Is drug testing a worthwhile step in the employment screening process? Or is it a relic of the failed War on Drugs? According to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, most American adults lean toward the former.
The survey, conducted nationally via telephone and internet platforms, found 61% of respondents believe employers should be drug testing candidates “for all or most jobs.” 26% of respondents said employers shouldn’t be drug testing, while 13% were undecided. The survey got responses from 1,000 people.
At backgroundchecks.com, we have always offered a drug screening service alongside our other background check services. A candidate with a history of drug use can pose just as much of a liability risk to a business as a candidate with a criminal history. This statement is especially true for jobs that involve the operation of vehicles, heavy machinery, or other dangerous equipment. We offer various types of background check services—including county, state, federal, and multi-jurisdictional screenings—and five drug test variations.
There has been some debate in recent years on whether employers should be drug testing candidates or employees. In 2015, the Washington Post published “Companies drug test a lot less than they used to – because it doesn’t really work.” The piece cited statistics from the American Management Association charting the use of workplace drug testing from its inception in the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s. The stats showed workplace drug testing peaked in 1996 (with 81% of employers doing it) and declined consistently until 2004 when the American Management Association stopped tracking statistics.
The AMA figure in 2004 was 62%. That aligns with recent Society for Human Resource Management data, which says 57% of employers drug test all candidates. However, that test also found only 29% of employers don’t use drug tests on any candidates. In other words, the percentage of businesses that use drug screening for at least some positions is closer to 70%—higher than it was when the AMA stopped keeping track.
The Washington Post argued drug tests were ineffective at predicting poor job performance and outdated in an era when many local jurisdictions were legalizing marijuana. In the years since the Post article, the country has been ravaged by an opioid crisis that keeps getting worse. The concern these days is not marijuana, which was the primary focus of the Washington Post article. Instead, the problem is addictive prescription drugs like fentanyl or street alternatives like heroin. These drugs are more addictive and far deadlier.
The rise of the opioid epidemic might explain why most American adults think employers should be screening candidates for drugs. Many companies are getting more vigilant about testing existing employees for opioids and other drugs—both to avoid liability and to identify employees who might need help with substance abuse problems. As of January, the United States Department of Transportation requires all DOT-regulated employers to screen personnel for opioids. In the coming years, other industries will likely follow suit, making drug testing even more commonplace in the candidate screening process and in most workplaces.