According to a new federal labour report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates, drug testing rates at U.S. workplaces have decreased over the last 25 years, as states began legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis use.
The report is part of a project evaluating the responses of businesses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last time BLS had surveyed employers regarding drug screening was in 1996. This survey included responses from more than 80,000 workplaces across the U.S.
While the BLS report demonstrates a reduction in drug screenings, the reduction was slight, with only 2% of workplaces stating they have eliminated or delayed testing, while 7.9% of workplaces said that they have eliminated or delayed testing yet also tested new applicants or current employees. In addition, the survey found that establishments in states that have legalized cannabis were less likely to screen workers. This could be seen by the numbers with 8 out of the 10 states with lowest amount of testing having legalized consumption of cannabis for adults, and out of the 10 states with the highest screening rates none have legalized cannabis.
Differences in testing were also reported across various industry sectors, with the transportation and warehousing and utilities sectors having the highest testing rates. In contrast, sectors with the lowest rates of testing were accommodation and food services; arts, entertainment and recreation, information, educational services and financial activities.
In 1996, about 30% of all surveyed worksites reported testing for drugs, while about 14% reported screening for alcohol. In the new survey, 16.1% of worksites surveyed reported testing for drugs and/or alcohol.
Furthermore, the survey results showed that more employers in the utilities sector reduced drug testing during the pandemic compared to any other sector. This sector also had the highest proportion of establishments that both reduced or delayed testing, while also testing new applicants and/or current employees.
The study also showed that smaller facilities were far less likely to require screenings. Michael Dalton, a BLS research economist who worked on the survey, said that it was too early to tell whether any decreases in drug screening that occurred during the pandemic would persist over the long-term. He added that while many COVID-related workplace changes could fade, others are not likely to be reversed entirely.