NYC may ban pre-hire marijuana tests for many job applicants

Screening eliminates too many prospects at time of low unemployment
By Jennifer Peltz
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 04/17/2019
Cannabis
An employee tends to a cannabis plant at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company, on Jan. 24. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

NEW YORK (AP) — Many job-seekers would no longer face tests for marijuana use under legislation that New York City is likely to enact, taking a novel step as lawmakers and employers around the U.S. grapple with workplace policies about pot.

The Democrat-led City Council passed a measure Tuesday that would ban pre-employment testing for the drug, with certain exceptions.

Supporters see the measure, which if enacted may be the first of its breadth, as knocking down a barrier that blocks people from jobs because of private behaviour, not professional ability.

“If you ingest weed in whatever manner a month ago, I'm not sure how that prevents you from doing your job now,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who sponsored the proposal, told the council.

But some council members and business groups object to what they see as municipal meddling with a valid employment concern.

“Private businesses should have the power to determine their own hiring practices — not just in deciding what skills and experience are relevant to certain positions, but also whether the use of a specific drug could have an adverse impact on a prospective employee's ability to perform,” Council Republican Leader Steven Matteo said in a statement.

The measure is awaiting action from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. A spokeswoman told The New York Times that City Hall supports the legislation; The Associated Press sent an inquiry Friday seeking to confirm the mayor's position.

Drug-testing job applicants became common in the U.S. in the late 1980s, but marijuana screening is getting some reconsideration as the drug has gained legal ground. Most states, including New York, now have legal medicinal marijuana programs, and 10 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational pot use. New York is considering it.

Medical marijuana users in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have won lawsuits in recent years against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for pot. A number of businesses around the country have simply stopped marijuana-testing applicants, saying it eliminates too many prospects at a time of low unemployment.

Washington, D.C. prohibits marijuana testing before a job offer is extended. Lawmakers in Nevada, where recreational marijuana use is legal, have been considering a proposal that would ban companies from disqualifying job candidates for testing positive for pot.

The New York City measure appears to go further by barring businesses from making applicants take marijuana tests at any point before hiring. There are exceptions for police, construction workers, commercial drivers, child care workers and certain others.

It doesn't stop employers from testing current workers, or from firing them if they fail.

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