OPINION: Weeding out potential employees with drug tests is outdated

With public opinion of the medicinal and recreational consumption of cannabis changing, many companies are sticking to their outdated ideas on what makes a “capable employee” by subjecting employees to drug tests to weed out the competition. In order for companies to be more progressive, while still maintaining a set safety protocol, impairment tests should replace drug testing.

Drug testing traditionally consists of employees giving urine or saliva for pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post-accident or random drug testing, in order to look for evidence of the use of a small number of illegal drugs. Testing positive for specific drugs also does not mean that the person is impaired at that time or during work hours, which can be unfair to many employees who consume legal drugs for recreational or medicinal purposes outside of the workplace.

Depending on the type of test and your personal consumption habits, if you test positive for cannabis, even if state law allows the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis, you could be terminated or penalized for having cannabis in your system.

Impairment testing works slightly differently from drug testing and does not require bodily fluids, which respects the employee’s privacy while also allowing the employer to check if there is anyone that isn’t fit for work. These tests measure actual impairment at the time of the test, rather than traces of past activity. Impairment tests determine whether workers in safety-sensitive positions are putting themselves or others at risk by measuring the workers’ current fitness for duty. Precise, computer-administered tests are available over the internet and do not require special equipment and could be administered on a daily basis. Impairment tests are also accepted by advocates of personal rights, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Amy Hildebrand, an executive assistant at 4Front Ventures, a cannabis-investment company, is a medical and recreational cannabis user and supports the use of impairment tests rather than conventional drug tests. Hildebrand is a DePaul graduate and one of the founders of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter at DePaul. During an internship with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, she saw that the chapter worked with impairment tests, which she believes to be better than traditional drug testing.

“I’m against the giving of fluid samples to prove that I’m a capable employee. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s against my personal and bodily autonomy. I am very much anti-drug tests,” says Hildebrand. “I am not anti impairment tests. I think that impairment tests are really important. My father is a career union electrician who operates heavy machinery and has a very very dangerous career. I do not want him or any of the men or women that he works with to be under the influence of anything whether it’s something that’s going to show up on a drug test or not.”

Impairment tests are not perfect, but they are significantly better than drug tests because impairment tests search for “impairment,” which offers a wider scope of workers that may be unfit to work, then the workers that might use illegal or legal drugs. Exhaustion impairs people, along with other drugs, to the point where they can be a safety hazard to themselves or others, especially in more safe-sensitive occupations.

If a workplace enforces pre-employment and/or random drug testing, exhausted workers that have not consumed legal or illegal drugs will still be cleared to work and be a safety hazard. Another company that administers impairment testing, however, would prevent those accidents from occurring because it tests for impairment, not drug use.

Drug tests are outdated and should be replaced with some kind of impairment testing system, just based on the benefits of impairment tests and how well it is received by employers and employees.