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I Work in HR – Here’s Why We Should Stop Drug Testing

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by Hannah Harkness

I’m not what people consider the type of person to go into Human Resources. Usually when you say “HR” you evoke the image of someone named Linda who is constantly ushering people to a break room in a sea of cubicles to eat sheet cake or telling you that your lateness is hurting workplace morale. 

If you’re basic, you pictured this.

It does not invoke the image of a stand up comic in Doc Martens and a black hoodie with smeared eyeliner. And yet, I am exactly that, and I have a Master’s Degree in HR management. My motivation for getting that degree and moving into the field wasn’t a deep desire to organize workplace mixers or fill out disciplinary action forms. I had a laundry list of bones to pick about antiquated and/or discriminatory employer practices, which prompted me to go back to school.

The Human Resources department makes or breaks the moral and ethical fabric of a corporation, and who you put in charge can determine if bathrooms at the company are gender neutral or if resumes with ethnic-sounding names get thrown in the trash. This is the attitude I took to class. In addition to showing up and doing my work like I was supposed to (albeit as a goth in a sea of suited MBA students), I also had a series of stump speeches I brought out as many times as I could, hoping to push other HR professionals in a less evil direction. If they didn’t listen to me, I at least got to enjoy making C-Suite executives uncomfortable in a situation where they couldn’t fire me. 

My #1 platform? Abolishing pre-employment drug testing for occupations that aren’t required to have it done by law.  Here’s my talking points I would use to argue with pearl-clutching HR directors:

Pre-employment testing wasn’t even really a thing until the war on drugs, mostly upticking around 1986. Like all other tactics from this era, it hasn’t proven to be effective in reducing drug use. 

Most habitual drug users I know stay clean until they have to take their pre-employment test and then they just start using again. 

If someone is using drugs recreationally off the clock and it doesn’t affect their work performance, who cares? 

You can always write up any performance issue and you can write someone up for being intoxicated on the job. If you want to terminate someone for being intoxicated on the job, you don’t have to prove they were with a lab test. Every state except Montana is employment at will, which means you can terminate them for any reason that isn’t based on them being a member of a protected class (race, gender, religion etc.). Unless you are concerned that it will look like you are firing someone for discrimination reasons, they don’t need to pee in a cup. 


75 Million Baby Boomers are retiring from the workforce. There is a skills gap within Millenial/ Gen X/Gen Z populations due to a decline in trade schooling, etc. that is making these jobs difficult to fill and the Trump administration is making hiring skilled immigrants a nightmare. Marijuana use doubled between 1984 and 2015. Do you want to make filling the employment gap harder by discouraging applicants who can’t pass a drug test for weed? 

Many states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana or clearing it for medicinal use. Do you want to cut law-abiding people out of your applicant pool? In addition to that, do you want to single out every victim of the opioid crisis, which has been declared a national health emergency? According to the Society of HR Management (SHRM), many employers who randomly test are starting to run employer-sponsored addiction counseling programs instead of terminating employees who test positive stating that they would have a serious staffing issue if they terminated all employees who test positive for weed and opioids. 

Testing is expensive. In a 2012 poll by SHRM, 39% of drug tests were less than $30 per employee, but 24% were $31-$40 per employee and 19% were $41-$50 per employee. Hiring is expensive enough without that added burden on the company’s bottom line. 

You can still have employees consent to random testing upon suspicion of intoxication. This is nowhere near as expensive as testing every single employee upon hire and does not discourage qualified applicants from applying anywhere near as much. 

Marijuana is the least harmful drug that comes up on drug panels and has proven to be less harmful than alcohol. Yet this is the one everyone gets caught for because it can stay in your system 7-30 days and literally everything else is out of your system in a maximum of 4 days, more frequently 2-3 days including heroin, cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and methamphetamines. You can usually schedule your pre-employment drug screen outside of that window of time after you are hired-it’s usually easy to cite a scheduling conflict and stall, most of the time they don’t care as long as you put an appointment on the books within a week. 

…I understand if drug testing is done for legal compliance. There are laws that vary from state to state, federal employees are largely required, and some industries such as those regulated by the US Department of Transportation have federal guidelines for drug testing. But I’m not talking about airline pilots or parolees when I bring this up. I’m talking about temps who you are hiring to work 40 hours a week filing and scanning documents for $13/hr. If someone shows up on time and does that job well, it almost seems cruel to deny them a joint when they go home. 

Some people would argue that they would do that job better high.

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Hannah Harkness

Hannah Harkness

Hannah Harkness is a stand up comedian, writer, and neo vaudeville human surviving in Brooklyn, NY.