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Launchways Hosts Compliance Webinar on Recreational Marijuana Legalization

In June 2019, Illinois became the 11th state in the country to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. This January, that law went into effect and was met enthusiastically by Illinoisans: newly legal dispensaries did $10 million in business in the first week alone.

Although it is often viewed as a legal matter affecting individual citizens, legalization introduces numerous complications and concerns for employers. While employers can still regulate the use of marijuana in the workplace, legalization has made enforcing those policies much more difficult and employers risk compliance violations if they overstep their bounds.

Whether you are a business owner or HR professional, you are probably already grappling with the effects of Illinois marijuana legalization. At Launchways, we know that our clients certainly have. So, we decided to bring in a legal expert and our in-house HR expert for a free webinar on navigating legalization in Illinois. We hosted the webinar on February 19th but you can still stream it on-demand anytime.

We want everyone to benefit from the advice that our experts gave during the webinar, so let’s take a look at the key points covered during the lively session.

  • Webinar Overview
  • Legalization Details and Key Distinctions
  • What can employers legally do from a compliance standpoint?
  • Compliance Concerns from Legalization

Webinar Overview

On February 19th, HR leaders from across Illinois tuned in for a presentation by two industry experts.Our first panelist was Heather Bailey. Heather is a partner in SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Enforcement Practice Group and has practiced in employment and labor counseling and litigation for 18 years. She counsels on day-to-day operations, human resources, and management decisions regarding employees, practices, and policies. In short, she is an expert in navigating employers through compliance issues and helping them create effective and compliant employee policies.

The second panelist was Launchways’ HR Client Manager, Karina Castaneda. Karina is a seasoned HR professional with over 15 years of experience working in employee benefits, performance, and staffing. She helps Launchways clients with all of their compliance questions and concerns and provides them with strategic advice regarding talent management.

Needless to say, both panelists know the ins-and-outs of compliance and effective employee management. And they proved full of valuable insights into effectively responding to marijuana legalization in Illinois.

Legalization Details and Key Distinctions

To start the webinar, our panelists went over the specifics of what the Illinois legalization law, officially known as the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, does and does not do.

The Act made recreational consumption of marijuana legal throughout Illinois and enshrined marijuana as a legal substance that employers can not regulate outside of the workplace as part of the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act. The fundamental consequence of legalization and the modification of the Right to Privacy Act is that employers’ enforcement strategy needs to change from regulating use or consumption to regulating intoxication. Luckily, our panelists provided clear guidelines for how to effectively make the shift.

What can employers legally do from a compliance standpoint?

Employers can still take action against employees for being intoxicated in the workplace from marijuana just as they can for alcohol intoxication at work. Where things get tricky is that there is no such thing as a “breathalyzer” for marijuana. Your current drug testing policies will likely catch general drug use, but cannot pinpoint real-time intoxication, making them an ineffective enforcement tool that will expose you to compliance and lawsuit liabilities if you try to use them as the sole basis to prove intoxication at work.

As Karina outlined during the presentation, the law does not prohibit employers from regulating the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana in the workplace. So, employers can treat marijuana much as they already treat alcohol in the workplace, just with a slightly different enforcement strategy. Specifically, they should establish clear intoxication standards based on a combination of drug testing and document reasonable suspicion signs. And, says Karina, employers should update their policies to clarify the company’s stance on marijuana and the consequences of using the substance at work.

Heather delved deeper into effective and compliant enforcement of a zero tolerance workplace drug policy. Specifically, she emphasized the importance of establishing a good faith belief in intoxication as the grounds for any disciplinary action. She advised employers to provide concrete reasonable suspicion checklists and train managers on how to identify symptoms and record them using the checklists. Importantly, drug testing should be used to support these checklists but not used as an enforcement tool on their own.

Compliance Concerns from Legalization

Our panelists explained that employers need to tread carefully when pursuing disciplinary action against impaired employees in light of legalization. In addition to relying on a good-faith belief in intoxication and reasonable suspicion checklists, Heather emphasized that employers must allow employees the opportunity to contest the allegations to avoid compliance issues or potential grounds for lawsuits. However, the burden lies on employees to prove that they were not impaired so long as the employer has provided reasonable grounds for disciplinary action.

Heather also explained that because the Act protects marijuana use outside of work hours and while not on call, employers have to tread carefully so that they do not give even the appearance of discriminating against employees for using marijuana in their free time. That means that you cannot refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise treat employees differently because of their perceived marijuana use so long as they are not using it at work. Similarly, you may face lawsuits if you take disciplinary action that is not based on a good-faith belief in actual impairment.

Both panelists cautioned employers against the inconsistent or uneven application of drug testing policies given the additional discrimination risks introduced by legalization. If drug testing seems targeted and is not based on recorded reasonable suspicion, you may face discrimination lawsuits. And across the board, clarity is your friend: make your drug policy and enforcement language as clear and explicit as possible and communicate changes to managers and employees.

Heather finished her presentation with a list of best-practices that employers should follow, including:

  • Have a Zero Tolerance drug policy
  • Educate employees on your company’s stance on cannabis
  • Have an ADA process for medical marijuana users
  • Update job descriptions for safety-sensitive positions
  • Train, train, train management
  • Do not rely on drug testing alone to prove impairment

Karina outlined how these changes affect your human resources policies, advising employers and HR professionals that they should:

  • Evaluate current drug testing policies, including pre-employment testing, general testing, and post-accident testing
  • Update employee handbook with a clear policy that states the company’s stance on cannabis use
  • Notify and train managers on policy updates in light of legalization
  • Enlist outside help for areas of confusion or when additional assistance is needed to update policies or train employees

Stream the Webinar for More Valuable Insights

In this article, we covered the general overview of the panel’s advice to employers and HR professionals. But addressing the effects of cannabis legalization in the workplace is such a complex and important topic that it is best to hear from the experts themselves. Stream the complete webinar on-demand anytime here.

Do you need help ensuring your drug policy and testing procedures are compliant? Launchways offers a free handbook and employer policy review. Request your free handbook review today.

Preventing Discrimination in Your Employee Benefits Program

“Discrimination” is a word that no human resources professional ever wants to hear. Unfortunately, many HR leaders are unaware that discrimination can easily be lurking where we expect it least: in our employee benefits programs.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • The difference between unfairness and discrimination
  • How employee benefits can unknowingly be discriminatory
  • What HR needs to do identify and eliminate discriminatory benefits practices

Discrimination vs. Unfairness

Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, particularly on grounds of race, age, or gender.

Unfairness is a lack of equity; that is to say, a situation in which not everybody is treated the same way.

Those concepts are closely tied – and they can certainly occur at the same time – but they’re not exactly synonyms.

Fairness is an ideal, a target we should be able to hit the vast majority of the time. As an HR department, nobody is ever going to love every policy or initiative, but if your policies and the way you treat people feels consistent, you’ll be fine. When fairness issues become systemic and begin to affect work or culture, then you have a problem.

On the other hand, it’s never okay to be discriminatory from a moral or legal/compliance standpoint.

How does this apply to employee benefits?

By nature, insurance isn’t always “fair.” For example, if a 30-year-old employee and a 68-year-old employee are on the same health plan, making the same employee contribution, the 68-year-old will see much more value due to their increased likelihood of medical need.

If you’re the 30-year-old in that scenario, that doesn’t feel very fair, but it’s not discriminatory. That’s because, if that 30-year-old had the same medical needs as the 68-year-old, the plan would be just as valuable to them. There’s no unfair barrier in place blocking access due to age.

The EEOC dictates that programs are not discriminatory in that exact scenario as long as they provide either equal cost or equal benefit.

HR directors and benefits managers hear a lot from employees about why their benefits offerings are imperfect, but it’s crucial to sort out a fairness issue from actual discrimination.

How can employee benefits be discriminatory?

As their name implies, employee benefits are valuable perks that positively impact people’s lives. When you start offering different employees different levels of benefits, you encounter a real fairness issue, but depending on the way you’re classifying employees when you make those offers, you might be discriminating and not even knowing it.

The law states that in order to offer two employees different benefits packages, you need to demonstrate those two individuals are on different levels in terms of “bona fide employment-based classifications.”

Those bona fide classifications include:

  • Full Time vs. Part Time status
    • It’s okay to offer full-time employees benefits that part-timers don’t receive
  • Geographic location
    • It’s okay (even necessary) to offer eligible employees different benefits packages based on where they live
      • This generally applies to businesses that operate across multiple states
  • Different dates of hire and lengths of service
    • It’s okay if senior employees have been “grandfathered in” with an old plan

So, the bottom line is, if you have two full-time employees working in the same office who got hired on the same day, they should have equitable access to the same employee benefits programs.

What about managers and executives?

The most common way businesses inadvertently commit benefit discrimination is by the way they structure benefit offerings to so-called Highly Compensated Employees (HCEs). An HCE is someone who:

  • Makes more than $130,000 or
  • Owns more than 5% of the business

If your business is self-insured, the ACA prevents you from offering preferential benefits packages to HCEs. If your business is fully insured, you can offer a higher tier of benefits (or lower premium costs) to HCEs if your business does not offer a cafeteria plan. In the event you are insured and have a cafeteria program in place, it’s unlikely you will be able to offer different plans to your executives, but always double check with your broker.

Regulations concerning benefits discrimination

If you would like to explore the compliance frameworks to fully grapple with the problem, here are some places you can find discrimination regulations specifically tied to employee benefits policies.

What does HR need to do?

There are three compelling core reasons to review your employee benefits programs through the lens of checking for discrimination:

  1. Reducing discrimination is simple the right thing to do
  2. An employee dispute over a discriminatory program could become a long legal battle
  3. If regulators discover or catch wind of discriminatory practices, your business will be fined

As an HR leader, you need to be proactive and be sure you:

  • Lead an internal audit of your employee benefits offerings to ensure packages are offered in a way that is nondiscriminatory
  • Contact your benefits broker to ensure they are aware of all relevant regulations and can describe to you how and why your program is compliant
  • Inform your legal and compliance teams as quickly as possible if you detect any issues, shortcomings, or possible areas of discrimination
  • Take ownership over correcting all issues as quickly as possible

When you work to eradicate hidden discrimination from your policies and offerings, you’re strengthening your organization for the long-term and doing your part to create a better work experience for all professionals.


Employee benefits discrimination unfortunately occurs often because the situations in which businesses can or can’t offer different packages can confusing at times.

Just remember:

  • Insurance isn’t necessarily “fair” (because there’s no guarantee people will get the same value out of it), but it should never be discriminatory
  • All differences in benefits offerings should be based on bona fide employment-based classifications, like part time vs. full time, location, or date of hire
  • If you are self-insured or have a cafeteria plan, you cannot offer preferential benefit packages to highly compensated employees
  • All HR departments should lead an audit of their offerings in collaboration with your benefits broker and legal team
Battling Onboarding Scope Challenges with Employee Management Platforms

Battling Onboarding Scope Challenges with Employee Management Platforms

The flow of talent into and out of your organization has a direct impact on your ability to do great business and thrive. That means every organization should have a clear vision and thoughtful approach to new employee onboarding.

Unfortunately, for many businesses, onboarding has evolved into a major pinch point. It’s become increasingly complicated, and it’s rarely satisfying for either the new employee or the organization who’s betting on their productivity.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • What new employees actually need to get started
  • Why the challenge of new employee onboarding/enablement has grown
  • How innovative employee management platforms address those challenges in effective and productivity-boosting ways

Breaking Down New Employee Support Needs

Let’s start by considering your brand-new employee. It’s their first day. They’ve got the talent and ability to be a difference-maker for you, and their enthusiasm will never be higher.

So, what do they need from you right away to feel authentically plugged in and ready to hit the ground running?

Let’s take a minute to break it down, piece by piece:

Getting Paid

Payroll enrollment is one of the most basic and important aspects of employee onboarding. You need your new employees to see a clear, legitimate path to payment from day one.

When you get payroll enrollment right, it creates a highly satisfying experience that motivates your new hires to dig in, roll up their sleeves, and immerse themselves in the work.

If your new employee’s first check isn’t prepared on time or if the information on it is wrong, that creates a negative early impression for your talent, and correcting the issue will only cost them more time and effort.

Signing Up for Benefits

As with payroll, smooth employee-benefits enrollment is crucial to getting your new talent bought in and ready to do great work.

Benefits election actually contains several specific but unique challenges:

  • Providing a platform and experience that makes signing up for benefits clear and easy
  • Offering educational resources that help new talent make the best, most cost-effective choices
  • Getting that documentation from your employee to your insurance providers

There is an incredibly wide spectrum of knowledge and comfort levels with health insurance across the workforce, and even for great talent, making benefit elections can be intimidating. When you’re able to make the process feel straightforward and empowering, it goes a long way in building buy-in and setting new hires up for success.

Work Enablement

Once your employees are enrolled in payroll and signed up for benefits, they’re probably feeling pretty legitimate and excited about the journey they’re starting. Capitalizing on that moment of enthusiasm is crucial, but it’s not possible unless you have a strong hold on the actual work enablement piece.

What do employees need in order to do great work? For some, that depends specifically on their role within your organization, but there are a few general areas that you need to address for every new hire. 


Every single employee within your organization needs technological hardware in order to do their job well, whether it’s patrol trackers and communication devices for security guards, tablets for field service workers, company phones for sales professionals, or just the standard desktop and laptop computers many people need to get work done.

Of course, you can’t just pass out expensive tech tools without a tracking and accountability system in place to ensure your hardware is kept in good condition and you know where all your devices are located. That means you’ve got the double-tough responsibility of getting your new hire everything they need as quickly as possible while also needing to focus on documentation.


Passing out hardware is just the beginning of meeting your new employees’ technological and work enablement needs. In order to be a fully functional member of the team, they need all kinds of accounts created.

Depending on the situation, that might require purchasing software licenses, creating new login credentials, and so on, but to give you a sense of how much really goes into technical work enablement now, each employee likely needs:

  • An email account
  • A login for company ERP/productivity platform
  • Standard office software licenses (word processing, spreadsheet creation, etc.)
  • Document sharing/collaboration portal credentials
  • Access to any relevant SaaS or cloud-based apps

FAQ Support

Alright, so your new employee is fully enrolled in payroll and benefits, they have been issued their company hardware, and they have all the accounts and credentials they need to get started. What’s left? All the little stuff, of course!

No matter how smart or experienced your new hire, there are a variety of questions that are going to pop up in any new job scenario. The faster and more directly and effectively you can answer those questions, the faster your new hire will stop feeling like the new hire and start feeling like a fully-integrated team member.

That means you need some kind of reference resource built into your onboarding system that incoming talent can use as a floatation device during times of confusion or panic in their opening weeks. 

With that piece in place, you’ve officially onboarded a new hire in a way that supports great work and great organizational buy-in.

Why Is It So Hard to Get Employee Onboarding Right?

When you dissect it like we have, new employee onboarding is a massive responsibility, and the expanded use of technology hardware and software over the last 25 years has only made it more complicated.

Thanks to all those tech support needs, onboarding has grown into a shared responsibility of HR & IT. Unfortunately, though, the interdepartmental back-and-forth often leads to communication breakdowns, duplication of effort, and poor data hygiene.

Finally, a better way is emerging.

How Employee Management Platforms Address These Challenges

Employee management platforms are software solutions that integrate as many of the tasks related to employee onboarding and long-term employee management as possible into a single system.

Employee management platforms eliminate repetitive tasks, significantly streamlining the paperwork and communication associated with onboarding tasks and allowing for full new employee enablement in a single day.

Using an employee management platform, you can leverage a single system your employees can use to:

  • Enroll in payroll and benefits
  • Access, download, or log into the apps and software they need
  • Connect and communicate with their colleagues
  • Get answers to basic questions about employee protocol and support resources

At the same time, your managers, HR, IT, and payroll professionals can use the system to:

  • Assign and track hardware
  • Monitor employee time usage
  • Create (or disallow) credentials, accounts, and permissions as needed
  • Build and automate custom workflows between tools
  • Make updates to the system using a single source of truth

How Employee Management Platforms are Providing New Gains

By bringing all that management, administration, and work enablement functionality together in one place, employee management platforms create incredible time savings. That means more time for productivity!

When there’s no repeat data entry and everything can be handled through a single platform, your HR professionals will have more time to provide a holistic, employee-centered onboarding experience that sets new hires up for success and leaves them feeling ready to take on the world for your company.

When you provide a platform that simplifies hardware assignment, it frees your IT team from the mindless tasks of device management and creates new opportunities for them to pursue long-term quality-of-life initiatives for your employees.

And, of course, when you provide a new employee onboarding experience that feels cutting edge, easy-breezy, and empowering, your incoming talent will have a greater sense of security, a greater sense of motivation, and a greater sense of purpose.


Employee onboarding procedures can feel like an endless list of equally crucial tasks. Employee management platforms are creating new opportunities to untie that knot and rethink onboarding.


  • New employees need to feel legitimate and see a clear path to compensation from day one
  • New employees need their work tools as fast as possible to accelerate their integration into work and company culture
  • Onboarding can feel over-complicated because the responsibilities are spread out across several different departments
  • By all integrating the processes and tasks into a single system, businesses can maximize new employee onboarding and get the most out of their talent from day one

How to Learn More

Rippling is revolutionizing the onboarding process by helping HR professionals support their new hires better than ever.

By integrating all aspects of the onboarding process into a single digital platform, Rippling accelerates the new employee orientation experience, connecting hires with the tools, coverage, and credentials they need with a minimal number of clicks.

To learn more about how Rippling can smooth the employee onboarding process at your business and create a new way of managing HR and IT responsibilities, contact them today.

What Employers Need to Know About Illinois Recreational Cannabis Law

On June 25, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act into law, making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis. The law went into effect this January and dispensaries sold over $10 million worth of recreational marijuana in the first week.

The legalization of Illinois recreational cannabis has potentially serious ramifications for business owners, HR professionals, and managers. Many fear that their employees will show up high at work or get high at work during breaks. And because using recreational marijuana is no longer in itself illegal in Illinois, employers can’t enforce zero-tolerance policies towards its use – just its use at work.

While there are valid concerns, Illinois recreational marijuana legalization doesn’t pose an existential threat to employers. As long as you are careful and implement a few straightforward policies, there is no reason to fear legal recreational cannabis.

So, how can you protect your business from having employees show up high at work and from discrimination suits for taking action against employees for being high at work? In this article, we’ll explore:

  • Concerns About Recreational Marijuana in Illinois
  • Preventing Employees From Being High at Work
  • Protecting Yourself Against Lawsuits for Policies Against Marijuana in the Workplace
  • Why Illinois Recreational Marijuana Legalization Isn’t a Threat to Businesses
  • How to Learn More

Concerns About Recreational Marijuana in Illinois

Whether you support it or not, Illinois recreational cannabis legalization is a reality. What does that mean for you as a business owner, manager, or human resources professional?

For the most part, your policies on recreational marijuana and drug testing in the workplace shouldn’t have to change. But the way that you enforce those policies may need to be modified.

Despite what some business owners think, and some overeager employees might insist, your employees aren’t suddenly allowed to show up high at work. Employers are still allowed to have zero-tolerance policies for the consumption of recreational marijuana, intoxication from recreational cannabis, or the storage of marijuana during work hours or while on call.

But you’re no longer allowed to take action against employees who use recreational marijuana outside of company time and are not high at work. Many employers might not have a problem with this on the face of it. After all, off the clock employees’ time should be their own unless the after-effects impact their job performance.

However, even if you fully support the use of recreational cannabis outside of work, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois makes it harder for you to prevent employees from being high at work. And it exposes you to potential discrimination lawsuits if you take action against employees for being high at work based on evidence of their use of recreational cannabis in general rather than just at work.

After all, there is no equivalent of a breathalyzer for marijuana as of yet. That means that there is no surefire way to tell if an employee is high at work. And methods for drug testing in the workplace have varying degrees of accuracy. Many companies that are currently drug testing for marijuana are using hair follicle drug testing. But hair follicle drug testing is only useful to tell whether or not an employee has used recreational marijuana in the past several weeks or even months. That means that hair follicle drug testing is now more or less obsolete for drug testing in the workplace in states with legalized recreational cannabis. And urine tests are not even a reliable solution for drug testing in legal states as they can deliver positive results for recreational marijuana use anywhere between two weeks and a month in the past.

You might think that you can still take action against employees for using recreational marijuana during off hours because recreational cannabis is still illegal on a federal level. That might be true if the Illinois law simply allowed employers to control marijuana use at work and did not give the same right for off-work hours. But the 600-page law amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act that prohibits employers from punishing employees for using legal substances outside of work to expand the definition of legal substances to include recreational cannabis and medical marijuana. So while you won’t break federal law by punishing employees for consuming recreational marijuana outside of work, you will be in violation of state law.

So, how can you stop employees from being high at work without breaking the new Illinois recreational marijuana legalization law or exposing yourself to lawsuits?

Preventing Employees From Being High at Work

If you can’t rely on traditional drug testing in the workplace to prevent employees from being high at work, what can you do?

The Illinois recreational cannabis law establishes reasonable suspicion or good-faith belief that an employee is high at work as a legitimate standard for taking action against that employee. So, until somebody invents foolproof technology for marijuana-use testing to see if an employee is currently high at work, your best bet is to leverage the reasonable suspicion standard.

How can you take advantage of the good-faith belief standard as laid out in the Illinois recreational marijuana bill? The first step you should take is to train supervisors and managers on how to identify drug use, including distributing reasonable suspicion checklists that they can fill out for incident reports, and educate all of your employees about the reasonable suspicion standard that will be used to tell whether they are high at work. That way, your team will be prepared to meet the standard and your company will be sheltered from liability for enforcing the standard. You should also include the reasonable suspicion checklists in all of your accident report forms, especially if your business is especially susceptible to workplace-safety issues.

According to the Illinois recreational marijuana legalization law, these are the symptoms that your team should record if they suspect an employee is high at work and that you can use to meet the good-faith standard:

  • Changes in speech, dexterity, agility or coordination
  • Irrational, unusual or negligent behavior when operating equipment or machinery
  • Disregard for the safety of others
  • Carelessness that results in any injury to others
  • Involvement in any accident that results in serious damage to equipment or property
  • Production or manufacturing disruptions

So long as you are meticulous about recording symptoms at the time, you should not have to fear reprimanding employees for showing up high at work. Under the Illinois recreational marijuana bill, if an employer demonstrates a good faith belief that an employee is high at work, the burden shifts to the employee to prove that they were not impaired.

And you can still use drug testing in the workplace as part of your efforts to dissuade employees from being high at work. Random drug testing for marijuana is explicitly permitted under the new law and can provide additional support for reasonable suspicion claims. And you can maximize the usefulness of random drug testing by reviewing your methods for drug testing in the workplace to ensure that you are testing for use in the past 6-12 hours rather than the past 30+ days. For instance, replace hair follicle drug testing with more accurate saliva or blood testing. Just don’t use drug testing as the sole justification for any disciplinary actions.

Protecting Yourself Against Lawsuits for Policies Against Marijuana in the Workplace

Now that you know how you can effectively address the use of recreational cannabis in the workplace, let’s take a look at how you can safeguard yourself against lawsuits when you take action against an employee for being high at work.

First and foremost, don’t take action against employees without the standards we outlined in the last section and always air on the side of caution, even if you meet the reasonable suspicion standard. It’s generally not worth risking serious disciplinary action against an employee unless their use of recreational marijuana poses a threat to their productivity or workplace safety, and if that is the case, then they have probably well surpassed the good-faith suspicion standard.

Beyond following proper enforcement procedures, another step that you can take to minimize your liability is to give employees advanced notice regarding any changes in drug enforcement policy and to provide comprehensive education about the recreational marijuana policies and their enforcement. This can head off claims of unfair surprise, prevent unnecessary lawsuits from being filed because an employee didn’t know what the policies were, and ensure that managers enforce the policies properly.

You may well have to review your drug enforcement policies as well as your anti-discrimination policies because Illinois recreational cannabis legalization adds pressure behind previous discrimination issues. Recreational marijuana enforcement has a history of racial bias and you have to tread especially carefully to avoid any semblance of bias, whether conscious or unconscious. So, conduct rigorous implicit and explicit bias training and make sure that random drug testing in the workplace is genuinely random and applies to all employees equally.

So long as you follow these steps, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about regarding discrimination lawsuits as a result of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois.

Why Illinois Recreational Marijuana Legalization Isn’t a Threat to Businesses

The good news is that unless you work in an industry fraught with workplace-safety concerns, such as construction, Illinois recreational marijuana legalization is cause for caution rather than concern. As long as you put the right systems in place, there’s no reason to be too worried about the legalization of recreational marijuana. You will still be able to stop employees from being high at work and take action against employees who do use recreational marijuana at work, without fear of damaging lawsuits.

And while you should protect yourself from repeated workplace intoxication that causes performance or cultural issues and from discrimination lawsuits, casual use by employees should not be an issue for most employers. Ten other states have legalized recreational marijuana and businesses continued to thrive. States with legalized recreational cannabis states represent four out of the top five state economies in the country and California, the poster-child for legalization, is the largest state economy in the country. Illinois business owners will be fine – so long as they handle the transition correctly.

Illinois recreational cannabis even presents opportunities for employers to set themselves apart and win the war for talent. According to a 2019 survey by PBS Research, Civilized, Burson Cohn & Wolfe, and Buzzfeed News, half of Illinoisans surveyed said that their ideal workplace would permit marijuana use outside of work but that two-thirds were uncomfortable with use in the workplace. If those numbers are accurate, most employees are likely to respect the prohibition of marijuana use at work and business owners can improve their employer branding by taking a hands-off approach to recreational cannabis use outside of work.

How to Learn More

The legalization of Illinois recreational cannabis has made things a lot more complicated for business owners and HR professionals throughout Illinois. There’s no way that we can cover all of the complexities and details of how you should handle the legalization of recreational cannabis, prevent employees from being high at work, and protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits in one article. Nor are we attorneys who can give you sufficient legal advice.

That is why we’ve enlisted the help of an attorney who is well-versed in all things employment law to help guide business owners and HR professionals through this turbulent transition. Heather Bailey is a partner at SmithAmundsen’s and an expert in employment and labor counseling and litigation. She’ll be joining our very own HR Client Manager Karina Castaneda for a comprehensive free webinar on understanding the ins-and-outs of the Cannabis Regulation Act and how it affects Illinois employers.

Join us on February 19th at 11am CST to learn what these two experts have to say about preparing your company for legalization. Register Today!

The Complete Guide to Employee Onboarding

The Complete Guide to Employee Onboarding

The Power of Getting Onboarding Right

A new employee’s first days and weeks of work are a crucial time. Their early impressions of the organizational structure, leadership, climate, and culture of their new environment will directly affect the way in which they approach work in the coming months and years.

When organizations have a clear, purposeful, well-organized approach to onboarding, new hires get the structure and support they need to thrive. That’s why 79% of business leaders say onboarding should be an “urgent” or “important” priority.

On the other hand, when incoming talent is thrown into the fire or not provided the education they need to hit the ground running, it significantly lowers productivity, both for the confused, under-served new-hire and their teammates, who must constantly take time out of their own work hours to triage knowledge and skill gaps.

Preventing those hang-ups is one of HR’s main responsibilities. With a proactive, straightforward, integrated approach to onboarding, you can ensure that creating a great experience for your new hires doesn’t come at the expense of your current team’s productivity.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • The true scope and definition of onboarding
  • How HR, IT, and each department or team within an organization can support great onboarding
  • Five things all organizations need to do to get onboarding right

What is Onboarding, Really?

In an HR context, onboarding is the process through which new hires gain the knowledge, skills, tools, strategies, and motivation they need to become great team members and productive employees.

In the past, companies often divided the functional, logistical, and support needs of a new hire (“onboarding”) from cultural initiation and policy/accountability review (“orientation”), but as with many other aspects of HR, leading organizations are moving toward a whole-employee model. As a result, onboarding is coming to encompass both sets of responsibilities.

That’s actually good news for HR professionals, as it helps focus on what most of us are really passionate about: setting people up for success.

Let’s break down that onboarding definition and look at each individual element with an eye toward what a strong procedure can truly accomplish.

Knowledge Transfer Requirements for New Employees

Your hires need all sorts of knowledge in order to thrive in their new roles. They already have most of the functional understanding they need – that’s why you hired them – but you need to teach them your specific expectations for success.

Knowledge transfer considerations include:

  • Corporate structure and norms
  • Policies and procedures
  • Employee benefits offerings
  • Education on company values and culture goals
  • Emergency preparedness procedures
  • Attendance policies, earned time structures, etc.

Skill Training Needs for New Employees

Incoming talent likely has a track record of success on some level, but that doesn’t mean every one of them knows how to complete day-to-day tasks in the specific way your team prefers. Ensuring your new-hires hit the ground running in a positive, productive manner means identifying and mitigating skill gaps as quickly as possible.

The skills you need to reinforce with your new hires will vary depending on the role and each professional’s existing skillset, but it’s best to have plans in place to address issues like:

  • Skill assessments for incoming talent to gauge education needs
  • Tutorials and lessons on relevant work software/ERPs/etc.
  • Leadership coaching for new or emerging managers
  • Specific device training for technicians
  • Guidance on professional communication

Tool Acquisition for New Employees

Connecting your new employees with the physical tools they need to do great work is just as important as equipping them with the right knowledge and mindset.

Knowing what each new-hire needs requires a deep understanding of your organizational chart and proactive communication across a number of departments.

For each team member you welcome into the fold, you need to determine and fulfill their needs as quickly as possible, including:

  • Access credentials and digital accounts for relevant software/systems (email, salesforce, or github etc.)
  • Work computers (desktop, laptop, etc.)
  • Company mobile devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.)
  • Device accessories (keyboards, chargers, etc.)
  • Traditional office supplies (Pens, folders, etc.)

Strategy Development for New Employees

At some point in their careers, your new employees are going to run into problems. Maybe they’ll have a life-changing event that necessitates an insurance change. Maybe they’ll have an issue with a co-worker that requires mediation, the list goes on and on.

You can greatly reduce anxiety for your team members and set them up for instant success by identifying as many of those common problems and frequently asked questions and proactively addressing them with new hires.

HR can support talent immediately and improve their overall experience by helping them develop strategies for:

  • Addressing problems with colleagues or supervisors
  • Reporting facilities or maintenance-related issues
  • Contacting security
  • Connecting with IT support
  • Discussing performance, goals, and progress
  • Communicating across departments

Building Motivation for New Employees

Knowledge transfer, skill building, tool acquisition, and strategy development are the four most important onboarding considerations when it comes to delivering a new employee who is ready to do a great job and become a fully integrated member of your team and culture.

On the other hand, many organizations and HR teams that do those things well still miss out on the opportunity to use onboarding as a time to infuse new team members with impactful motivation including:

  • Frameworks and structures for bonuses, raises, equity options, etc.
  • Introduction to the value of day-to-day perks and employee culture initiatives
  • Opportunities to interact with and receive mentorship from standout talent
  • Education on company success stories, exciting innovations, and other news

Onboarding as a Whole-Company Responsibility

When you look at the scope of what’s been laid out, it’s apparent that no HR professional or department can build a great onboarding process in isolation. Integrating and empowering new team members as quickly as possible must be an organization-wide value and priority in order to harness onboarding for talent maximization.

During any onboarding process, IT should be one of your closest allies. They provide the functional tools and support that complement the great job your department does preparing new hires to become great employees.

In fact, the most cutting-edge approaches to new employee onboarding are beginning to use tech platforms to blur the lines between IT and HR with an eye toward streamlining the process.

For now, however, let’s consider the traditional departmental divides to think about how responsibilities are generally spread out across HR, IT, and each new hire’s department or team.

HR Onboarding Checklist

  • Completion of onboarding documents and forms
  • Data entry in HCM and appropriate employee databases
  • Policy review/handbook sign-off
  • Payroll enrollment
  • Benefit enrollment
  • Physical orientation to the office or workspace
  • Introductions to new supervisor and team

IT Onboarding Checklist

  • Hardware assignment
  • Account/credential creation
  • Digital workspace creation
  • Offering availability for increased support during onboarding time

Team-Based Onboarding Checklist

  • Introduction to work/communication norms
  • Connecting new hires with resources that close their skill and knowledge gaps
  • Proactively communicating with HR about emerging need during onboarding period

How Interdepartmental Collaboration Improves Onboarding

When there is a strong communication framework in place and a well-articulated onboarding plan, HR, IT, and any other relevant stakeholders have access to the tools and structure they need to help new employees become thriving, impactful team members as quickly as possible.

The better the integration between their work efforts, the faster and easier it is to provide comprehensive onboarding and create a new talent orientation that sets everybody up for success.

At the same time, coming to the table to discuss and address onboarding needs together fosters collaborative problem-solving between different teams and departments who might otherwise not interact with each other. That whole-company understanding of supporting and managing talent helps create a strong organization from top to bottom.

Top 5 Employee Onboarding Musts

  1. You Must Work Together with Your Colleagues

As we just detailed above, no business can onboard talent effectively if any individual or single department is responsible for the whole process.

If your HR department is feeling crushed under the weight of onboarding responsibilities, it’s crucial to reach out to your colleagues and advocate for the support you need to improve engagement and results across the organization. Tell your leaders what you really need from them to do an excellent job.

If you’re not getting the support you need from IT or some other department, find a way to address the issue, either by connecting with tools that allow your HR team to take on traditional IT tasks or by building integration and closer communication between your teams.

2. You Must Ensure Each Member of Your Team is Fully Accountable

When your onboarding process is complete, every single new hire should know which responsibilities, requirements, policies, and procedures are relevant to them. Without that backbone of accountability, it’s impossible to manage talent proactively or demonstrate how your department is creating a safe, productive workplace.

Of course, it’s not just important for employees to know the rules and policies; it’s crucial that there is a secure, high-integrity documentation trail backing up that work. That way, if issues do arise, there are vetted and agreed upon mechanisms in place for dealing with the issues.

If your onboarding procedure doesn’t empower your HR department and leadership team to manage, discipline, and hold new-hires accountable for their actions and performance, it’s time for a redesign with accountability in mind.

3. You Must Help Your Hires Make the Best Benefits Elections

Employee benefits overspend is a profitability killer, and as an HR department, preventing it should be one of your top priorities.

New hires need support in order to understand what your company’s benefits offerings really mean and which ones are the ideal fit for their situation. That means you need to provide them with whatever education and clarification they require to get the coverage they need without selecting something that will create excess costs for themselves or the company.

Part of that puzzle is connecting them with the right materials they need (your benefits broker should be a major help in this effort), but it’s equally important that your enrollment and benefits selection interface is clear, easy-to-use, and designed to answer user questions and prevent confusion.

4. You Must Offer Each Team Member a Workspace That’s Uniquely Theirs

Nobody wants to feel like they inherited the last employee’s setup – it’s a buy-in and motivation killer. Your onboarding process should be standardized in a way that makes things easy for your HR, IT, and other onboarding support professionals but also personalized in a way that truly welcomes each employee to the team.

By the time their onboarding window is complete, each new hire must feel like their functional and professional needs have been met in a way that sets them up to do great work from the outset. That requires a toolkit for provisioning and account creation that creates a bespoke digital workspace for each individual and a framework for communication between departments to make sure needs are recognized and addressed from every angle.

When new employee onboarding feels tailored to a hire’s needs without stretching or inconveniencing any members of your team, you know you’ve built something inspirational and effective for everyone.

5. You Must Make Onboarding Powerful but Easy

This is a theme we’ve come back to time and time again: onboarding should be easy. It must be straightforward in a way that protects the productivity of your core team, and it must feel approachable and engaging in a way that builds buy-in with your new talent.

With that said, that ease of experience can’t come from cutting corners or procrastinating. To work well, your onboarding process must be comprehensive, well-organized, and backed by professionals across your organization. Otherwise, you’re just creating more backlogged work and compromising your opportunity for workforce maximization.

Creating something that balances that flexibility and robust support can seem like a major challenge, but there’s a variety of emerging employee onboarding software providers stepping up to help companies understand how they can streamline and integrate this work.

Key Takeaways

We’ve taken a broad look at onboarding to explore its goals, responsibilities, and a few strategies and guiding lights you can use to improve your approach. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the responsibility of onboarding, it’s important to understand that, once you have effective onboarding processes running, it’s much easier to manage current talent and anticipate future needs.


  • Getting onboarding right strengthens a company from top to bottom
  • Onboarding can’t just be HR’s responsibility – it’s a team-wide responsibility of which HR should be the hub
  • A successful onboarding process ensures each new employee is ready to be a fully productive member of the team in terms of capability, accountability, and cultural fit
  • It’s important to engage and support new hires by making onboarding personalized, easy, and well-supported

How to Learn More

Rippling is revolutionizing the onboarding process by helping HR professionals support their new hires better than ever.

By integrating all aspects of the onboarding process into a single digital platform, Rippling accelerates the new employee orientation experience, connecting hires with the tools, coverage, and credentials they need with a minimal number of clicks.

To learn more about how Rippling can smooth the employee onboarding process at your business and create a new way of managing HR and IT responsibilities, contact them today.

Modernizing Your Approach to Performance Management

Too many in management, from ground-level supervisors to C-level leadership, have trouble answering questions regarding their team’s performance in an honest, fact-driven way that speaks to actual performance and not just day-to-day habits or cultural fit. This disconnect isn’t for lack of trying– just about everybody understands that great work must be done to create a great enterprise. It’s articulating what that performance looks like and actually assessing it within your employees that’s so tricky.

Make no mistake: strong performance management is the difference between a promising organization growing into a business juggernaut or stagnating at not-quite-there. It’s what separates a solid leadership team from an excellent one and determines who are the flashes in the pan and who are the sustained innovators and disruptors.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • Why industry standard approaches to performance management are often not efficient nor impactful
  • Why all businesses must modernize their approach to performance management in the near future to address the needs of the modern workforce
  • Specific mindsets, tools, and approaches organizations can use to begin transforming their performance management processes

Why Most Approaches to Performance Management are Outdated

The way we work, interact with our colleagues, and use technology on a daily basis has outgrown the traditional strategies that drove performance management and assessment in the 20th century. Our approach to accountability has fallen behind the pace of work, and that creates risk.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the fact that most discussions about employee feedback and performance management are still built on qualitative feedback from direct supervisors. Managers fill out a scorecard for each employee, provide verbal or written comments, and, when applicable, create plans for improvement.

Here’s what’s missing from this traditional approach: in nearly every business where this legacy assessment practice is used, there are tech-based work management systems in place creating data that could be used to inform a much realer, more focused ongoing discussion.

That means many in business are choosing qualitative over quantitative and giving preference to supervisors’ thoughts and feelings over actual measures of worker quality and productivity. That method defies everything we know about the power of data and analytics in the modern workplace.

Furthermore, the traditional performance management model treats each individual employee as though they were an island, emphasizing only their direct relationship with their individual work and their direct relationship with their supervisor/manager/assessor. That approach is out of alignment with what we’ve collectively learned about the power and importance of teambuilding and company culture over the last twenty years.

Why Modernize Your Approach to Performance Management?

In order to gain the best possible understanding of the potential of your team and asses your areas of strength, weakness, and need, it’s crucial to have a modern, data-driven performance management and assessment framework in place. Any organization articulating a performance management strategy for the first time, or any business with a framework more than five years old, should prioritize this work to support short- and long-term viability.

Talent relations is increasingly an area of federal, state, and local regulation. Outdated performance management frameworks leave organizations open to lawsuits, sudden terminations, and potential non-compliance issues. An up-to-date approach to performance management sews up those holes in policy and provides better legal protection for the organization as a whole and each manager or assessor as an individual.

Modern, responsive performance management demystifies the process from top to bottom, creating better support for those in charge of assessment and greater authenticity for those being assessed. Each stakeholder has an appropriate voice in the process, the ability to provide documentation to back up their claims, and the goal-setting framework necessary to ensure everybody grows professionally together.

When you bring your performance management strategy into the era of technology, it breaks down the traditional boundaries between “boss” and “employee” to foster a more productive overall culture and push everyone toward excellence.

Three Things You Can Do to Modernize Your Performance Management Approach

Stop Viewing Performance Management as an Annual Appraisal

A year is an incredibly long term. If you managed a sports team, would you give every player a year of starting time before you assessed their performance? The answer is, probably not.

Great players get the most playing time and the most compensation, and the worst achievers are obviously sent packing, but it’s that 80% in the middle who the true coach can influence and push toward improvement. Good coaches make constant, ongoing assessments, make constant, ongoing feedback, and incentive the day-to-day work on a constant, ongoing basis.

Turning your management/supervisory team into “coaches” doesn’t happen overnight, but it does have the potential to completely transform what work and culture feel like in your business. The first step to unlocking that potential is eliminating your yearly (or even quarterly) performance management model and shifting toward an ongoing assessment structure.

As we’ve said, the increased availability of worker data thanks to technology makes this work much easier. Managers can use ERP interfaces, project management systems, and so on to monitor what employees are doing, how they are working toward goals and deadlines, and so on, each day or week. It’s easier than ever to see when someone is falling behind and make a correction or recognize an employee who is taking things to the next level at your organization.

While it seems like that kind of constant supervision creates new work for managers and new stress for workers, it actually streamlines and reduces both over time.

Adjusting to these new practices can take some time for supervisors at first, but once they’re plugged into performance management practices as part of their daily work, there’s no more quarterly or yearly assessment season crunch, and what was once a major stressor is now a harmless daily task. For workers, ongoing assessment means no more nervously waiting to find out how you’re doing, and each individual assessment or evaluation feels less stressful or punitive.

Build Clear Expectations and Establish Clear KPIs

We’ve addressed the concept of data several times already, but it cannot be stressed enough: The only way to turn performance management into a true performance driver is to stay rooted in data and objectivity.

One of the biggest issues managers have when it comes to assessment is that they might be responsible for assessing a team of 25+ people in a variety of different roles and simply don’t know where to start. Data-minded thinking absolutely obliterates that issue and provides strong anchor/talking points for any employee evaluation.

In order to make that work, though, your organization and HR departments must have a well-defined organizational chart with goals and measurable KPIs established for each professional, team, or department. Again, that sounds like a major task at first, but once it has been completed, there is a much more comprehensive vision for the organization and talent in place, and far greater clarity when it comes to who should be doing what.

When you have clear KPIs and measures of success for each position or role in the company, it’s easier to onboard new hires in a meaningful way, help laggards see where they need to improve, and identify superstar leaders of tomorrow. Employees can track their progress over time, and managers can mold each worker’s skillset or professional growth in relevant, individualized ways. That data-minded thinking makes everything less personal and less punitive, inviting each worker to create a vision of success for themselves in their particular role.

Establish High Performance as a Key Company Value

One of the biggest reasons employees fall short of expectations is because they didn’t fully understand those expectations. Either the importance of the work or the

value of doing an exceptional job is unclear or employees aren’t sure what great work looks like to you.

By making performance expectations clear, visible, and a daily part of the work experience in your organization, you can create a company culture in which your employees strive to be their best selves, meet identified goals, and brainstorm new ways of doing work better. When doing great work is a foundational pillar of what you do, employees will continuously be encouraged to go above and beyond.

Establishing a culture of high performance is much more complex than simply saying you want to do it. In order for that culture to feel authentic and for workers to buy in, you must create a clear roadmap that shows what excellence looks like and how collective excellence will grow the company and improve the lives of each employee.

Getting that right requires strong employee education, both to get new hires oriented and to provide veterans with the tools they need to grab onto the evolving face of work in their organization, as well as outstanding communication and a commitment to fostering a strong bond between the organization and its team.

Key Takeaways

Performance assessment has the potential to help a business become its best, most profitable self, but in order for that to happen, a modern, responsive system is required. Remember:

  • Performance assessment must be an on-going process to work well
  • When you get performance assessment right, everybody gains value: the business, the individual workers, and the middle management who does the assessing
  • Quantifiable data and KPI tracking make performance assessment easier, fairer, and help the whole process stand up better to scrutiny
  • The key to any performance-centric strategy is making sure team members truly value excellence and know what excellence in their role looks like on a day to day basis

How to Learn More

If you’re a business leader looking to build an impactful, forward-facing performance management strategy, be sure to join us on Wednesday, December 11th to learn about The Future of Performance Management! 

This free webinar from Launchways will be packed with actionable insights about emerging best practices for performance assessment including…

  • How to assess the impact of your current performance management program and get started on building something even better
  • How to recognize the common pitfalls of performance management
  • How to replace an annual assessment system with a continuous feedback loop
  • How to deliver difficult feedback and establish a shared view of reality
  • How to manage both high- and low-performing talent effectively

The hour-long learning experience will feature presentations and Q&A time with an all-star panel of veteran business leaders who know what it takes to build, manage, and continuously improve a great team. Presenters will include:

  • Jodi Wellman, Co-Founder of Spectacular at Work, a leading executive coach who specializes in helping business leaders maximize their teams to build success and balance.
  • Adam Radulovic, President at XL.net, an experienced entrepreneur and small business leader with a track record of building and managing profit-driving teams.
  • Gary Schafer, President at Launchways, who has built multiple businesses from the ground up and specializes in scaling high-performing teams for growing organizations.
  • Jon Howaniec, VP & HR Director at Clark Dietz, who has over twenty years experience building high-performing HR processes at fast-growth organizations.

Any business leader, HR Director, or manager hoping to improve their skills as a coach, mentor, or accountability partner should make time to check out The Future of Performance Management: How to Modernize Your Approach and start the process continuously improving their team this December.