Pubdate: Sun, 11 Mar 2018
Source: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Copyright: 2018 The Daily Herald Company
Authors: Rebecca Greenfield and Jennifer Kaplan


Employers are struggling to hire workers in tightening U.S. job
market. Marijuana is now legal in nine states and Washington, D.C.,
meaning more than one in five American adults can eat, drink, smoke or
vape as they please. The result is the slow decline of pre-employment
drug tests, which for decades had been a requirement for new recruits
in industries ranging from manufacturing to finance.

As of the beginning of 2018, Excellence Health Inc., a Las Vegas-based
health care company with around 6,000 employees, no longer drug tests
people coming to work for the pharmaceutical side of the business. The
company stopped testing for marijuana two years ago. "We don't care
what people do in their free time," said Liam Meyer, a company
spokesperson. "We want to help these people, instead of saying: 'Hey,
you can't work for us because you used a substance,'" he added. The
company also added a hotline for any workers who might be struggling
with drug use.

Last month, AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto dealer, announced
it would no longer refuse job applicants who tested positive for weed.
The Denver Post, owned by Digital First Media, ended pre-employment
drug testing for all non-safety sensitive positions in September 2016.

So far, companies in states that have legalized either recreational or
medicinal marijuana are leading the way on dropping drug tests. A
survey last year by the Mountain States Employers Council of 609
Colorado employers found that the share of companies testing for
marijuana use fell to 66 percent, down from 77 percent the year before.

Drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor
market, that's having an impact on productivity and growth. In surveys
done by the Federal Reserve last year, employers cited an inability by
applicants to pass drug tests among reasons for difficulties in
hiring. Failed tests reached an all-time high in 2017, according to
data from Quest Diagnostics Inc. That's likely to get worse as more
people partake in state-legalized cannabis.

"The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of
an employer would be pretty high," said Jeremy Kidd, a professor at
Mercer Law School, who wrote a paper on the economics of workplace
drug testing. "A blanket prohibition can't possibly be the most
economically efficient policy."

Companies are having a hard enough time hiring, with unemployment
hovering around 4 percent. "Employers are really strapped and saying
'We're going to forgive certain things,'" said James Reidy, a lawyer
that works with employers on their human resources policies. Reidy
knows of a half-dozen other large employers that have quietly changed
their policies in recent years. Not all companies want to advertise
the change, fearing it might imply they are soft on drugs. (Even
former FBI director James Comey in 2014 half-joked about the need for
the bureau to re-evaluate its drug-testing policy to attract the best

Why the change? Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense
in a society increasingly accepting of drug use. A Gallup poll in
October found that 64 percent of Americans favor legalization. That's
the most since the company first started asking the question in 1969,
when only 12 percent supported changing the plant's status. Drug tests
costs from $30 to $50 a pop, but the potential costs to an employer
are far greater than the actual test.

In addition to helping ease the labor market, eliminating drug testing
could have even broader benefits for the economy, said Kidd. Employers
could hire the best, theoretically most-productive workers, he said,
instead of rejecting people based on their recreational habits.
Companies have said they lose out to foreign competitors because they
can't find people who can pass drugs tests, a particularly acute
problem in the areas most affected by the opioid crisis.

Some jobs, such as those involving the use of heavy machinery, will
always require drug tests. Excellence Health still drug-tests any
employee working on a government contract, even in states where weed
is legal. Companies are also reserving the right to test after an
accident or if an employee comes to work notably impaired.

Not all companies are ready to change course. Restaurant Brands
International Inc., which owns Burger King, hasn't altered its
corporate marijuana policy, said Chief Executive Officer Daniel
Schwartz. Ford Motor Co. still treats pot as an illegal substance,
according to a company spokeswoman.

Weed-averse employers have a notable ally: Attorney General Jeff
Sessions. A longtime opponent of legalization, Sessions rescinded in
January the Obama-era policies that enabled state-legalized cannabis
industries to flourish. The uncertainty caused by the Justice
Department's actions may discourage companies from making changes.

Employers can also get discounts on workers' compensation insurance
for maintaining a "drug-free workplace" by, in part, drug-testing
workers. But the types of workplaces forgoing pre-employment tests
already enjoy relatively small savings. A job in an office setting,
for example, won't have very many workers' compensation claims,
compared to a factory. The money saved by meeting the qualifications
for a drug-free zone isn't worth it.

"We assume that a certain level of employees are going to be partaking
on the weekends," said Reidy, the employment lawyer. "We don't care.
We're going to exclude a whole group of people, and we desperately
need workers."
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MAP posted-by: Matt