One of the first nonsensical wars declared by the United States government was the War on Drugs – nonsensical because nations declare war on each other, not abstract concepts. This was truly brilliant marketing spin-doctoring because the nation was, in fact, deluged with illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth (speed). These drugs can really mess a person up, physically and mentally, no question about it. Having an employee operating heavy machinery with a buzz does not meet OSHA standards.
The War on Drugs led to the development of the emergent multi-million dollar drug testing industry in the late 1970s after returning Vietnam veterans were found to test positive for all sorts of illicit substances.
President Reagan, in fact, “instituted an executive order mandating that all federal agencies implement a drug testing policy for their employees. This executive order would be the inspiration for later private employer drug testing.”
Two related pieces of congressional legislature aimed at detecting and eliminating drug-using employees soon followed: the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. These new laws further expanded workplace drug testing to Federal contractors.
Then, all Department of Transportation (DOT) truck drivers had to submit to pre-employment drug testing with the passing of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991.
All this drug-screening activity did indeed increase workplace productivity while reducing injuries and Workers’ Compensation claims. Results were so positive that some states like New York made new Code Rules that compensate businesses which maintain certified employee drug testing programs by reducing their Workers’ Comp rates by 2-10 percent.
However, the workforce drug testing tide is turning. One of the drugs commonly tested for is marijuana. In the 1980s, pot was illegal everywhere in the U.S. Today, recreational-use MJ is legal in nine states and medical MJ is legal in 30 states – more than half! The general public now favors federal legalization of this ridiculously misclassed Schedule 1 narcotic.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) claims that the big problem with testing employees for marijuana use is that “urinalysis does not detect whether someone is impaired or under the influence of drugs, rather it detects the presence of non-psychoactive drug metabolites, that may linger in the system days or weeks after use.”
At least one healthcare provider understands what that means. Excellence Health Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada, stopped workplace drug tests in 2018 for its nearly 6,000 employees working in pharmaceutical departments. Liam Meyer represented the pro-4th Amendment corporate attitude: “We don’t care what people do in their free time. We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance.'” The company provides an employee help-with-drugs hotline service as a benefit.
The Denver Post stopped workplace drug testing in September 2017 for employees whose jobs don’t require safety precautions. In February 2018, AutoNation Inc. changed its employee drug policy from zero-tolerance to considering applicants who test positive for pot.
This marked change in corporate human relations (HR) and safety policies is not merely the consequence of softening public opinion about marijuana. Certain industries are having trouble finding enough qualified workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test. Steve Staub of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Ohio made this point very clear at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in January 2018. Despite a boom in manufacturing since Trump’s inauguration a year earlier, Ohio has not been able to keep up with demand. The reason might surprise you. According to Staub:
“In Ohio alone, they have about 20,000 available jobs in manufacturing. In Dayton, Ohio, where I’m from, we have about 4,000 jobs available today in manufacturing that we can’t fill. We can’t get people to pass a drug test.”
Along with manufacturing, finance and IT (computers) have also been hard-pressed to recruit substance-negative talent. Even James Comey, former FBI director, quipped in 2014 about his bureau’s need to attract better-qualified candidates by re-examining its long-standing drug-testing policy
The combination of a national shortage of qualified workers and increasing open-mindedness about recreational and medical drug use has led to a quiet devolution away from the unconstitutional search of a person’s body and toward a legal and common-sense approach to hiring.
As James Reidy, HR policy attorney put it:
“Employers are really strapped and saying ‘We’re going to forgive certain things.'”
This is especially excellent news for anyone who has lost a job (or employment opportunity) due to a false-positive drug test. These happen all the time but get little press. As far back as a 2010 article from WebMD, research showed: “Drug tests generally produce false-positive results in 5% to 10% of cases and false negatives in 10% to 15% of cases.”
Naturally, some jobs will always require worker drug testing. But blanket employee drug testing is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.