Excerpted from a Forbes article by Clarissa Windham-Bradstock
When record-low unemployment rates collide with record-high drug use in the American workforce, companies can find themselves at a dangerous crossroads.
Throw in the fact that 43 states now have some sort of legalized marijuana (33 for medical use and 10 for recreational use), and the work of HR and risk directors gets even dicier. As CEO of a leading direct access lab testing company, my team and I are on the front lines and able to see the imperative of workplace drug testing, which is why we work with employers to navigate changing drug laws and offer the best drug testing options.
While federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce drug testing is clearly defined, drug testing decisions for employers are a challenge, even as leaders know substance abuse is a problem. According to the National Safety Council, approximately 15 million employees are struggling with some sort of substance abuse issue, including alcohol, pain medication, marijuana and other drugs. While no industry is immune to drug use, some — such as retail, construction and the hospitality industry — are more prone to it than others.
Quest Diagnostics’ recent Drug Testing Index (DTI) shows workforce drug positivity at its highest rate in a decade. Not surprisingly, states like Nevada, California and Massachusetts that have recently enacted recreational marijuana laws have seen double-digit increases in the number of employees who test positive for marijuana. As a result, in a tight job market that has made it hard for employers to fill positions, we are seeing more and more companies dropping marijuana from their drug test screening. It is a calculated, or sometimes not-so-calculated, risk. Some consider it the new “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue in the workplace.
When making decisions about what, when and whom to test, education and information are key.
Learn the facts: We are members of the Drug Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA), because its resources and educational materials are valuable tools for HR professionals. Through the association or other methods, be sure to stay current on new testing and collection issues, as well as legislation that may affect drug testing in your state. For instance, while urine tests may be useful for random employee drug tests to detect drug use in the prior two to three days, for pre-employment drug testing, a hair follicle test that has a three-month detection window is a better indicator of whether an applicant regularly uses drugs.
Understand the costs: Substance abuse disorders reportedly cost the economy more than $400 billion a year, but what does that mean for your company? We can observe absenteeism, increased health care expenses, lost productivity and workplace accidents and injuries, to name a few. The National Safety Council provides a Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employers that allows companies to input company data and calculate the financial impact untreated substance abuse could have on your business. You will likely be amazed at the results.
Know the law: This definitely requires diligence as unprecedented change is happening at the state level, and every state can be different. For instance, in February 2018, Maine enacted a law that stated it was illegal to fire, or not hire, a person because they used marijuana outside the workplace. Consulting a trusted employment lawyer is always prudent.
State a clear policy: Once employers understand the risks and impact on the bottom line — such as health care costs that are three times higher for drug users — it’s time to get to work outlining a clear drug policy. Not only does it let employees know from the start what to expect and that drug use is prohibited, but it also empowers supervisors and employees who are trained in spotting drug misuse and protects employees and the company if there are legal issues or if an incident is challenged.
Develop a good relationship with a drug testing company: Choosing a drug testing company to support your drug policy is like choosing a business partner. The company becomes an extension of your business, so you want to make sure it’s a good fit. Look for a lab that offers a variety of tests and methodologies that can be used to meet your needs. Ask for information about collection methods and how their system works. Having a professional, accurate and discreet partner can help your drug testing program run smoothly.
We know every employer is concerned about its ability to hire qualified workers, the cost of benefits and workers’ compensation. With so many employers impacted by drug abuse, it is time to also be concerned about drug misuse by employees. A company that strives for a drug-free workplace, with methods including offering employee assistance programs, will reap the benefits of a healthier workforce and a healthier balance sheet.
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