Employers Dropping Marijuana Tests

FILE - In this June 28, 2017, file photo, marijuana plants grow at the Desert Grown Farms cultivation facility in Las Vegas. Many employers across the country are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Fewer Colorado employers are testing employees for marijuana use, and more are reducing penalties for a positive test, says a new survey by the Employers Council, a Denver human resources organization.

Five years after Coloradans legalized recreational pot sales, 9 percent of 371 drug-testing employers surveyed by the Employers Council said they had relaxed their testing policy for the drug.

That’s a big change. Just after legalization, 21 percent of employers surveyed said they were beefing up their testing policies.

“The numbers would probably be even more (tilted) toward relaxation of testing policies if you exclude trucking companies and other employers who are required to test employees” under U.S. Department of Transportation rules, said Curtis Graves, an Employers Council attorney. “With a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, employers are finding it difficult to hire staff with testing in place, especially in the hospitality industry.”

While more employers are dropping tests for applicants, most still test workers who are injured on the job, Graves said. Workers’ compensation benefits are reduced for those who test positive for illegal drugs after a workplace accident.

Also, Pinnacol Assurance, the state’s largest worker’s compensation insurer, cuts premiums for employers that test after workplace injuries, Graves said.

A growing number of employers also are reducing the consequences for a positive pot test from termination to probation, mandatory treatment and rehabilitation — or no penalty, the survey found. The percentage of bosses who fire a staffer for a positive test has declined from 53 percent to 48 percent over the past four years, a difference that would be much larger without employers who are required to test, Graves said.

Denver has the lowest percentage of employers with drug testing requirements, followed by resort areas and northern Colorado. Pueblo, the Western Slope and Colorado Springs, which doesn’t allow recreational marijuana sales in the city, all have the highest percentages of testing requirements. Testing is less likely in retail, nonprofits and the financial industry and more likely in construction, health care, government and manufacturing, the survey found.

The Employers Council conducted the survey in November among nearly 3,000 employers in Colorado with 636 responding, including 57 in the Colorado Springs area. The group, which provides employment law, human resource consulting and training services to more than 4,000 employers in Arizona, Colorado and Utah, has conducted the survey every two years since 2014.

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