Some employers are turning to alternative testing techniques in order to comply with drug testing procedures. The idea is to test for marijuana, but with traditional drug screening methods, employers face issues with the flunk rate. For some companies, it’s not worth the investment of maintaining a full time staff just to test for marijuana.
Marijuana legalization is not a new concept, and with more states considering making it legal for medical and/or recreational use, it is expected that the industry will continue to grow. The question is though, if marijuana is legalized, how will this change the job market? The answer to this question is not as simple as one might think, and it hinges on how the legalization will affect the marijuana industry, and the work force specifically.
With marijuana legalization sweeping the nation, many employers are beginning to rethink their drug testing policies, and are starting to loosen the requirements for testing their employees. For instance, many employers have started to accept medical marijuana recommendations for workers, and others have started practicing random drug testing for new hires. And as it turns out, it’s not uncommon for employers to test workers for cannabis, even though it’s legal at the federal level. Although marijuana has been decriminalized in many states, it is still prohibited at the federal level.
Tammy Turner and Kerry Buffington, co-owners of Kapstone Employment Services in Detroit, recently had to have a difficult discussion with a customer.
“We had to go to them and say, ‘Listen, this isn’t being consistent with the labor market now that marijuana is legal, and you’re passing up on excellent people,” Turner recalls telling the customer.
Turner said that they were interviewing applicants for vacant jobs at this business, and that their recruitment agency routinely asks candidates whether they can pass a drug test. She claims that most applicants are forthright and would state whether or not they would test positive for marijuana.
After about a month, that business decided to stop testing new employees for marijuana, joining a rising number of Michigan employers that have done so in recent years.
According to employment attorneys and staffing company executives, the trend to ease drug testing standards dates back to 2008, when medicinal marijuana was allowed in Michigan. It gained traction in 2018, when recreational marijuana became legal, and more recently, as many businesses struggle to recruit employees.
In June, Amazon.com Inc., one of the country’s biggest private employers, said that it would no longer screen most job candidates for marijuana use. Instead, the business claims that cannabis use is treated the same as alcohol use, and that it would continue to do on-the-job impairment tests.
However, few businesses are prepared to make their drug-testing procedures public, and there is little data on which companies opt to stop testing.
Some businesses are still obliged to test under federal regulations, which still consider marijuana to be illegal.
John Birmingham, a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP, said he has seen preliminary results of national surveys, in which about half of employers are considering changing their drug screening policies. Anecdotally, he said he has some clients who have dropped the marijuana testing requirement in recent years.
A few other businesses, particularly automotive suppliers, have changed their testing procedures in response to recent recruiting difficulties.
“It’s so tough to get enough people working right now,” Birmingham added, “that it’s pushed my clients to remove [marijuana] from the testing requirement.”
Businesses have had difficulty hiring employees as Michigan’s economy has reopened after limitations to minimize the spread of covid-19 throughout the majority of last year and the first half of 2021. Most businesses blame it on a mix of higher unemployment benefits, a lack of cheap and accessible child care alternatives, and lingering virus concerns.
Dropping marijuana testing requirements for new employees, according to staffing company leaders, is one approach to remove a barrier to both recruiting and employing workers.
Keilon Ratliff is the head of Kelly’s automotive, oil, gas, and energy staffing divisions in Troy, and is engaged in the company’s EquityWork program, which seeks to break down obstacles to employment.
Workers, according to Ratliff, are more cautious and selective about the employment they accept.
He replied, “They’re in the driver’s seat.” “Now, businesses are saying, ‘OK, if we want this talent, we’ll do all we can to acquire it.’”
As a consequence, businesses are seeking to raise salaries in order to compete in the market, as well as remove obstacles to employment, such as drug tests.
Ratliff recently spoke with a client that required new workers to undergo a hair follicle drug test as part of their onboarding procedure. This company said that they were having trouble hiring new workers, not because they failed the drug test, but because the prospective recruits were not even turning up to take the test.
“We pointed out that it’s not always because they have a drug issue; it might be that they don’t want to go through the trouble since they don’t have to,” he said.
After considerable deliberation, the business decided to discontinue drug testing for new employees and only test if there is a workplace incident.
However, safety remains an issue.
Many businesses are attempting to be creative with recruiting because they’re having difficulty filling shifts, according to Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto program, which promotes for the state’s automotive and mobility industries.
“But you’re not going to put your safety at risk,” Stevens added. “You’re on a tightrope because you want to make sure your workers don’t have any drug or alcohol problems.”
Stevens puts automotive companies into three buckets: There are those that continue to test for all substances. There are also a substantial number of companies that aren’t testing for marijuana but they expect employees to come to work sober, he said. And finally, there are those that are testing new hires for marijuana but are looking to quickly eliminate the policy or are in the process of doing so because of the labor market situation.
“Make no mistake about it, the tight labor market is driving these adjustments,” Stevens said. “However, people and businesses evolve, and as long as safety and quality standards are maintained, they will want to work with individuals who want to work.”
The cannabis industry has been booming in recent years, with more states legalizing marijuana than ever before. However, in some states, it’s still a “good old boys” club. And for those companies looking to increase their productivity, the outdated testing methods are becoming an increasing burden.. Read more about pre employment drug testing laws by state and let us know what you think.
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