Failed Drug Tests: It’s Gonna Happen

Homer-Simpson-wingnuts-dohHere is a repost about how to handle drug screens and what to do if clients can’t or don’t pass.  The motivation for reposting is a question raised in Seattle last week that we didn’t have time to fully address.

(Look for a series of posts over the next couple of weeks sharing highlights and key takeaways from Higher’s March 3-4 Employment Workshop in Seattle, Washington.) 

 

How many of you have felt the frustration of a failed drug screen that prevents a client from starting a job you worked hard to help them get?  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, one client’s failure to pass a drug screen can put a dent in employer relationships.  It definitely has a negative impact on family self-sufficiency.

When a candidate fails a drug screen, most employers will not accept a re-application for six months.  For large corporations with multiple brands or retail outlets, the ban applies system-wide.  For clients with minimal English, one more barrier to employment is especially problematic.

Here are some tips for working with clients around drug screens.

Discuss US law related to illegal substances in Refugee Orientation. 

Laws and cultural norms may be more accepting of the use of some substances that are illegal in the US.  Clients will not know our laws and expectations unless they are told.

If you involve law enforcement spokespersons directly, hearing about the consequences of illegal drug use from someone in uniform can be especially effective.  It goes beyond discouraging client drug use to include issues of neighborhood safety, school security for their children and long term family success.

While a failed drug screen won’t have negative consequences for their long term immigration status, a drug related arrest could prevent them from becoming citizens.

Include an explanation of how a drug screen works in Job Readiness Class. 

Describing what happens after a job interview is a logical place to discuss drug screening since it is a common pre-employment step in the process.  If  asked to take a drug test, it is a good indication that a client will get a job offer if they pass.  Clients should be aware that drug tests are often free for job candidates and expensive for employers.

Explain that alcohol, tobacco or betel nut are not included. Substances that are illegal in the US – including marijuana – are. For our clients, pills, cocaine-based products and party drugs are largely unfamiliar and inaccessible. Marijuana or hashish is usually the substance that causes issues for our clients during their initial resettlement period.

Reinforce in One-on-One Client Meetings.

Describe what happens in a clinic that administers the tests to help clients who don’t speak much English navigate a pre-employment drug screen.  Be specific about container use, sanitation, form completion and identification, especially if they will go unaccompanied by resettlement agency staff.  Don’t forget to remind clients to bring any medications they take with them to the drug screening clinic.  Some prescription medications can cause the same results as detecting illegal drug use, which is called a “false positive”.

Consider preparing translated versions of a map, directions and procedures for large employers or commonly used clinics accessible via public transportation.  Employers will likely see this as offering them a valuable customer service.

Talk about the kinds of jobs that the client has expressed interest in that will NEVER be a possibility if they can’t pass a drug screen or if they have a drug-related arrest record.  Any kind of driving, security or medical job is likely to be included on the list.

Exactly How Direct Should You Be?

As an employment professional, you need to know up front if a client will not be able to pass a drug screen.  If your approach makes a client feel judged or guilty or fearful of being punished, they will likely not be honest and might not take you seriously.

Profiling and stereotyping clients is never a good thing.  But, if you suspect a client might present this barrier, be direct.  Explain the consequences.  Advise that they refrain from using illegal substances at least until they have a job.  Read more about the employer perspective, including their preference for candidates to take themselves out of the running before taking and failing a drug screen.

Debunk rumors about the effectiveness of home remedies or expensive products for sale in retail stores or online.  Common wisdom is that marijuana usage can be detected for at least a month after the last use.  The only way to be sure you can pass a drug screen is to avoid using illegal drugs.

What to do if a client can’t pass (or doesn’t pass)? 

Identify some employers who do not require pre-employment drug screens.  Many restaurants and some hotel chains are included in that list.  Small or locally-owned businesses are more likely to avoid unnecessary expense if safety and liability are not at issue.

Discuss counseling or other treatment options with case managers, who can reinforce the information clients are hearing from you and in classes.

Present affected clients with options for skills training or intensive ESL classes to keep them productive (and too busy to revert to previous bad habits).  It is likely to take longer to help find a job for client who has failed a drug screen or admitted to the need to wait until they can pass.

As an agency, discuss what your policy related to drug use is and how it will be communicated to all clients.  You could consider sanctions (especially related to financial benefits), a reduction in employment services or even requiring a self-funded drug screen before resuming active employment assistance.  Having a policy and procedures outlined and explained in advance can help you inform clients, preserve employer relationships and encourage long-term self-sufficiency.

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