Illinois Proposal to Bar Employers from Firing Workers Over Pot Advances

A bill to enshrine protections for workers in Illinois who use cannabis products cleared a hurdle in the state general assembly last week.

The legislation passed in the Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday and arrived in the state Senate the following day. Democrats control both chambers of the general assembly.

Under the proposal, “an employer may not refuse to hire an individual or discipline an employee because results of an individual’s drug test indicate the presence of THC on the part of that individual,” nor may the employer fire or impose a discipline against an employee for such conduct. 

It does, however, permit an employer “to enforce a pre-employment drug testing policy, zero-tolerance drug testing policy, random drug testing policy, or a drug-free workplace policy or disciplining an employee for violating such policy, but provides than an employer may not take adverse action against an employee solely because of a positive drug test for cannabis unless the test result exceeds limits set forth in certain DUI provisions of the Illinois Vehicle Code.”

Moreover, the bill establishes “conditions under which an employer may discipline an employee for impairment,” and provides “that there is not a cause of action for any person against an employer for disciplining or terminating the employment of an individual when enforcing a compliant policy.”

According to local television station WGEM, the bill “does not exclude teachers, although schools have to follow zero-tolerance policies due to federal agreements.”

If the bill were to become law, it would serve as an important addendum to the state’s recreational cannabis program. The state legalized marijuana for adults aged 21 and older in 2019, when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law. 

In addition to establishing a regulated cannabis market, the law also sought to redress previous convictions that occurred during the era of prohibition. Pritzker has pardoned thousands of low-level cannabis convictions.

“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said in 2020. “We are restoring rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

Last year, the state raked in $1,379,088,278.61 in recreational cannabis sales, which was more than double what the program generated in its inaugural year of 2020.

But in spite of that, some employees in Illinois continue to face the risk of being sacked over a legal activity. 

“If we’re going to legalize the substance, you should talk about individual liberties and what people want to do on their weekends. We should allow people to make good choices and not be discriminated against in the workplace because of those choices as long as it’s not affecting the workplace,” said Democratic State House Rep. Bob Morgan, one of the sponsors of the bill, as quoted by WGEM.

The station reported that Morgan argues “people with trace amounts of cannabis in their system should not be at risk of losing their job unless they fall into one of those specific categories,” and that Illinois “should treat cannabis the same as it treats alcohol and other legal substances.”

But some Republican lawmakers in Illinois objected to the proposal.

“You may not be able to tell if someone is impaired or not until that accident happens or there’s a problem at the workplace,” said GOP state House Rep. Dan Ugaste, as quoted by WGEM. “I think we’re overstepping a little too quickly just to make certain someone can enjoy themselves on the weekend.”

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