The state of Georgia has publicized a rule asking employers to tattle on unemployed job seekers who test positive for drug use when applying for work. The Georgia Department of Labor rule is the latest in a flurry of state programs that impose drug tests on safety net applicants and sanctions on those who fail the tests. The Georgia rule was prominently featured on the state’s Department of Labor’s website last week.*
As I wrote last month, the problem of jobless folks abusing drugs is a concocted one that works to stigmatize the safety net programs so that they can be undercut. In an interview with Colorlines.com, the Georgia Department of Labor said it did not collect data on the number of people who have previously been booted off the jobless rolls for drug use.
Drug testing policies have been all the rage among conservative legislators since the start of the recession. At least 30 states considered bills in the last year that would have had unemployment or welfare applicants peeing in a cup.
In April, Georgia passed a law requiring all welfare applicants to take a drug test. A similar law passed by the Florida legislature last year was struck down as unconstitutional in a federal court, but Georgia lawmakers refused to heed the warnings and passed the law anyway. The welfare law will go into effect on July 1.
The recently publicized rule in Georgia encouraging employers to tell the state if applicants fail a pre-employment drug test ratchets up the state’s safety net testing requirement. The policy expands current state law that already made unemployed job seekers who fail pre-employment drug screens ineligible for jobless benefits. In the past, the state relied primarily on individual applicants to tell the state when they fail a drug test in the job application process. The state is now asking employers to rat out applicants.
By some counts, well over half of American employers test applicants for drug use. In many states, failing one of these privately administered tests results in removal from the unemployment rolls.
It’s unclear what impact that smoking a joint on Saturday night has on a job applicant’s ability to interview for a job on Monday. Yet according to the National Employment Law Project, at least five state legislatures passed laws similar to the Georgia policy in last two years: Indiana, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Arizona and Tennessee. Michigan and South Carolina have bills currently pending that would axe jobless people from the jobless rolls who fail a drug test when they’re applying for work.
Unlike those states, the Georgia policy was published last week on the Georgia Department of Labor’s website, quietly enacted through an administrative shift rather than legislation.
Georgia legislators did try last year to pass even more punishing unemployment drug testing legislation. Like a number of other states, conservative lawmakers in Georgia proposed a bill requiring all unemployment applicants to submit to a drug test. None of the state bills passed, largely because federal law is clear that states cannot impose drug testing as a condition of eligibility for the jobless program. Federal law does, however, allow states to impose drug screens on applicants who previously failed a test while seeking work that already requires pre-employment tests.
Rebecca Dixon, policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, says she is concerned that some may be cut off of the benefit rolls based on an unconfirmed report from the state.
"Our major issue is making sure that people are not automatically denied based on anonymous report. We would not want someone to be cut off just based on that."
While the Georgia policy does not require employers to report the results of drug tests, the policy does open the door for employers to discretionarily cast applicants off the unemployment benefit program.
The director of Georgia’s unemployment insurance program told Colorlines.com that the Department of Labor has a policy of confirming the veracity of any failed test reported the office. "We look at the validity. We look at the proper custody of the testing and we look at the procedures." When pushed to identify the precise protocol for determining a test’s accuracy, Brown said only that each testing company has a procedure for ensuring accuracy but said the state itself does not independently confirm the results.
Brown says the reporting rule, which is attached to a broader unemployment fraud prevention program, brings in calls regularly to report jobless people. "As a general rule, the public does not like to see UI being defrauded. Even family members will call about their own family members sometimes."
Post has been updated since publication
*A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Georgia’s program is a new rule. In fact, the policy has been in place for over a decade but had never before been publicized to employers.