Only 16% of Private Businesses Require Employee Drug Tests, Half as Many as in 1996
Employee drug testing in the private sector has fallen by nearly half in the past 25 years, especially in states that have legalized weed.
Published on March 23, 2022

The total percentage of private businesses that conduct random employee drug testing has dropped by nearly half over the past 25 years, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In a recent survey focusing on the pandemic's economic impact, the BLS asked over 80,000 businesses from around the country if they tested current or prospective employees for drugs and alcohol. Back in 1996, the last time that the BLS asked this question, about 30% of private companies said they conducted employee drug screenings, while 14% said they tested for booze. Last year, only 16% said they tested for drugs or alcohol. 

Not surprisingly, businesses in states where weed is legal are less likely to engage in employee drug screening. All 10 of the states with the highest rates of drug testing continue to prohibit cannabis. Many legal-cannabis states and cities have recently banned private businesses from testing most employees for weed. A growing number of American businesses, even corporate giants like Amazon, have chosen to end pot testing on their own accord, though.

Despite these changes in the private sector, the federal government continues to mandate drug testing for all employees. And even though 37 states have legalized medical or adult-use cannabis to date, the feds will still fire or refuse to hire anyone who fails that piss test for weed. Former pot use also disqualifies many applicants, but the FBI recently opened applications up to people who have gotten high fewer than 25 times in their adult lives.

The feds also mandate that truck drivers, machinery operators, or anyone else with a commercial drivers license must undergo regular drug testing. These rules even apply to the private sector, so companies like Amazon that have otherwise ditched weed testing must still continue testing commercial drivers for cannabis. The BLS survey confirms that private companies in the transportation, utilities, construction, and manufacturing sectors are the most likely to continue testing employees for drugs.

Standard urinalysis tests can effectively determine whether or not an employee is under the influence of alcohol, opioids, meth or other drugs. But because cannabis metabolites can remain in the body for as long as 100 days, these tests can't separate someone who gets blazed every day from someone who ate one edible last month. Because of this, many employees who use recreational or medical marijuana during their free time have been fired from their jobs, even if they are stone cold sober at work.

The inaccuracy of these tests have convinced many companies to give up on weed testing, and many hiring agencies are encouraging businesses to suspend employee pot tests in order to attract higher quality applicants. An analyst from Wells Fargo even blamed the recent shortage of commercially-licensed truckers on federal cannabis testing requirements.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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