Should Employers Keep Testing Workers For Pot

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Most employers screen job applicants for marijuana use, even in states where it’s legal for medical and recreational use. That has some experts arguing that the practice is a waste of time and removes otherwise qualified candidates from consideration for jobs.

About 78 percent of the clients of First Advantage, the world’s largest provider of employment screening services, do not “accept” medical or recreational marijuana in the states were it’s legal, according to Josephine Kenney, the company’s chief global compliance officer, who cited an internal analysis of clients.

“They are continuing to stay the course,” she said. “Look, they need to balance the risk here … even with a marketplace where the unemployment rate is really low. They still want productive employees. They still want employees that are going to be safe.”

According to executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which favors eliminating marijuana pre-employment screening, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified applicants who don’t smoke weed at a time when unemployment is at a 17-year low.

“While it is good policy to ban drugs and alcohol in the workplace, what workers do after hours — as long as it does not impair the company’s operations or productivity, or otherwise do harm — should not have any bearing on how workers are viewed by their employers,” Andrew Challenger, a vice president at the firm, said in a press release.

AutoNation (AN), the country’s largest auto dealership operator, announced last month that it would no longer test applicants for marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law.

A recent Gallup survey found that 12 percent of Americans smoke pot, nearly double the number that said they imbibed in 2013. Legal sales are expected to hit $11 billion in 2018, up 22 percent from last year. A report released last year by Quest Diagnostics found that positive tests for marijuana jumped nearly 75 percent between 2013 and 2016.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), drug tests that are largely done through urinalysis are unfair because byproducts of cannabis such as the psychoactive chemical THC can be detected for weeks after consumption in some users.

“With over 20 percent of the U.S. population now living in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal for adults and the right to consume it in the privacy of their homes, they still are at risk of being denied or losing their employment as a result of a positive drug test — even in instances where the use took place on weekends or after-hours,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal wrote in an email.

Even so, many employers are adopting a more nuanced approach to pot and won’t necessarily refuse to hire an applicant who uses it.

For one thing, 10 of 29 states that allow medical use of cannabis have adopted laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers solely for that reason. Maine’s recently enacted statute, for instance, applies to schools and landlords as well as employers.

Businesses also have to be mindful whether the job in question requires an employee to work with potentially dangerous machinery, and they have to consider federal and state laws.

“The last thing that you want is someone getting behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer that’s impaired or operating a forklift or working on an assembly line that could be a danger to himself and his or her co-workers,” said Mike Aitken, vice president for governmental affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management. “Employers certainly are revisiting their policies and making some commonsense determinations.”