Industrial jobs in Florida and other occupations that require an employee’s full attention and abilities also, therefore, require them to be sober. An employer in a specialized heavy machinery industry is obligated to make sure that all employees are operating safely and so they tend to drug test. The challenge with medical marijuana is that the THC compound in cannabis that creates the euphoria stays in the employee’s system well after the intoxicating effects have gone away.
Employers in the state of Ohio are having trouble keeping employees due to failed drug tests, so not only are people being left unemployed, employers are in need of employees. It is a frustrating challenge for employers that may wish marijuana was still illegal, but then again why would anyone want to deny a patient their relief? A logical solution would be a means of testing if an employee is under the intoxicating effects of cannabis when they come to work, but engineers have yet to come up with an easy-to-use and quick piece of technology that could fill this need. These challenges are potentially something that Florida employers will have to confront, and hopefully there is a lesson to be learned from other states that have already contended with the problem. What other alternatives are there for employers to keep the workplace safe?
In Youngstown, Ohio, the employment problem is not a shortage of jobs. Nor is it a shortage of workers. The problem is not stingy employers who don’t want to pay enough to attract good workers. Nor is the problem that potential workers are too busy playing video games to show up for their job interviews.
So what’s the trouble? The only thing standing between willing employers and willing workers is a drug test.
Unfortunately, these aren’t jobs where you can say uptight, moralizing employers are prying too deeply into the private lives of their employees. They’re industrial jobs where the risk of accidents — potentially fatal accidents — is high. Employers cannot run the risk of people showing up intoxicated and killing themselves or their co-workers. Even if they were willing to run their workplace that way, safety inspectors and insurers wouldn’t let them.
But is an employee really a danger to others because he smokes a little pot on weekends? Well, while it’s easy to assume that these tests are mostly picking up casual pot smokers, one employer told the New York Times that half of the failures aren’t for pot, but for other substances. Substances like heroin and cocaine tend to clear the system pretty quickly, so someone who can’t pass a scheduled drug test is raising some serious red flags. This person couldn’t stay sober for even a few days?
But what about pot? Should employers really be testing for it? It can linger in the system for considerably longer than opiates or cocaine, so people who would never take drugs at work or pose any danger to their co-workers may well flunk the test. The tests are still screening out some people who might be dangerous — but you’re going to get a lot of false positives. This is why employers rarely test urine for alcohol, even though it’s possible to do so; while this would eliminate most alcoholics — who can be just as dangerous as drug addicts in an industrial workplace — it would also eliminate nearly everyone else except Mormons.
So why do employers test for a drug that many people use socially? Because until very recently, pot was illegal everywhere in the U.S. That makes a drug test a reasonably good proxy for a trait that psychologists call “conscientiousness,” one of the Big Five personality traits.
People with high levels of conscientiousness are more likely to follow the law, even if the laws against marijuana use are not as thoroughly justified as those limiting opiates or stimulants. So under our current laws, while many perfectly normal and otherwise law-abiding people smoke marijuana, the group “marijuana smokers” probably contains a higher-than-normal concentration of folks who don’t have such high regard for rules — rules like, say, never coming to work high.
It’s often argued that drug tests aren’t very good at screening out drug addicts, given how quickly most substances leave your system, and how easy it is to cheat the tests. But even if that’s true, employers may believe that they are worth the cost, in money and lost workers, because they filter out the kind of people who are willing to break the law to use drugs. But as the laws change, that will present employers, insurers and regulators with a problem.