The economy is growing rapidly compared to years past, with unemployment at a low 3.9 percent and as of May, more job openings than people looking to get hired. Employers are starting to have real difficulty finding workers, particularly for manufacturing positions and other jobs that do not require a college degree.
A major factor in these difficulties is the fact that many of those looking for jobs have histories of drug use or are currently using substances, which means they fail mandatory drug tests and cannot get hired. An Axios study reported that between 25 and 50 percent of applicants fail drug tests, which makes it difficult to fill large numbers of positions.
A recent LinkedIn article also pointed to federal surveys on the economy over the past three years that explicitly mentioned the widespread failure of drug tests as a barrier to increasing employment. Drug addiction, particularly opioids, is also blamed for up to 25 percent of the 5 million-person drop in the labor force participation rate that occurred around the time of the last recession.
Some employers are beginning to forego drug testing for positions that do not require contact with children or safety concerns. Others are hiring workers they know have misused drugs, like one cafe in Annapolis that is located close to a sober living house where residents must get jobs.
New Strategies Could Help Workers Who Misuse Drugs
While it can cause employers concern to know that some of their workers have misused drugs previously, others are more than aware that current employees are not immune to drug misuse and that it can impact their workforce even when employees pass initial drug screens.
Workers who admit to drug misuse or are discovered to have misused drugs after being hired can attend treatment through referrals from employee assistance programs that many employers provide to help with the addiction and mental health needs of their employees. Keeping your job during rehab is entirely possible in many cases.
One employer, an electric wire factory in Indiana, has even offered to pay for rehab for applicants who fail drug tests, promising them a job after they successfully complete treatment. In this rural area, the workforce is limited, and after a family member of the employer overdosed, the employer genuinely wants to help others who struggle with addiction.
It makes sense financially to take a proactive approach as well. Employers’ costs go up tremendously when they have to pay overtime to fewer workers, and productivity takes a nosedive when people are overworked or are struggling with addiction and not getting help.
Employers may feel that it is not fair that they need to foot the costs of treatment or the risks of hiring workers struggling with addiction. However, drug misuse is a societal problem with complex causes and solutions, and if employers do not do their part to help solve it, drugs in the American workforce will continue to hamper them from meeting business goals going forward.