How Impairment Testing Supports Hiring and Productivity

Alternative to traditional drug testing reduces safety risks and cost; boosts productivity and morale


Impairment Testing can help with hiring and keep workers more productive

The current labor shortage is making it difficult for many companies to meet their business production goals. The ongoing legalization of marijuana compounds this shortage. Candidates for hire are not making their way through the door. Drug testing, particularly testing for marijuana, is reducing the size of the candidate pool and keeping individuals willing to work sidelined. This need not be the case. A new, alternative screening method, impairment testing, allows companies to hire many of the candidates that drug testing disqualifies – even while doing a more effective job than drug testing to help determine whether someone is fit for duty.


“When it comes to drugs, we have a zero-tolerance policy,” says Ted Wooden, Safety and Operations Director at Wilmot Modular in Maryland. “Hiring and keeping our workers safe is a challenge. We’ve adopted a new impairment test that we do at our daily safety talk. It’s easy, keeps our workers safe, and keeps a bigger team on the shop floor”.

Impairment Testing is emerging as a new way to assess whether workers are fit for duty. In fact, the National Safety Council recently released a detailed study on Impairment Detection. It now actively recommends - and offers online courses and training for - impairment testing.


Study Confirms the Impact of Legal Marijuana on Workplace Safety

The NSC also recently released results of a survey it conducted between April and May 2021, and involving 500 employers, to assess the risks of cannabis in the workplace. The results showed significant gaps in knowledge and safety. Its conclusion: employers must do more to educate and protect their workers.


NSC Survey: Approximately One-Third Of Employees Observed Usage of Cannabis and CBD Products During Work Hours

According to the NSC survey, cannabis can have a major adverse impact on the safety of employees, and cannabis legalization is creating new challenges for employers. The survey found that:

  • One-third of employees surveyed say they have observed cannabis use during work hours

  • Less than half of organizations surveyed have a written policy addressing cannabis

  • Less than half of employees surveyed reported they would be comfortable telling supervisors they were too impaired to work

Problems for Employers due to Legalization of Marijuana

The hot job market, particularly in construction and manufacturing, appears likely to stay hot. Potential employees have ample opportunity to pick and choose where they want to work. Strict drug testing turns candidates away. This has led many employers to stop drug testing entirely, exposing their workplaces to more risks.

Legalization of marijuana has generated greater access and consumption of it. At the same time, marijuana legislation and court cases have made it more difficult for employers to discipline employees who test positive for the bodily presence of THC.

  • It is now illegal in several states to conduct pre-employment marijuana testing

  • Drug tests for marijuana may under certain circumstances be considered an invasion of privacy and lead to lawsuits

  • It may be illegal in certain states to discipline or terminate an employee based on the results of a marijuana test

The bottom line is this: employers can no longer routinely or reflexively drug test for marijuana without adverse consequences to their business


While certain federal government employers and contractors are required to continue to test for marijuana, other employers are dropping the tests entirely. Potential employees who wish to legally use marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes, are likely to seek employment with companies that have dropped testing for marijuana. Yet employers still have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace.


The NSC states that it is the responsibility of the employer to develop a culture of safety, accountability, and honesty among its employees as it pertains to cannabis. Because marijuana remains present in the body for weeks, while impairment from it occurs for only an hour or two, testing for it is extremely unlikely to reveal the impairment. In short, such a test has little to no value in protecting employees and employers. Testing potential employees or current employees for marijuana use that occurred outside of working hours and off the employer’s premises is an unlikely way to attract and keep valuable employees.


Employers Benefit from Using Impairment Screening in Drug Policy

Employers Benefit from Using Impairment Screening in Drug Policy

The NSC defines workplace impairment as anything that could impede a worker’s ability to function normally or safely – from chemical substances, such as alcohol, opioids or cannabis, to physical factors like fatigue, as well as mental distress and social factors like stress.


Impairment testing, unlike drug testing, does not identify the cause of the impairment; it identifies who is suffering from impairment – of any kind, whether from drugs or alcohol, fatigue, illness, injury, chronic condition or severe stress. Because it does not provide information regarding cause, impairment testing does not stigmatize employees; it protects their rights, including medical privacy rights. Because impairment testing does not identify drug or alcohol use – but only determines fitness for duty – it promotes a company culture of safety.

“The test can indicate if someone is fatigued”, adds Ted Wooden from Wilmot. “We had a guy who hadn’t been able to sleep because of something going on at home, so it’s not personal. The test identified an impairment we wouldn’t otherwise been aware of, and after talking with him, we sent him home for the day.” The consequence of a failed impairment test may be something as simple as reassignment to less risky duty, or resting for an hour, or being sent home for the day. But unlike administering a test for marijuana, the consequence would not necessarily be grounds for dismissal.


Creating clear policies that apply to everyone and that protect employee rights, particularly with regard to the knotty problem of marijuana use, will attract new employees, keep current employees, and give employers an edge in the current labor market.


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