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Off-Duty Marijuana Use Not Grounds to Deny Unemployment Benefits

marijuana use, unemployment, Illinois employment law attorneyAs a business owner, you have the right to create workplace policies that encourage a safe and productive work environment. For many employers, this means a complete ban on alcohol and controlled substances on the job. The use of drugs or alcohol while working can be extremely dangerous, and, in a large number of companies, grounds for severe discipline up to and including termination. Recreational use away from the workplace, however, is a different story, at least according to a recent Illinois appellate court decision.

Marijuana While on Vacation

The lawsuit before the appeals court was based on the denial of unemployment benefits to man who verbally acknowledged the use of marijuana on personal time. His case, Eastham vs. Housing Authority of Jefferson County, claimed that he was wrongfully denied unemployment compensation, as his marijuana use did not violate his employer’s drug-free workplace policy.

All employees of the Housing Authority are subject to random drug testing, and as such, the plaintiff was asked to submit to a test. Prior to the test, he expressed his concern that he would test positive for marijuana, as he had used the drug during a recent vacation. Despite the test coming back negative, the man was fired, and upon his employer’s contesting his claim, unemployment benefits were subsequently denied. A state review board upheld the denial on the grounds that the Authority’s drug-free policy applied even while an employee was not in the course of his job.

Appellate Court Ruling

Following the review board’s decision, the man took his claim to civil court where the trial judge determined that the policy had been misapplied. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, holding that the man’s drug use did not occur in the course of his employment. Further, it recognized that was not under the influence and that several states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The court ruled that, in light of such facts, enforcing the Authority’s policy as done in this case “serves no legitimate public purpose.”

The full impact of the court’s decision remains to be seen, but it may have Illinois employers reviewing their drug and alcohol policies. If you have questions about enforcing an employee conduct or substance use policy, contact an experienced Schaumberg employment law attorney. Our office is proud to help business owners throughout DuPage, Kane, Lake, and CookCounties.

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