Can Employee Engagement Help Address Workplace Drug Issues?

Even with an improved job outlook, workplace problems remain. Some of them can hinder job creation and economic development.

Charleston, South Carolina is in the midst of an economic boom. The Charleston Professional Development Alliance estimates 34 people move to Charleston County every day. Even with this rapid growth, the unemployment rate in the Charleston Economic Development Area still dropped from 9% in 2009 to 3.1% in Nov. 2017.

Even with the population growth, new and expanding employers are having problems finding workers. Volvo Cars is experiencing problems finding the 4,000 workers they need for their new plant. The advanced manufacturing skills required for many of the jobs is one impediment, but not the biggest factor.

The Charleston Post and Courier reports the most significant problem is finding workers who can pass drug and background screening. ReadySC is the state-run training program charged with hiring most of the workers for the new $1.2 billion Volvo facility which is scheduled to start production this summer. They report 70% of candidates cannot pass these checks.

Prior to the drug and background screening a job skills assessment test eliminates 50% of candidates right off the bat. Following the entire screening and interview process, only 3.75% of applicants for jobs with Volvo have gotten an offer.

South Carolina is not the only area to experience this problem, In surveys done by the Federal Reserve last year, employers cited an inability by applicants to pass drug tests among reasons for difficulties in hiring. According to Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of workplace drug testing, the national average failure rate is 4.2%. Bloomberg News reports the large number of drug test failures combined with a tight labor market has led some companies to abandon the employment screening method. These employers report drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor market, that is limiting productivity and growth.

Pre-employment testing is only one of the drug related issues in the workplace. They do not help with any workers who pass the initial screening, then begin or return to drug use.

Short of abandoning drug testing completely, what can employers do to deal with this problem? It will not surprise our regular readers that we believe employee engagement is one of the ways to mitigate the problem.

Listening to the worker voice can help everyone better understand the scope of any drug problems in their workplace, develop ways of dealing with any issues that exist, determine the types of drugs that cause problems (such as, should marijuana testing be used to disqualify employees in states where marijuana use is legal?), find better means of recruiting employees who are more likely to pass the initial screening, and seek appropriate means of identifying and helping workers with drug problems.

Why would employees, particularly in a unionized environment, participate in this process? There are many reasons, not the least of which is a desire to be able to work safely without being jeopardized by employees who abuse drugs. They also recognize the need for the public to view their products as safe and reliable. Without this, sales drop and their jobs might no longer exist.

By engaging employees, companies can help establish drug programs that have an initial focus on helping employees with problems, not on absolute punishments for everyone. Employees will be more likely to see the value in these programs and buy into them if they are part of the development process.

CALMC can assist your organization or union to develop an employee engagement process to address these concerns. Contact us to discuss how we can help.


About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
This entry was posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Cooperation, Teamwork, Worker Voice, Workplace Health and Safety and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.