Before I started my new full-time job a couple of months ago, I underwent a rigorous background check – one verifying my credit score, criminal background and employment history. I also had to submit to a drug test – something I’d never had to do for a job before. Of course, I passed it, but being in California now (where marijuana use is rampant) made me think. Had other people I knew actually failed when in the same situation? I decided to ask around.
Sure enough, I found one who had been fired after a surprise office-wide drug test and another who refused to submit to a drug test altogether. One guy I knew told me he’d smoked weed two weeks before his start date, but (thankfully for him) was never drug-tested.
The Numbers Are In
Given the responses I received, it’s no wonder why the number of Americans who failed an employer-mandated drug test in 2015 has reached the highest in ten years.
According to Quest Diagnostics, 4 percent of the 10.6 million urine, hair and saliva samples taken from employees tested positive for marijuana, heroin or methamphetamine. Coincidentally, this number began increasing in 2012 – the same year states started legalizing marijuana. But while marijuana use has gone up 26 percent since 2011 – representing nearly half of all positive tests in 2015 – it’s still beaten out by another drug: heroin.
Sadly, heroin has seen the biggest uptick in the workplace, rising approximately 146 percent in the same time period.
To Test or Not To Test
So what should employers do with this new data? While it’s important to have a safe and lawful workplace, it’s also essential to acknowledge the evolving state of our nation. Twenty-three states have now legalized cannabis for medical use, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. As such, certain industries, like food and beverage and hospitality, may begin to move away from drug testing applicants altogether. Experts say it’s still important to have a drug testing program in place, but recommend using it only when under reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired.
Still, it’s important not to put too much weight on these recent findings. Quest states that not all their tests over the 18-year period are of the same type, making it difficult to accurately apply those numbers to the general population.
Furthermore, certain tests were more sensitive to different types of drugs, while others detected drug use over different spans of time (for example, hair tests can go back about 90 days, while urine tests can’t go any further than 14 days). Something to definitely keep in mind if you’re an employer.
Additional Reading: Has Workplace Drug Testing Made a Positive Impact?
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