"Don't ask questions if you don't want to hear the answers," is Eric Greenberg's explanation of why employer drug-testing of applicants and current employees is on the decline. A tight job market and an upsurge of job-seekers who refuse to submit to pre-employment testing are making big companies less likely to do drug testing, he told the Dallas Morning News.
Greenberg, director of management studies for the American Management Association presided over that group's latest annual survey of corporate testing practices, conducted last summer (http://www.amanet.org/research/pdfs/medicl2.0.pdf). According to that survey, drug testing among "major US corporations" has declined steadily over the past four years, from 81% in 1997 to 66% last year.
"There has been a statistically significant decline in testing," Greenberg told the Morning News. "It seems logical to assume that it comes, in part, because of concerns over recruitment and retention."
In a press release announcing its research results, the association's global human resources practice leader, Ellen Bayer, confirmed the decline in testing, but noted that more companies are monitoring employees for productivity and compliance issues.
"The data suggests that in today's tight labor market, employers may be more concerned with bottom line, on-the-job productivity and compliance matters than with actuarial issues, off-the-job habits or potential medical problems."
"AMA encourages companies to create testing programs that zero in on specific competencies and behaviors that are really important for day-to-day job performance," said Bayer.
Vail Resorts in Colorado is one example of the trend. Last summer, it announced it was ending pre-employment drug testing at its Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas. Rick Smith, vice president of human resources at Breckenridge, told the Summit Free Press (Breckinridge) the company spent about $150,000 annually, but did not find significant drug use in the six years it used the pre-employment tests.
"We thought that money could be better spent on guest services training, more recruiting, advertising and job fairs," Smith said.
That's anathema to the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA), the leading lobbying organizing for the drug testing industry. For the last five years, it has lobbied Congress to broaden and deepen drug testing, barely bothering to hide its members' financial self-interest beneath the cloak of a "drug free workplace" campaign.
It helped persuade Congress last session to create the Drug Free Workplace Grants Program, administered by the Department of Labor, in 1998, and last year convinced Congress to increase its funding to $5 million annually through 2003. Aimed at increasing the use of employment drug testing among small businesses by providing tax incentives, the program stands to bring large benefits to drug testing corporations.
But the industry group isn't resting on its laurels. A round-up of the group's legislative agenda on its web site promises that "DATIA will continue to actively work with Congress to create and endorse new drug and alcohol testing legislation that could open new markets and change the way in which the drug and alcohol testing industry conducts business."
To that end, DATIA vows not only to pursue more widespread workplace drug testing, but also to work for expanded testing elsewhere and to criminalize efforts to defeat drug tests. It will lobby the new Congress to expand drug testing in schools, says the web site, and it will move against "adulterants," substances that are used to mask evidence of drug use.
Complaining that "under federal law, no such prohibitions exist," DATIA lauded laws in four states (Texas, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and South Carolina) making it a crime to use adulterants to beat a drug test, and said it would work for such legislation at the federal level.
It also anounced a two-pronged strategy to combat the use of adulterants. First, DATIA recommended, its members should contact their state Attorneys General to complain about the ease with which adulterants have been purchased. They should also, said DATIA, contact Internet search engines, "informing them of the potential illegality of listing such sites."
Second, the trade organization will lobby Capitol Hill to ban the sale and use of adulterants. It said it will do so through "cooperative efforts" with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and various executive branch departments.