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Using marijuana is legal in Illinois — but it can still get you fired

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- Now that recreational pot is legal in Illinois, marijuana enthusiasts may feel like it's finally time to emerge from hiding.

But people with jobs -- or looking for them -- might want to stay in the shadows for now as companies figure out how to handle employees who partake.

In Illinois, employers are allowed to fire workers who bring cannabis to the office, show up impaired or fail random drug tests, according to the state's new law legalizing recreational marijuana use, which was amended in December to clarify employers' rights. Companies also are able to reject job applicants who don't pass drug screens.

But employers that take action against their workers still could face a haze of legal questions, such as whether their policies are reasonable or whether employees were actually impaired, which can be difficult to prove given there's no way to test for impairment.

"It really has left almost every Illinois employer in somewhat of a quandary about what they can and should be doing in terms of drug testing, and what they can and should be doing with a positive marijuana result," said Julie Stahr, a partner in labor and employment law at Schiff Hardin in Chicago.

The law states that employers may subject employees and job applicants to "reasonable drug and alcohol testing," which can include pre-employment testing and random testing. And an employer may discipline employees, fire them or withdraw a job offer if an applicant fails a drug test, in line with a "reasonable workplace drug policy."

 

Many employers aren't planning changes to how they handle drug and alcohol use, despite the new law.

Lauren Izaks, co-owner and chief operating officer of Deerfield, Ill.-based All Points Public Relations, said she plans to keep her workplace drug- and alcohol-free but will ask her attorney to review the policy, specifically the parts that address medical marijuana users. She said the company might be able to erase the part of its policy dealing with medical marijuana now that recreational use is legal.

The company, which has nearly 30 employees, hasn't drug-tested in the past, and won't start now, she said.

"As long as they're not using it directly at work or before work hours, then what they do on their own time is their own business," Izaks said of recreational marijuana use.

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