Let’s talk about something people don’t like to talk about in on-the-job settings: drugs. They can make or break a hiring decision.

I know it’s an issue in the drilling trades. We recently conducted a poll on our site about the difficulty of finding good employees who want to work in the drilling trades. More than 20 percent of the people who responded said the fear of drug tests drove employees away. It’s admittedly a small sample, but it shows that it’s a factor in the job pool.

What to do? It’s not like drilling contractors can stop drug testing new hires. (Well, maybe they can, but I wouldn’t want to pay their liability insurance.) The folks you hire for your crews operate heavy machinery. They drive your trucks. They have to make split-second judgments about their safety and the safety of those around them. In short, you want your crews to be level-headed and clear-headed.

More than half of U.S. states now allow medical marijuana. If you go by population, it wouldn’t surprise me if about two-thirds of U.S. citizens now live in an area with medical pot, since major population centers like New York state, California and Florida all have such laws. Mostly, a “patient” has to have a state-issued prescription card to be able to purchase. But it’s comically easy to get a doctor to sign off on a prescription. (Ow!, doctor, my spleen is killin' me!) In medical pot states, the availability is showing in the talent pool. Check out this story, which talks about acute shortages of workers in manufacturing and construction in Michigan. Sound familiar?

Whether we talk about "soft" drugs like marijuana or "hard" drugs like cocaine or opioids, it’s all the same if a prospective employee fails a drug test. So, what’s an employer to do? Of course, consult with your HR department or an employment attorney in your state to make sure you’re following all the rules. Some rules flow from the federal government, but many state have nuances when it comes to dealing with these issues for prospective employees. A professional can help you keep within the rules while still giving the person involved a fair shake.

Tips for Prospective Employees

An employer can always just not hire a person. But that doesn’t help you if you really need a new crewmember. If you really want the person to fill out your crew, try these steps.

  • First, confirm the test: Have the test retested. There are any number of legal and acceptable things that can trigger false positives on drug tests.
  • Make it face to face if possible: Be respectful and fair, always giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Explain the situation: Our tests turned out positive. Be ready for denials and disbelief, but always remain respectful and fair to the person involved and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Make clear the policies in personal terms: We run a family business with a solid reputation. I pay thousands in liability insurance. We need you clear-headed on the jobsite and drugs will not be tolerated.
  • Make clear the next steps: As a family business, we believe in second chances. Since your license is clean and you otherwise look like a good, experienced driller, we’re going to give you a second chance. We’re going to give you two weeks to pass a second test. If you pass, you’re hired. If you’re hired, I want to make clear that we have a policy to test randomly and any time there's a safety incident no matter how minor.

Let me be clear: I'm not advocating for hiring medical pot patients who are ongoing users. People who could potentially have drugs in their system have no place around heavy machinery. But, given the widespread use of medical pot and how it affects availability for everyone else, there are a lot more casual users out there who aren't patients. A little flexibility when a prospective hire fails a drug test can end up being a win-win. You have a new employee, and one who will mind Ps and Qs because he’s already been given a second chance. I hear all the time about how hard it is to find workers in the drilling trades. I understand contractors need clear-headed crews, but I think flexible one-strike policies (developed with your HR department or an employment lawyer) can help small employers to not limit their pool of talent.

What do you think? What policies do you have in place? Have you had to be a little flexible to make sure you’re getting job openings filled? Let us know. Send me an email.

Stay safe out there, drillers.