Do companies drug test anymore? Drug testing has been a consistent part of the hiring process for decades. At one time, it was an expected part of applying for most jobs. Even today, employers make job offers conditional, depending on a clean drug test. Testing is standard everywhere, from grocery stores to finance companies. Even in places where safety hazards are minimal, testing occurs.

The goal of testing is simple: create safer workplaces. Employees who are intoxicated at work could pose a danger to themselves and others. Tests are an intentional barrier to keep habitual substance abusers out of the workplace. However, legal and cultural changes have influenced this process. The landscape today is much different from the height of the War on Drugs.

Attitudes have changed. Substances like cannabis have seen substantial legalization efforts. These changes have led to a massive question: is testing for drug use relevant to hiring anymore? The answer is yes—but perhaps not identical to the past.

Changing cannabis laws creates new challenges

Questions about having a drug testing program have increased in recent years. Primarily, changes in cannabis laws and legality have driven this change. Today, a majority of the United States condones some form of legal cannabis. Some states restrict its use to those with specified medical conditions. Others have fully legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.

Even the federal government has begun a fundamental shift on the drug. Recent official studies recommended that the government re-classify marijuana. The change would see it go from the highly restricted Schedule I to the less serious Schedule III. While any final changes are years away, these actions signal a considerable shift in attitudes. Even very conservative states such as Kentucky have some form of legal cannabis now.

In years past, many employers had concerns about hiring cannabis users. Today, though, testing for THC is in decline. While many states don’t offer employment for cannabis users, others do. States such as New York and California banned testing for THC and ignoring THC positives.

In other states, employers must ignore a THC-positive result for some recreational or medical marijuana users. Yet the five-panel test, the most common type of drug test, will still include THC. Employers must carefully consider how to navigate this new environment.

The relevance of testing for marijuana

Do small companies drug test for THC? Are THC positives still relevant? Increasingly, more employers agree to its irrelevance. Even in the absence of any regulation, some companies have voluntarily ceased testing for THC. There are several reasons for this change, including expanded legalization. Issues with the tests themselves are another reason. Contrary to popular belief, a positive THC result can’t tell an employer very much about a candidate.

There is currently no widely available test to indicate active intoxication from THC. A drug test may return a positive THC result from a one-time use that occurred weeks or even a month ago. A positive test can’t reliably indicate whether someone is an occasional or habitual user. In some cases, other substances, including legitimate prescriptions, might create THC false positives. It is harder for employers to draw conclusions based on a THC positive than it is to consider a positive test for a more dangerous drug.

For these reasons, fewer employers may pay attention to marijuana results. However, remember that many states have not legalized THC for recreational use. Even at a time of rising positive test rates, during employee shortages, a company could still disqualify applicants based on positive THC results.

Employer drug testing still has a purpose

Is screening for substance use still important? Workplace drug testing isn’t irrelevant, but its timing and purpose often differ. After all, when do companies drug test? Usually, the tests and background checks come after a conditional offer. Employers would rather look for reasons to hire someone than to disqualify them. That factor is part of what drives the decline in disqualifications for THC. Nonetheless, drug tests look for more than marijuana.

There are no types of drug tests that can detect every kind of substance. However, today’s customary drug test panels still provide information on other illegal drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates. Cannabis is believed to have accepted medical and recreational uses, but the same isn’t valid for all narcotics. Many of these substances represent a greater risk—and drug tests are more useful here.

How long it takes the body to clear a drug from its system varies by substance. THC remains in the body for a relatively long time. Harder drugs, however, may clear out faster. For example, a positive test for meth is more likely to indicate recent use than a THC positive. Testing for other substances is still relevant for employers striving to foster safe workplaces.

Some laws require drug tests

In some cases, federal law trumps everything else—and that’s the case with some drug tests. Consider the regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation. Trucking companies and commercial drivers all fall under these regulations. The DOT requires a regular drug test for every driver and may order random drug testing. THC remains a disqualifying substance for drivers. A positive test restricts drivers’ opportunities until they can provide a clean test later.

All DOT-regulated businesses must obey these rules, even in states with other testing restrictions. Such states also often make exceptions for certain positions. For instance, staff involved in public safety or heavy machinery may still need to test for marijuana. Employers should not write off the importance of pre-employment drug screening. Instead, always check your state’s laws regarding your industry.

Finding the right approach for your business

For employers, drug testing requires a careful balancing between fairness and safety. A habitual opiate user can pose much more of a risk to a business than a regular cannabis user. Ultimately, companies must carefully evaluate their personnel priorities in this area. Be prepared to respond to ongoing social change while still protecting your business. Find out more about drug testing rules or explore compliant testing options for your industry.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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