Changing attitudes as well as smaller worker pools across the country are leading to some employers to drop marijuana from pre-employment drug tests.
However, local job placement officials say many companies will still test for marijuana usage as a condition of employment.
Jeremy Oshner, workforce development director with the Two Rivers Regional Council of Public Officials, said with pre-employment drug screenings including marijuana, he tells people to not use it.
“Some of the programs that we put together require a drug screen, and they are still including marijuana on that drug screen,” Oshner said. “Most of the businesses that I work with still do that, but that said I could see in the future that could be removed from the list of drugs they are concerned about.”
He noted that workers in manufacturing and the health care industries, as well as the trucking industry, could be subject to random drug screening.
Though still in its early stages, the shift away from marijuana testing appears likely to accelerate. More states are legalizing cannabis for recreational use; Michigan could become the 10th state to do so in November. Illinois already has legalized medical marijuana.
The Trump administration also may be softening its resistance to legal marijuana. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta suggested at a congressional hearing in April that employers should take a “step back” on drug testing.
“We have all these Americans that are looking to work,” Acosta said. “Are we aligning our … drug testing policies with what’s right for the workforce?”
Employment law attorney Tim Bonansinga, co-owner of Inter-Connect Employment Services, said marijuana is still illegal under federal statute, and its use can bring up insurance issues with employers.
“I don’t believe that any people who have really considered the consequences would forego marijuana testing prior to hiring or referral, especially hiring in the industrial sector where there is more likely to be a safety-sensitive situation going on,” Bonansinga said.
There is no definitive data on how many companies conduct drug tests, though the Society for Human Resource Management found in a survey that 57 percent do so. Nor is there any recent data on how many have dropped marijuana from mandatory drug testing.
But interviews with hiring executives, employment lawyers and agencies that help employers fill jobs indicate that dropping marijuana testing is among the steps more companies are taking to expand their pool of applicants to fill a near-record level of openings.
Excluding marijuana from testing marks the first major shift in workplace drug policies since employers began regularly screening applicants in the late 1980s. They did so after a federal law required that government contractors maintain drug-free workplaces. Many private businesses adopted their own mandatory drug testing of applicants.
Most businesses that have dropped marijuana tests continue to screen for cocaine, opiates, heroin and other drugs. But James Reidy, an employment lawyer in New Hampshire, says companies are thinking harder about the types of jobs that should realistically require marijuana tests. If a manufacturing worker, for instance, isn’t driving a forklift or operating industrial machinery, employers may deem a marijuana test unnecessary.
“Employers are saying, ‘We have a thin labor pool,’ ” Reidy said. ” ‘So are we going to test and exclude a whole group of people? Or can we assume some risks, as long as they’re not impaired at work?'”
Yet many companies are reluctant to acknowledge publicly that they’ve dropped marijuana testing.
“This is going to become the new don’t ask, don’t tell,” Reidy said.
Bonansinga is a proponent of impairment testing.
“It can be done for any substance, and it can be done on a daily or random basis,” he said. “If you did that, it would prove the existence of the ability to actually perform the job safely, productively and effectively, and it would cover everything that might impair you from alcohol to prescription drugs and including marijuana.”