Drug Testing May Scare Off Qualified Workers

Many companies throughout the country have drug testing programs. Job candidates that do not pass the drug test usually are not hired. Applicants are typically asked to provide blood, urine or saliva samples that are then sent to third-party testing facilities.

A common drug test is the 5-panel analysis that screens for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine/methamphetamine, PCP, and opiates including heroin, codeine and morphine. Marijuana usage accounts for the most failed drug tests, according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index. However, the failure rate was only 4.3% in 2015.

Here’s the problem: companies have discovered that up to 50% of their job applicants would rather withdraw themselves from contention than submit to taking a drug test. My firm, The Workplace Group, has had numerous applicants pass a résumé review, phone screen, and a job interview, only to have the HR department rescind the offer when the test for marijuana comes back positive.

Naturally, if you are interviewing bus drivers, pilots or operators of heavy machinery, having traces of marijuana in your system has much greater implications than for other positions. Safety to self and others is of paramount concern for employers. However, with more states approving marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, it may be time to consider excluding marijuana as a pre-hire condition for jobs that are not safety sensitive (e.g., graphic designers, IT professionals, accountants and similar). This is not, by any means, a prescription to allow marijuana in the workplace. Just like you would not allow employees to consume alcoholic beverages in the workplace or perform work while under the influence of alcohol, you certainly would not allow marijuana to be used or consume while working.

One thing to consider: the drug test for marijuana is not predictive. Passing a pre-hire test for marijuana does not guarantee that the candidate will be drug-free once hired. In fact, the test tells if someone has been exposed to marijuana in the past two weeks to six months. It’s conceivable that the person could have used marijuana for medicinal purposes or even recreationally in one of the four states where use is legal (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington).

Indeed, eliminating the drug test as a pre-requisite for employment, could raise the number of job candidates that HR departments receive.

Dr. Steven Lindner

Dr. Steven Lindner is the executive partner of The WorkPlace Group, a leading "think-tank" provider of talent acquisition and recruitment process outsourcing services helping employers -- from mid-sized companies to the Fortune 500 -- find, screen, assess and onboard best talent.