Are US Companies Abandoning Pre-Employment Drug Screenings?

By Paul Fuhr 03/09/18

Some companies have been forced to change their stance on screenings in the wake of an ever-tightening job market and marijuana legalization.

Nurse taking blood sample from patient in clinic

Pre-employment drug screenings, a decades-long staple of the American hiring process, may soon be a thing of the past.

According to Bloomberg, it’s an eye-opening sign of the times that many American companies are now looking to abandon drug screenings.

As employers continue to struggle to fill roles in an ever-tightening job market, not to mention dealing with loosened state-by-state laws around marijuana use, companies are looking for solutions wherever possible.

In many cases, that means adjusting their corporate strategies around substances: rather than preventing new hires from joining their ranks, they’re more focused on providing support for employees who might be challenged by problematic drug use.

“We don’t care what people do in their free time,” one healthcare company’s spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance.’” 

Last year, a survey of employers in Colorado (a state where recreational and medicinal marijuana is prevalent) showed that the number of companies testing for pot fell to 66%, down from 77% just the year before. All signs point toward that trend continuing, too.

“Drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor market, that’s having an impact on productivity and growth,” Bloomberg observed.

In other words, many applicants simply can’t pass a required drug test, with Quest Diagnostics data indicating that “failed tests reached an all-time high in 2017.” (In opioid-ravaged Ohio, some employers have even gotten ahead of themselves, putting workers out on factory floors before their failed drug-test results came in.)

“The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high,” Mercer Law School professor Dr. Jeremy Kidd told Bloomberg. “A blanket prohibition can’t possibly be the most economically efficient policy.”

With unemployment currently at 4% in the U.S., companies are now being forced to re-evaluate what they care about and what they don’t when it comes to their workforce.

In fact, many large employers “have quietly changed their [drug] policies in recent years,” Bloomberg noted, adding that those same companies have been careful to avoid advertising that fact.

“Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use,” the story said. (One Gallup poll echoed this sentiment, finding that 64% of Americans currently favor drug legalization.) 

But not everyone is ready to throw in the towel when it comes to pre-employment drug screenings. A recent survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports showed that 61% of American adults believe that drug testing “should be required for all or most jobs.” (26% disagreed, while 13% weren’t sure.)

High-profile companies like Burger King and Ford Motor Co. haven’t changed their corporate policies against marijuana use, either. And regardless of America’s relaxing attitudes toward substance use, many jobs will always require drug testing, no matter what.

Bloomberg cited heavy-machinery jobs as one example where pre-employment drug screenings would remain firmly in place. “Companies are also reserving the right to test after an accident or if an employee comes to work notably impaired,” Bloomberg noted, underscoring the fact that companies that forego pre-employment screenings aren’t automatically drug-friendly.

“We assume that a certain level of employees are going to be partaking on the weekends. We don’t care,” an employment lawyer summed it up for Bloomberg. “We’re going to exclude a whole group of people, and we desperately need workers.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.