug use and the employer’s policies regarding marijuana.
  4. Fourth, engage competent legal counsel to assist you in this process and in addressing difficult situations before they lead to costly and time-consuming litigation.

Finally, stay tuned for further state and national developments in this growing area of law. Be assured that SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Employment Group will be presenting timely webinars and seminars on this subject in the coming weeks and months.