Labor Shortage is Forcing Employers to Eliminate Drug Screening

In light of a worldwide labor shortage, Employers say that they are eliminating job screenings or drug tests in order to attract talent- this could create safety issues. Impairment screening can mitigate this alarming trend.

In a survey out this past week from staffing firm ManpowerGroup, 9% of employers worldwide said they are eliminating job screenings or drug tests in order to attract and retain talent. (p.14)

The current employment environment gives rise to this unusual situation. Just while drug use continues to rise in the workplace, the global labor shortage has created conditions where some employers are curtailing or reconsidering drug testing. Their aim is to reduce friction in hiring and retain workers as traditional incentives like vacation time and better wages aren’t enough. It has become equally important to remove barriers that stop people from applying or being hired. Drug testing, with all its shortcomings, is a key barrier.

The Labor Shortage Puts a Squeeze on Hiring

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. had a record 10.9 million job openings this past July. Deloitte reports: “As economies reopen after lockdowns, reports of employers unable to find the workers they need have become ubiquitous across the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and parts of the European Union.

In the United States, while the number of job openings surged 33% from Q4 2019 (figure 1), more than 9 million people remained unemployed. In Canada, the job vacancy rate hit its highest level since 2015, while employment remained well below its pre-pandemic peak. With numerous people out of work, employers should have a relatively easy time hiring qualified candidates. But the pandemic has fundamentally altered the industries and locations where would-be employees want to work.

Figure 1

Employers trying to hire for in-person labor, such as transportation and warehousing, are having a particularly tough time as the work is traditionally low paying and, due to the Covid-19, currently high risk. Anything that an employer can do to eliminate barriers to applicants must be considered.

Some Employers Are Eliminating Drug Screening – A Cause for Concern

The hiring crunch is causing employers to re-evaluate their drug testing policies. In a Current Consulting Group poll, released last year, 36% of respondents who were planning to remove marijuana from their drug testing panels said it was because “we are experiencing delays and/or cannot fill positions due to high marijuana positives.”

Amazon is probably the highest profile company to take a stand on drug screening in order to aid their hiring efforts. In June it announced that it will no longer include marijuana in its screenings for positions not regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Amazon will still conduct impairment checks when employees are on the job and after accidents.)

Employers need to balance the increased risk of accidents if drug screening is eliminated and nothing replaces it. With marijuana use on the rise and post-accident marijuana positivity increasing each year, safety issues will come to a head.  The issue is not whether someone has ever used marijuana but, instead, whether they are impaired on the job.

Rising Marijuana Use Increases Need for Safety Screening

Legalization of marijuana in the United states has increased, with 36 states allowing medical use and 18 states allowing recreational adult use. There are no signs that the movement is slowing. Attitudes towards marijuana have shifted a great deal putting it in the same category as alcohol use for many people. While drug testing is required for some federal employees and contractors, and in certain industries, companies in the private sector can make their own drug policies.

New analysis released May, 2021, by Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services clearly shows that marijuana use has increased:

Marijuana continued double-digit year-over-year increases in the general U.S. workforce, with lower positivity rates in states with only medical marijuana use or no form of legalized marijuana use versus states with legalized recreational statutes

The Drug Testing Index data showed stark differences between states that have legalized recreational marijuana use versus states that have only legalized medical marijuana use or no form of legal marijuana use. Marijuana positivity surged in states allowing legal recreational use by 118.2 percent from 2012-2020.  In states allowing only medical marijuana, marijuana positivity increased by 68.4 percent. In states not allowing medical or recreational marijuana, marijuana positives increased by 57.9% percent.

Figure 2

Why Impairment Screening Is Needed

The shortcoming of testing for marijuana is that a positive test does not tell you if an individual is impaired. Marijuana metabolites remain in the body for up to 30 days after use. Screening applicants for a substance which may be legal to use in their off hours, and several hours after its use no longer presents an impediment to being fit for duty at work, and is a barrier to attracting employees.

If employers want to keep marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs out of the workplace as a safety measure, they would be better off instituting impairment testing, as opposed to drug screening at the workplace. Impairment testing directly tests the cognitive motor skills that a person would need to use to do particular tasks. It would make more sense for employers to test the actual skills involved in driving, operating heavy machinery, and making critical decisions than to test for the mere bodily presence of a chemical, which when present is no longer impairing. There are, however, computer-based impairment tests, in existence since the early 1980’s, that test for objective evidence of impairment, and that test for those actual working skills.

Impairment monitoring has advantages over traditional drug testing (see table). A key advantage is an immediate reading on whether an employee is fit for work or impaired. Another advantage of impairment monitoring is to maintain the privacy of a substance user. The results of an impairment test will only indicate whether an employee is impaired or not. If impaired, it will not indicate the cause of the impairment. Drug tests can be stigmatizing, as results reveal to an employer what drug the employee has tested positive for. Another helpful advantage of impairment testing is that it should be able to detect any type of impairment, whether drug use, alcohol, illness, or fatigue.

Figure 3 – Impairment Screening vs Drug Testing

Impairment tests can be performed immediately, on location, say, before the start of a shift to determine fitness for duty. An applicant that objects to safety precautions on the job may be one an employer may, in any event, not want to hire. By implementing impairment testing, an employer can safely eliminate prescreening for marijuana. Note that Amazon has not eliminated all testing. It still conducts impairment checks while employees are on the job, and conducts drug tests after accidents.

Impairment Screening Solutions

To learn more about impairment screening, contact Impairment Science. Impairment Science, Inc. is the creator of Druid, an app which is a scientifically validated, fast, portable impairment test available for Android and Apple mobile devices. 


Companies Are So Desperate to Fill Jobs They’re Getting Rid of Drug Tests, By Julia Glum September 14, 2021

ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey

Quest Diagnostics Report:

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