If you've applied for a job in the last 20 years, you've probably had the pleasure of peeing into a cup and delivering the warm receptacle to a friendly person in a lab coat. It never makes for a fun morning.
A 2011 poll from the Society for Human Resource Management said 57 percent of US employers required pre-employment drug screening. This might sound like a good idea—nobody wants planes flown by high pilots or steamrollers driven by high construction workers—but imperfect technology and the broad testing of those applying for positions where safety doesn't seem to be an issue is beginning to raise concerns for both employers and applicants.
The process is actually quite expensive for companies with a high turnover rate—like those in the retail or service industries—and for positions where no heavy machinery is operated and safety is less of an issue. In these cases, the price seems less than cost effective. With cultural acceptance of marijuana and its legalization in different areas of the country, the number of applicants who test positive for drugs unsurprisingly reached an all-time high in 2017, according to Quest Diagnostics. Companies are having a tough time finding quality employees who can pass the screening. And the tests themselves do little in the way of predicting performance and are terrible at spotting on-the-job cannabis impairment (THC shows up in tests up to 90 days and maybe even longer). So why do these companies do it in the first place?
State University of New York's Michael Frone, in his book Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use in the Workforce and Workplace, says many companies conduct drug tests to project a clean image for the public, or because they are still under the impression that the policy works. Frone believes that the practice is propped up and promoted by an industry comprised of testing labs, test manufacturers and consulting and law firms specializing in workplace drug policies. The real issue is that insurance companies offer discounts to companies that enact drug-free policies.
In 2016 a survey conducted by the Mountain States Employers Council in Colorado found that 77 percent of the state's employers used pre-employment screening to test for THC. Last year that figure dropped to 66 percent. According to The Morning Call, The Denver Post ended its use of drug tests for non-safety sensitive jobs in 2016. Las Vegas health care company Excellence Health Inc. stopped drug testing employees working in their pharmaceutical labs in 2017. And last year, AutoNation Inc., the largest US auto dealer, said it would no longer turn away applicants who test positive for THC. Experts say that many other companies nationwide are also reversing their policies without much fanfare.
If this becomes a trend, it could theoretically improve numerous corners of our society. The unemployment rate might lower drastically, cannabis users would have less trouble finding jobs and employers should have access to a larger pool of more talented prospective workers. Positions that are safety-sensitive—the operation of vehicles or heavy machinery—should always remain drug-free, but ending the practice for all other jobs would relieve a pressing tax on our nation's economy.