by Vincent A. Toreno, Esq.

Following years of decline, the number of employees testing positive for drugs has increased steadily and is now at a ten-year high according to a report recently released by Quest Diagnostics. Sharp increases in marijuana positivity have been noted, in part likely because of its legalization in certain states; however, increases in other drugs such as amphetamines and heroin have also been documented. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly common for employers throughout the nation to require drug testing of its employees, either pre-hire, randomly, or after some type of workplace accident. According to a recent report on CNN, approximately half of U.S. employers screen for drugs, and in some communities, finding workers who can pass a drug test is an increasing problem. The answer for some employers has been to hire refugees who have recently immigrated to the United States.

As an example, Erie, Pennsylvania has struggled economically for years. Erie lost a significant percentage of its manufacturing jobs and its population has seen an increase in illegal drug use. At the same time, a large influx of refugees has settled in Erie from countries such as Syria and Sudan. Although the refugees may seem an unlikely pool of employees as there is often a language barrier, they are being hired at ever increasing rates for manufacturing jobs because they are often able to pass the employer drug test where, increasingly, others are not. Sterling Technologies, a manufacturing company in Erie, had a 20% failure rate of its employees who were testing positive for illegal drugs. As a result, Sterling has hired 40 refugees, all of whom who were able to pass the drug screen. Of course, it is not always illicit drug use that is the problem. In some states, such as Colorado, marijuana use is legal. However, many employers use drug testing to keep the workplace safe. In Colorado, an employer may still fire an employee who tests positive for marijuana even though it is legal. Therefore, some companies have had to look outside normal hiring channels to find employees who can pass drug tests and have looked to refugees.

While the status of refugees in the United States is in a state of flux in light of President Trump’s recent executive orders limiting immigration, for refugees who have already reached America, the employment prospects at least for manufacturing jobs appears bright.