Navigating drug testing in the great resignation

drug test collections

With the civilian unemployment rate dropping to nearly historic lows, it’s more important than ever for employers to offer competitive hiring processes and ensure they find the best possible employees for their workplace.1 Workplace drug testing remains one of the most valuable tools in an employer’s toolkit to ensure the workplaces are safe, company culture does not suffer, and brand reputation is protected.

Why is it hard to find people to work? 

With such low unemployment rates come a myriad of other issues for employers looking for qualified workers. While 3.8 million jobs were added to the labor market in 2021, over 3 million fewer Americans are participating in the labor market than before the pandemic.2 The latest data shows 10,000,000 open jobs in the US with only 6,000,000 job seekers, meaning employers must be less picky than prior years when it comes to applicants, but still need to include certain safeguards such as drug testing.3

Workplace drug testing remains an invaluable tool for employers. Our recent article highlights numbers and statistics about the importance of drug testing in today’s market.

Notably, individuals who have not returned to the workplace post-pandemic cited such reasons as needing to be home to care for children or other family members (27%), illnesses (28%), concerns about COVID-19 exposure at work, or low pay.4 Additionally, more than 3 million individuals took early retirement during the pandemic.5 

More than 40% of employees surveyed in Microsoft’s Work Trend Index in 2021 reported that they were considering leaving their employer within the year.6 Research found that employees who were considering switching jobs shared the following concerns.

  • Career advancement and/or skills progression at their current workplace
  • Lack of benefits central to their economic well-being (retirement plans, health, disability, life insurance, paid family leave, emergency savings programs, etc.)
  • Company culture (communication was a key issue in terms of company culture)
  • Remote/hybrid work availability
  • Work-life balance7

Employers looking to fill their open positions can focus on work-life balance, offer hybrid or fully remote positions, focus on their economic programs during the interview process, and highlight their safety measures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The role of drug abuse 

The most recent Quest Diagnostics® Drug Testing Index® (DTI) found that workplace positivity rates were at their highest level since 2001 and had increased more than 30% from the all-time low recorded in 2010-2012. This means that more than in any recent year, employers should be concerned about drug use and abuse by employees and/or applicants. Due to changes to cannabis legislation throughout the country, how employers test for the drug may need consideration, as workforce positivity for cannabis has increased 50% from 2017 to 2021 (2.6% in 2017 versus 3.9% in 2021).8  

Explore how cannabis use impacts the workplace in our recent article, Under the Influence: Marijuana in the workplace.

While drug abuse won’t necessarily prevent someone from working, it could negatively impact their productivity and performance. If an existing employee begins using drugs, their employer may experience a difference in their work product, whereas someone who is hired as a drug user likely already is not producing at their peak. Generally, substance misuse impacts the workplace by causing a loss of productivity, workplace accidents/injuries, increased absenteeism, high turnover, low employee morale, theft, and increased conflict.10 

With rising drug use rates, testing is more important than ever; however, just because you choose to test applicants doesn’t mean that drug users won’t apply to your company. A simple online search of “how to beat a drug test” yields over 180 million results. Employers need to be aware of the ways employees and applicants may try to cheat. Luckily cheat attempts are often easy to spot for employers in the know, and certain specimens are naturally less prone to cheat attempts than others like oral fluid and hair testing. 

Learn more about the difficult-to-subvert drug testing method: hair.

Why is drug testing important? 

Although some drug users may attempt to remain clean for long enough to pass a pre-employment drug test, the majority of users will just look elsewhere for another company that doesn’t test their incoming employees. The most recent DTI found that pre-employment drug testing positivity rates have generally been on the rise since 2017, increasing from 2.1% (2017) to 2.3% (2021). Even though pre-employment testing is a natural deterrent for drug users, some will still try to slip through the cracks, making pre-employment testing even more valuable. 

Drug testing is a business expense, but one that can result in a positive return on investment (ROI) for employers. Try out our ROI calculator and see for yourself.

Additionally, drug testing helps attract the best possible candidates to your workplace—candidates that are interested in safe, productive company with good values and culture. A well-rounded drug-free workplace program promotes these core values to incoming employees, letting them know their continued safety is a priority for their employer.

Trends within the drug testing industry indicate there is a continued need from employers for drug testing solutions. In recent research conducted by the Current Consulting Group, a team with nearly 30 years of expertise in drug test consulting, state law, and compliance, nearly 65% of respondents in the 2022 Industry Drug Testing Survey indicated that over 80% of their clients perform pre-employment testing.11 Only 23% reported that some of their clients (but not many) have dropped pre-employment testing over the past 2 years. Similarly, when the Current Consulting Group surveyed employers as part of the 2022 Employer Drug Testing Survey, over 86% indicated that they perform pre-employment testing.12 The take-away is that pre-employment drug test is generally considered to be a best practice in terms of workplace safety. 


As we start a new year, employers continue to face challenges from multiple fronts. Employees want more flexibility, balance, and given the state of the world the past few years, will take the time they need to find the right fit for their life. Employers have more positions to fill than people available to fill them, and as tempting as it may be to drop a drug-free workplace policy to attract a broader range of people, the immediate benefit may not outweigh the long-term cost to a workforce.

Today’s employer may want to conduct random testing, or for-cause testing, or maybe they only want to manage oral fluid testing and not manage the logistics of their employees showing up at a location to provide a urine sample. More than ever before, employers need choices, flexibility, and the opportunity to create a safe and healthy workplace despite the continuing changes to the economy and workforce fluctuations.

Quest Diagnostics offers comprehensive drug testing solutions for businesses that can’t afford to compromise. To learn more, visit our website or connect with us today.

[1] “Charts Related to the Latest ‘The Employment Situation’ News Release   |   More Chart Packages.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 

[2] Ferguson, Stephanie. “Understanding America’s Labor Shortage.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 31 Oct. 2022, 

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] “Work Trend Index: Microsoft’s Latest Research on the Ways We Work.” Work Trend Index: Microsoft’s Latest Research on the Ways We Work, Microsoft, 

[7] Castrillon, Caroline. “Why Millions of Employees Plan to Switch Jobs Post-Pandemic.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Nov. 2022, 

[8] Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. Drug Testing Index | Quest Diagnostics

[9] Generes, Wendy Manwarren. “The Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace.” American Addiction Centers, 9 Nov. 2022, 

[10] Id.

[11] The Current Consulting Group. The 2022 Annual Drug Testing Industry Survey | Current Consulting Group

[12] The Current Consulting Group. The 2022 Annual Drug Testing Employer Survey | Current Consulting Group