HR Management & Compliance, Recruiting

Rethinking Preemployment Drug Screenings

A job in the White House is a dream come true for many young Americans interested in a career in politics or simply interested in the networking and educational benefits such a position can offer. But for at least five White House staffers, that dream had a rude and an unexpected awakening.

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Sanctioning Employees for Legal Drug Use?

“White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday five White House staffers were ‘no longer employed’ over their use of marijuana as part of a vetting process for security clearance, as the Biden administration comes under fire over reports that numerous young staffers have been penalized for past marijuana use (including in states where it’s legal) even though they were told they wouldn’t be,” writes Nicholas Reimann in a March 19, 2021, article for Forbes.

While Psaki’s announcement is specific to just five staffers, it represents a much broader issue in the American workplace. Reimann reports that 52% of American adults have used marijuana at some point in their lives, according to a 2017 Yahoo News and Marist poll. “The number of active users is much lower, though,” he writes. “A 2019 Gallup poll found about 12% of Americans regularly smoke marijuana, but that number jumped among those 18-29 (22%) and liberals (24%).”

Reviewing Drug-Free Workplace Policies

Like the White House, many companies around the country still have drug-free workplaces, in which candidates can be denied employment and employees can be terminated for drug use, although it’s far less common for companies to take such measures based on whether candidates or employees have ever used drugs.

Many HR departments are reconsidering their long-standing drug-screening policies, however, especially in light of the changing status of marijuana at the state level in many jurisdictions. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized marijuana, while 36 allow for medicinal marijuana use.

Still, the federal government continues to treat marijuana as a controlled substance, and many industries regulated by or doing business with the federal government have good reasons to maintain their prohibitions on the use of any drugs.

The changing legal status of marijuana in many states has created complicated issues for HR departments and their long-standing drug-screening policies. While maintaining such policies may disqualify qualified candidates who legally use the drug in their state, relaxing those rules could pose legal and regulatory challenges.

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