Safety, fairness and the new era of workplace drug testing

The ready-mix concrete industry prides itself on leveraging technology to optimize the customer experience. Its technology investments generally focus on improving production and delivery such as quality and service. To its discredit, technology does not always provide direct benefits to employees—the resource that leaders in ready-mix production universally acknowledge is the most important. However, through the championing of cutting-edge technology, the industry can fully leverage its talent and businesses.

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Why is now the time to act and leverage technology for change? It has been almost a decade since Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use. Since then, nine other states have followed suit and many more are likely to follow soon. Gallup researchers find that 12 percent of American adults consume marijuana, which is accessible to them in 34 states. The Covid-19 crisis will likely speed up legalization as many states seek to enhance tax revenues through allowing recreational marijuana sales within the next 18 months.

As legalization has moved forward at a record pace, testing methods have not. Traditional marijuana drug tests—through urine, oral fluid or hair samples—are very good at showing positive results for the presence of marijuana, but they cannot pinpoint very recent use. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration has shown the peak impairment window for marijuana to be two to three hours. Using technology that cannot isolate recent use, businesses risk taking employment action against law-abiding staff. In addition, without identified impairment, some states prohibit employers from exercising disciplinary action.

Without a tool that can objectively identify recent marijuana use, new state laws have caused many companies to completely drop testing for THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). Originally, workplace drug testing programs were designed to deter and detect improper drug use. Now companies who rely solely on Department of Transportation guidance for their non-federal drug testing policies will find their testing requirements no longer align with new marijuana laws.

Today, the ready-mix concrete industry has the opportunity—and intrinsic responsibility—to provide its employees with fair treatment. Game-changing technology that tests for recent use of marijuana in breath (where it remains for just a few hours after use) is available. It is essential that the industry lead the nation in balancing safety and fairness when it comes to marijuana testing. Early adoption of this groundbreaking technology, coupled with innovation in policies and procedures, will help pave the way to updated laws and regulations that benefit both employers and employees.

Hound Labs’ new technology, the Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer, enables employers to mirror the pragmatism of alcohol sobriety testing. As employers and substance use experts learned more about alcohol consumption and its impact, laws were adjusted to address use and abuse at work. Unfortunately, as adult use of legal marijuana has increased, drug testing remains unchanged. This failure in alignment causes confusion for both employers and employees as they rely on drug testing methods more suitable for the zero-tolerance, pre-legalization era.

Why is zero-tolerance and the existing testing methodology a problem? Simply stated, existing drug testing methods provide a window of detection that can last for days, weeks, or even months. Existing testing protocols force employers to make unilateral decisions based solely on the presence of THC. None of the current tests pinpoint recent marijuana use. Without a tool that isolates recent use, employers cannot identify those who have legally and responsibly used the substance outside of work hours.

The responsibility to leverage innovation and address changing laws is upon us. Allowing companies to unnecessarily terminate their best and most loyal employees is not an option. The use of outdated technology is neither pragmatic nor responsible.

The legalities and social mores surrounding marijuana use are evolving. It is imperative that the ready-mix industry lead the response for a new legal and social environment. The technological advancements in testing for recent marijuana use offered by Hound Labs provide a foundation for change. As first adopters of leading technology, the ready-mix concrete industry can petition legislative bodies to change antiquated laws to those that support safety and fairness. As an industry, it has a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for change. It’s time to revolutionize marijuana testing procedures and provide a safe and fair working environment.

Nina French is executive vice president of Employer Solutions for Hound Labs, Inc. in Oakland, Calif.