Diversity & Inclusion, EntertainHR, Recruiting

Sha’Carri Richardson and Workplace Drug Testing

As previous pieces I have written for this blog demonstrate, I am a huge track and field fan, so much so that I listen to multiple track-related podcasts, watch meets on television whenever I can, and once got embarrassingly excited when I came across sprinter Mike Rodgers DJing in an Austin bar during the weekend of one of my best friend’s weddings. (I introduced myself as a “big fan” and gave him a bro hug.)

I am looking forward to the track and field events during this summer’s Olympics, particularly the sprints. With runners like Allyson Felix, Sydney McLaughlin, Gabby Thomas, and Athing Mu set to represent the United States in Tokyo, Black Girl Summer is truly upon us.

One athlete I (and we) will not get to see compete, however, is 100 meter runner Sha’Carri Richardson. Louisiana State University alum Richardson won her event at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in what The Washington Post described as “a dominant performance in the 100 meters, dusting the field in 10.86 seconds and declaring to the world her intention to win America’s first gold medal in the event since 1996 later this summer in Tokyo.” But following the trials, Richardson tested positive for marijuana and was suspended for 1 month, beginning on June 28. The timing of Richardson’s suspension still made it possible for her to compete in the 4×100-meter relay, but she was not selected for the team.

My view of the situation can be summed up as follows: Thems the rules, but the rules are really, really stupid. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), marijuana use is banned in part because it enhances performance. Of course, many are skeptical of this view. To some, marijuana may enhance certain life experiences, but reacting quickly to a starter’s pistol and running fast does not seem to be one of those activities. And, of course, if marijuana truly enhanced performance, the penalty for Richardson’s positive test would not be what essentially amounts to a slap on the wrist (though the timing here is devastating).

Furthermore, recreational marijuana use is legal in several states, including in Oregon, where Richardson ingested the drug. Richardson, who popularly Tweeted “I am human” just before her positive test and suspension were announced, explained that her use of marijuana was to cope with her mother’s recent death but took responsibility for her actions.

As a professional track and field athlete, Richardson is subject to a strict drug testing regime that requires her to be available for drug testing every day and provide her whereabouts for a 1-hour window. Drug testing in most other workplaces, while allowed under certain circumstances, is less stringent. As noted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), drug screening in the workplace may include the following types of tests (directly quoting SHRM):

  • Pre-employment: Screening is typically done after a conditional job offer is made but before a new hire starts working.
  • Post-accident: Testing is required after an incident – such as an accident that caused fatalities or injuries – to determine whether drug use could have contributed.
  • Random: Employees are selected at random from all the participants in a drug free workplace program for unannounced testing.
  • Reasonable suspicion: Workers are tested when they show signs of intoxication.

Of the types of testing above, preemployment screening is the most common but is often subject to notice requirements under state law. Postaccident testing is also a generally accepted practice, given an employer’s interest in safety within the workplace. Random drug testing, for its part, is generally more proscribed and often limited to employees in safety-sensitive positions or roles involving the protection of life, property, or national security. When testing based on a reasonable suspicion that an employee is under the influence of drugs, employers must be prepared to articulate the basis for their belief that the employee is actually intoxicated.

And, yes, employers can generally test for marijuana, even in states where recreational use is legal. In fact, according to drug screening company Quest Diagnostics, the positive test rate for work-related marijuana tests continues to significantly increase. However, as marijuana use becomes more commonly accepted, employers may face pressure to limit testing when possible to minimize the loss of prospective job candidates. Similarly, I expect we will see marijuana testing dispensed of in track and field so as to avoid losing the opportunity to see athletes like Richardson compete.