Companies are Getting Rid of Drug Tests Because They Can’t Find Enough Workers

The global labour shortage is forcing companies like Amazon to stop punishing employees for recreational drug use.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
smoking joint
Employers around the world are having a hard time filling roles – and drug screenings make things even harder. Photo by Jamie Grill via Getty Images

In the midst of a global labour shortage, employers around the world are doing away with drug tests in a desperate bid to attract more job applicants, fill more roles and retain more workers.

A survey, conducted by staffing firm ManpowerGroup and released this week, indicated that 9 percent of more than 45,000 employers worldwide were eliminating job screenings or drug tests as an incentive to “attract and retain in-demand talent.” That equates to some 4,050 employers, from 43 countries, who are willing to turn a blind eye to workers’ recreational drug use if it means filling vacant positions.


“The global talent shortage shows no sign of slowing, with 69 percent of employers reporting difficulty filling roles,” the survey reported in its executive summary. “Overall,” it added, “the employment outlook is optimistic, particularly for employers that are prepared to adapt to a new world of work and offer incentives to attract and retain the talent they need.”

Last month, a report by Deloitte noted that this global talent shortage is coinciding with elevated unemployment rates in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, as economies start to reopen following crippling COVID-19 lockdowns. Not only are more individuals finding themselves out of work, but employers are also experiencing difficulty in attracting and hiring qualified candidates. Screening measures like drug tests, which threaten to weed out candidates from an already small talent pool, only complicate things further.

Some of the world’s biggest companies have already cottoned on to this, and started to adapt their hiring protocols accordingly. In June, Amazon, the second-biggest global employer based out of the U.S., announced that it would no longer test for marijuana in its pre-employment drug testing screening for jobs not regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This was a substantial change that would allow the company to move closer to its long-term vision of becoming “Earth’s Best Employer,” according to Dave Clark, Amazon’s CEO of Worldwide Consumer.


“In the past, like many employers, we’ve disqualified people from working at Amazon if they tested positive for marijuana use,” Clark said in the announcement. “However, given where state laws are moving across the U.S., we’ve changed course.”

Amazon also advised delivery partners – contractors who own and operate the delivery vans emblazoned with the Amazon logo – to clearly advertise to people applying for driver positions that they don’t test for cannabis use, claiming that the move could increase applications by 400 percent, Bloomberg reported. The company claimed that screening for marijuana cuts the prospective worker pool by up to 30 percent.

As Clarke suggested, Amazon’s shift was partly motivated by changing legislation around the use of marijuana in the U.S. – and other studies have highlighted the ways in which these changes have impacted employers and forced them to review and update their drug screening policies. An employer drug testing survey released last year by Current Consulting Group found that 36 percent of poll respondents who were planning to remove marijuana from their testing panels were doing so because they were “experiencing delays and/or cannot fill positions due to high marijuana positives.”


Even in countries where marijuana isn’t being decriminalised, though, drug tests have been causing headaches for employers. In Western Australia, small businesses across a range of industries reported an increased difficulty in filling labour shortages ever since the state government introduced mandatory drug testing policies in November 2020.

“We've tried many different media outlets, different sorts of ads, different angles, word of mouth – not even a phone call,” Steve McKenny, the owner of a butchery company, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “If we put a sign up we would easily get 40 or 50 applicants. But if the sign says ‘must submit to drug testing' it's down to four or five.”

With talent shortages plateauing at a 15-year high, many employers around the world are deciding that something has to give – and for several thousand of them, that’s drug tests. Other popular incentives to attract workers and close the labour gap involved offers of more flexible working hours (offered by 39 percent of polled employers), increased wages (offered by 31 percent of employers) and non-financial benefits such as extra vacation days (offered by 20 percent of employers).

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