Bucking the hiring trend of the past 30 years, companies have stopped drug testing potential employees for marijuana. The reason? Finding quality employees has become more difficult and excluding candidates who smoke marijuana would eliminate too many quality hires.
But a thin labor pool isn’t the only reason, according to an Associated Press report. At a time when nine states have legal recreational marijuana (with Michigan potentially joining that field come November), attitudes are changing regarding cannabis usage. Companies have always had the favor of the courts, but medical marijuana users in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have claimed victory in lawsuits where job offers were revoked or employees fired following a positive marijuana drug test.
One employment lawyer believes this perception change will become the “new don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Excluding marijuana from testing marks the first major shift in workplace drug policies since employers began regularly screening applicants in the late 1980s. They did so after a federal law required that government contractors maintain drug-free workplaces. Many private businesses adopted their own mandatory drug testing of applicants.
Most businesses that have dropped marijuana tests continue to screen for cocaine, opiates, heroin and other drugs. But James Reidy, an employment lawyer in New Hampshire, says companies are thinking harder about the types of jobs that should realistically require marijuana tests. If a manufacturing worker, for instance, isn’t driving a forklift or operating industrial machinery, employers may deem a marijuana test unnecessary.
Of course, removing cannabis testing is more pronounced in states where cannabis is recreationally legal. But even in states where it is not, the historically low unemployment rate is causing companies to re-evaluate their position. Employers of labor-intensive jobs will most likely see the biggest drop in testing. Regulated industries might continue testing for fear of safety concerns, especially those involving heavy machinery.