More than a year ago we wrote about how businesses were scrambling to find workers who could pass a drug test. But this topic is still making headlines. Has anything changed since 2016? What are business owners doing to ease the growing shortage of workers caused by drug testing policies?
Tough On Drugs
Business owners have a lot of incentives to drug test employees. And their reasons go beyond trying to create a safe and healthy workplace. About twenty states have laws that encourage drug testing. Employers in these states benefit from workers’ compensation discounts. They’re also protected from legal liability when they discipline or terminate an employee for testing positive for drugs or alcohol.
Employees who do lose their jobs for failing a drug test can face additional sanctions. In some jurisdictions they lose out on unemployment or extended health insurance benefits such as COBRA.
Unintended Consequences Of Drug Testing
Tough policies like these are designed to send a clear message to workers: stay clean, or you may find yourself out of a job.
But drug use is continuing to rise. In 2013, 9.4% of the population had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3% in 2002.
The problem of finding enough drug-free workers continues to hurt the bottom line of businesses across the country.
Columbiana Boiler of Youngstown, Ohio, forgoes about $200,000 worth of orders every quarter for its galvanized products because of its labor shortage. Other businesses in the area report that they are continually running job ads for low- and unskilled workers. But despite offering pay of up to $25 per hour and full benefits, the jobs are going unfilled.
At some companies in the Youngstown area, up to 50% of new applicants fail a drug test.
Some business owners are solving this labor problem by relaxing drug-use policies. This is more common in states that have decriminalized marijuana.
But in industries like trucking and manufacturing, workers are already more likely to get hurt on the job than average. So forgoing drug tests isn’t an option.
At Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, co-owner Regina Mitchell tackled the problem by setting up an apprentice program. This allows the business to find talented workers who may lack experience, but who are motivated to grow with the company.
Other businesses are turning to refugees to fill the gap.
Louisville, Kentucky is struggling with high methamphetamine use. The number of workers who test positive for the drug in the workplace is 47% higher than the national average.
But in the past five years, nearly 6,000 refugees have settled in the area. So the city’s White Castle food processing plant is increasingly hiring refugees to fill its vacancies.
Sadly, drug use in America is rising rather than falling. On August 10th, 2017, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency. Until the United States finds a way to ease the substance abuse crisis, employers will have to continue finding new strategies to fill jobs and retain the best workers.
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