Pre-employment drug screenings have long been a staple for job applicants. In fact, they’ve been around since the 1980s, which subsequently led to the passing of the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act.

Since then, positive test results have steadily declined as people become more aware of screening. In certain cases, drug screening creates avoidance as candidates apply for roles that don’t require testing.

Now, with unemployment decreasing – 3.8% as of 2019 – and the rising legalization of drugs like cannabis, the use of pre-employment drug testing is evolving for many employers.

The question is, will pre-employment drug screening become a thing of the past? 

In this post, we’re discussing the place of drug screening in modern hiring and human resources. You’ll learn several important factors about drug screening and how to best use the practice in your organization.

The details on pre-employment drug screening

Almost everyone who has been hired as an employee is familiar with pre-employment drug tests. Usually conducted by urinalysis, the process is relatively simple.

However, if the drug screen results are positive and drugs are found in a candidate’s system, company policy dictates that a candidate can’t be hired because they are a liability.

Pre-employment drug screening: still necessary?

Without question, drug screening should be performed in industries where safety is the main concern. For example, the Department of Transportation requires routine screens for interstate truck drivers.

However, the lines become blurred in industries where workplace safety is a non-issue, and when drugs like cannabis are being decriminalized and legalized. As cannabis drug laws are changing rapidly, drug screening requirements must be actively reviewed by employers.

Diversity and drug screening

A key reason drug screening is a point of discussion is because of the important emphasis on workplace diversity and inclusivity. Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace is a top priority for modern employers, in part because of the clear benefits it brings to the company. 

A question that must be considered is whether drug screening contributes to discrimination by preventing qualified individuals from entering an organization. 

As more companies fight for diversity in their ranks, many have begun to question if pre-employment drug screening may actually be outdated. 

Additionally, companies don’t see a return on investment with pre-employment drug screens. HR insiders reason that the practice can actually hurt morale and cause candidates to choose another role that doesn’t require screening.

How pre-employment drug screening is changing

As people become more accepting of cannabis use and more states legalize its use, perceptions are changing. The stigma of cannabis users is starting to disappear. Public sentiment is even leaning toward cannabis use as positive for its healing and calming properties.

At the very least, many see cannabis use as a user’s own business, preferring not to judge their employment potential based on what they do on their time off. Cannabis may even increase productivity for many workers in part because of its ability to alleviate anxiety.

There are many different beliefs and varied levels of acceptance, but ultimately employers may now need to lessen their criteria when it comes to hiring. The hiring pool is shrinking as unemployment is at record-low rates.

Aside from safety-sensitive and federal jobs, we expect pre-employment drug screening to shift in the next decade.

The future includes testing

All these changes beg the question: where do we go next?

Pre-employment drug screening will not change in safety-sensitive or federal jobs. However, changes are coming for drug testing in other companies.

Every year, more and more companies are abandoning pre-employment drug testing altogether. The practice still remains important for its ability to screen for more dangerous drugs. This means there’s a need for alternative methods of pre-employment drug testing.

Simply providing a positive or negative test result is no longer enough. Some of the drugs tested for are becoming legal or medicinal in more and more U.S. states. Furthermore, research is lacking on the differences in performance at different amounts and durations of illicit drugs – with no clear cutoffs for measured drug levels. As a result, it’s important for tests to go further into the results to understand the exact causes and amounts used.

Modified forms of pre-employment drug testing are emerging.

For example, instead of testing for cannabis use up to a month before, tests like AlertMeter provide a visual test that measures actual impairment in the moment.

Focus on safety and evolution in pre-employment drug screening

The only certainty is that pre-employment drug screening will change. As laws and regulations shift, employer hiring requirements must evolve, too. The topic of diversity and inclusion will also undoubtedly affect the way drug screening is applied to the workforce. The most important consideration is safety and organizations should maintain that focus. 

Looking for More?

Looking to build a background check program at your organization that is not only simple but also compliant? Check out our free on-demand webinar with Curt Schwall, VP of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs at EBI.


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