More Employers Are Doing Away With Screening Applicants for Marijuana | Marijuana

More Employers Are Doing Away With Screening Applicants for Marijuana

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By Christopher Rugaber
AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — FPI Management, a property company in California, wants to hire dozens of people. Factories from New Hampshire to Michigan need workers. Hotels in Las Vegas are desperate to fill jobs. Those employers and many others are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping cannabis from the drug tests they require of prospective employees.

Marijuana testing — a fixture at large American employers for at least 30 years — excludes too many potential workers, experts say, at a time when filling jobs is more challenging than it’s been in nearly two decades.

Map shows states where marijuana use is legal for recreational use and medical use; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;

“It has come out of nowhere,” said Michael Clarkson, head of the drug testing practice at Ogletree Deakins, a law firm. “I have heard from lots of clients things like, ‘I can’t staff the third shift and test for marijuana.'”

Though still in its early stages, the shift away from cannabis testing appears likely to accelerate. More states are legalizing cannabis for recreational use; Michigan could become the 10th state to do so in November. Missouri appears on track to become the 30th state to allow medical marijuana use. And medical marijuana users in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have won lawsuits in the past year against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for cannabis. Before last year, courts had always ruled in favor of employers.

The Trump administration also may be softening its resistance to legal cannabis. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta suggested at a congressional hearing in April 2018 that employers should take a “step back” on drug testing.

“We have all these Americans that are looking to work,” Acosta said. “Are we aligning our … drug testing policies with what’s right for the workforce?”

There is no definitive data on how many companies conduct drug tests, though the Society of Human Resources Management found in a survey that 57 percent do so. Nor is there any recent data on how many have dropped cannabis from mandatory drug testing.

In this April 16, 2018, photo, people stand outside after shopping at the Essence cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas. Some companies are dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. (AP Photo/John Locher)

But interviews with hiring executives, employment lawyers and agencies that help employers fill jobs indicate that dropping cannabis testing is among the steps more companies are taking to expand their pool of applicants to fill a near-record level of openings.

Businesses are hiring more people without high school diplomas, for example, to the point where the unemployment rate for non-high school graduates has sunk more than a full percentage point in the past year to 5.5 percent. That’s the steepest such drop for any educational group over that time. On Friday, May 4, the US government is expected to report another robust jobs report for April.

Excluding cannabis 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 cannabis 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.

“Employers are saying, ‘We have a thin labor pool,’ “Reidy said. ” ‘So are we going to test and exclude a whole group of people? Or can we assume some risks, as long as they’re not impaired at work?'”

Yet many companies are reluctant to acknowledge publicly that they’ve dropped cannabis testing.

FILE – In this June 28, 2017, file photo, marijuana plants grow at the Desert Grown Farms cultivation facility in Las Vegas. Many employers across the country are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

“This is going to become the new don’t ask, don’t tell,” Reidy said.

In most states that have legalized cannabis, like Colorado, businesses can still, if they wish, fire workers who test positive. On the other hand, Maine, which also legalized the drug, became the first state to bar companies from firing or refusing to hire someone for using marijuana outside work.

Companies in labor-intensive industries — hoteliers and home health care providers and employers with many warehouse and assembly jobs — are most likely to drop cdannabis testing. By contrast, businesses that contract with the government or that are in regulated industries, like air travel, or that have safety concerns involving machinery, are continuing marijuana tests, employment lawyers said. Federal regulations require the testing of pilots, train operators and other key transportation workers.

Dropping cannabis testing is more common among employers in the nine states, along with the District of Columbia, that have legalized marijuana for recreational adult use. An additional 20 states allow marijuana for medical use only. But historically low unemployment is driving change even where marijuana remains illegal.

After the Drug-Free Workplace Act was enacted in 1988, amid concerns about cocaine use, drug testing spread to most large companies. All Fortune 500 companies now engage in some form of drug testing, according to Barry Sample, a senior director at Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing firms.

In Denver, in a state with just 3 percent unemployment, 10 percent of employers that screen for drugs had dropped cannabis as of 2016, according to a survey by the Employers Council, which provides corporate legal and human resources services.

“It’s because unemployment is virtually non-existent” in Colorado, said Curtis Graves, a lawyer at the council. “People cannot afford to take a hard line against off-duty marijuana usage if they want to hire.”

That’s particularly true in Colorado’s resort areas, where hotels and ski lifts are heavily staffed with young workers, Graves said: “They can lose their jobs and walk across the street and get another one.”

FPI, a property-management firm headquartered in Folsom, California, near Sacramento, employs 2,900 around the country, from leasing managers to groundskeepers. FPI has dozens of jobs listed on online boards. Its ads say applicants must pass a “full background check and drug screening.” But it adds, “As it relates to marijuana use, FPI will consider any applicable state law when dispositioning test results.”

FPI didn’t respond to requests for comment, which isn’t unusual given that companies that have dropped cannabis tests aren’t exactly billboarding their decisions. Most still seek to maintain drug-free workplaces and still test for harder drugs.

“They’re pretty hush-hush about it,” Graves said.

AutoNation, which operates dealerships in 17 states, is one of the few to go public. The company stopped testing for cannabis about a year ago. Marc Cannon, a company spokesman, said it did so mostly in response to evolving public attitudes. But it also feared losing prospective employees.

“The labor market has tightened up,” Cannon said.

AutoNation heard from other business leaders, Cannon said. They said things like, “‘We’re doing the same thing; we just didn’t want to share it publicly.'”

Relaxed attitudes among employers are spreading from states where recreational cannabis is legal to those where marijuana is lawful only for medical use, such as Michigan and New Hampshire.

Janis Petrini, who owns an Express Employment staffing agency in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says that with the area’s unemployment rate below 3 percent, employers are growing desperate. Some are willing to ignore the results of drug tests performed by Express, which still screens for cannabis and won’t place workers who test positive.

“We have had companies say to us, ‘We don’t worry about that as much as we used to,'” Petrini said. “We say, ‘OK, well, we are still following our standards.’ “

One of Reidy’s clients, a manufacturer in New Hampshire, has dropped cannabis testing because it draws some workers from neighboring Massachusetts and Maine, which have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Another client, which runs assisted-living facilities from Florida to Maine, has stopped testing its housekeeping and food service workers for marijuana.

The stigma surrounding marijuana use is eroding, compounding pressure on employers to stop testing. A Gallup poll found 64 percent of Americans support legalizing pot, the highest percentage in a half-century of surveys.

FILE – In this July 1, 2017 file photo, a person buys marijuana at the Essence cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas. Many employers across the country are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

In Las Vegas, where recreational use is legal, marijuana dispensaries “look almost like Apple stores,” said Thoran Towler, CEO of the Nevada Association of Employers.

Many high-tech companies have been moving from California to Nevada to escape California’s high costs, and they’re seeking workers. Towler says the most common question from his 400 member executives is, “Where do I find employees?”

He estimates that roughly one-tenth of his group’s members have stopped testing for cannabis out of frustration.

“They say, ‘I have to get people on the casino floor or make the beds, and I can’t worry about what they’re doing in their spare time,'” Towler said.

Contact Chris Rugaber on Twitter.

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13 Comments

  1. Why would I hire someone who treats their ailments with Vicodin or Oxycontin (not showing up on a drug test) when I could hire someone who WISELY medicates using cannabis, even though that does show up on a drug test? Furthermore, why would I cast judgment on an existing employee who enjoys a few weekend puffs away from the workplace? Obviously they’re capable of doing their job and unaffected by getting baked last Saturday because they’ve showered, eaten, slept, and exercised since. It’s just common sense…..trace amounts of THC remain in the body for a long time, but they sure don’t affect one’s performance. It’s time for employers to relax their traditionally rigid standards.

    • Yep, and we all have trace amounts of thc in our bodies. That’s one of several reasons why cannabis is so compatible and works so well on many ailments with no side affects.

  2. John San Pedro on

    Yes, the true barometer of the health of an economy. Two years ago, I willingly “submitted” (cheated successfully) for a 6-panel illicit drugs screening. I was dirty in 3 categories that I knew of. First time I’d ever tested for drugs outside of suspicious girlfriend(s). I was not going to delay it, or not take it, or assume I would somehow piss clean. A company in Washington State, testclear(Dot)com who also manufactures drug tests (!!) which is brilliant, were only test-beating company who had no negative reviews. As in, no complete failures. I trusted them. Their pee is frreeze dried. But real. No synthetics, which can be detected. The tech changes every year.
    Despite being very nervous, I knew I would pass and I did.
    But I will never ever test again. I was weak after a rough couple years. Never again.

    • Lol, suspicious girlfriends????? That’s a new one, never had a woman drug test me. Pretty sure I would tell her to piss up a rope.

  3. Well ya it’s about friggen time. It had to start sooner or later. Now get it off of Sched#1 and be done with it. This all should have been dealt with decades ago. better late then never I suppose.

  4. I think that if a worker is mildly stoned, that they get a whole lot of work done, because it gives you energy and helps your body feel better from pain issues. I’m talking small one hit. I didn’t smoke for about 6 years, and I have many pain issues. It helped me get something done in my home. Usually I don’t feel good enough to get anything done. Yeah to the progress of realizing this is not some crazy drug. It’s been used for maybe centuries. Good luck to all. Are all the growers being monitored for NOT USING PESTICIDES? Big concern there!

    • Take a puff of some powerful indica and you’ll likely feel differently. That said, sativas and hybrids are great for not making you so sleepy, and actually help me concentrate when studying quite a bit.

  5. I can confirm Raymond James, a Fortune 500, has stopped drug testing recently. I was tested by them just 5 years ago. Smart move by a very conservative company.

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