Pandemic, Worker Shortage Change Employee Drug Testing

Percentage of positive tests rises, but more employers aren't testing for THC
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2022 6:20 PM CDT
Pandemic, Worker Shortage Change Employee Drug Testing
Marijuana products are displayed at the Good Leaf Dispensary on the reservation Mohawks call Akwesasne on March 14.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Against a backdrop of changing marijuana laws and a worker shortage, more employees are testing positive for drug use. Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testers, found that 3.9% of the 6 million urine tests it processed last year came back positive, up 50% from 2017. In that same period, the number of states where recreational use of marijuana is legal went from 8 to 18, plus the District of Columbia, the Wall Street Journal reports. Despite the increase in positive tests—or because of it—fewer employers tested for THC last year, Quest said.

"We've been seeing year-over-year declines in those recreational-use states," said Barry Sample of Quest, "but by far the largest drop we’ve ever seen was in 2021." Also, some states prohibit companies from considering test results in hiring decisions. Quest's annual analysis showed the percentage of specimens it tested for THC fell 6.7% nationwide last year and dropped 10.3% in states that allow recreational marijuana use. Overall, the share of American workers testing positive for one of the list of drugs Quest looks for hit 4.6% last year, the highest point since 2001.

A Detroit-based staffing agency said employers' attitudes have changed recently, especially when their jobs went begging. "So many of our clients were adamant, in pre-COVID, that they would not accept anyone that could not pass a drug test, even if it was THC," co-owner Tammy Turner said, per the Journal. With encouragement from the agency, some relaxed their position. They then "were able to fill many of those jobs," she said. The industry with the largest jump in positivity rates was transportation and warehousing, which climbed from 4.4% to 5.5%, per Safety & Health magazine. The only field to not show an increase was finance and insurance. (More drug testing stories.)

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