Employer Branding

Should You Drug Test Your Employees?

One of the most complicated and contentious issues for HR professionals today is the question of drug testing employees for marijuana use. Because many states across the country have now legalized either medical marijuana use (33 states thus far) or even recreational use (10 states thus far), employers are unsure if this is still a consideration they need to take into account. Though all companies reserve the right to drug test employees, the consistency of drug testing in the workplace is changing, as some industries continue to regularly drug test where others have ceased the practice altogether.

Drug testing has been a standard in the American workplace for decades now, beginning in the mid-1980s under the Reagan administration and the War on Drugs. Beginning in 1988, Drug-Free Workplace regulations were in place, which required all federal companies with large enough contracts to drug test all employees. Though this began in just the public sector, many privately-owned companies noticed the benefits of drug testing employees and began to implement the practice themselves. Even today, around 90% of Fortune 500 companies drug test their employees, and 62% of all employers across the country have instated mandatory drug testing programs.

However, some high-profile companies have publicly declared an end to drug testing their employees. These companies include names such as Google, Whole Foods, Red Bull, Twitter, and NPR. Industries that do continue to regularly drug test are those where safety is a much more pressing concern. Transportation and construction employees are usually tasked with the operation of heavy machinery or vehicles, and anything affecting their judgment could be dangerous to themselves and the public.

Members of the military are also rigorously drug tested for obvious reasons, as they are also operating heavy machinery and granted the use of deadly weapons. Even members who are not on active duty are often participating in strategic operations that deal with the safety of the nation, and they need to be thinking clearly.

Other industries that continue to test for marijuana are medicine and athletics. Doctors and nurses obviously cannot be under the influence in order to perform their jobs, and athletes are tested to make sure they are not using any performance-enhancing drugs.

All companies have the right to terminate employees for being under the influence at work, even in states where recreational use is legal or for employees that hold a medical marijuana card. However, laws are in place in certain states which protect employees or potential employees from retaliation against medical marijuana use. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

A recent study shows an interesting generational gap between Millennials and the older workforce on how they perceive marijuana use affecting the workplace. One out of four Millennials surveyed stated that they would decline a job offer if they knew that the company drug tested its employees. It’s important for hiring managers and recruiters to understand drug testing best practices today, as the perceptions and expectations of today’s employees and future prospects are dramatically shifting.

In contrast, the study revealed that 46% of employees over the age of 30 stated that they would lose confidence in their coworkers’ ability to produce high-quality work if they found out they used marijuana outside of work. This was true even in states where recreational use has been legalized.

This study has interesting implications for HR professionals and recruiters and how much they should reveal about potential positions, as well as how to best satisfy the needs of workers from different generations. Take a look at the graphic below to learn more about the study, or visit the original study, A Look at Drug Testing in The Workplace.

About the author: Heidi Thiel is a writer and content marketer. She has created content in a variety of industries including job recruitment and HR, cybersecurity, travel, and vegan living. You can take a look at some of Heidi’s current projects by visiting her company Twitter.

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