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Ditch the spliff - HR expert defends pre-employment drug test policies

Published:Sunday | December 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Karl Williams, president, Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica.

President of the Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ) Karl Williams has defended the pre-employment drug test policies implemented in some companies to screen potential employees, even as it has caused some young Jamaicans to lose out on job opportunities after showing a positive test for ganja.

Some, responding to a Sunday Gleaner story which highlighted the plight of many jobseekers who have been turned down for jobs because they tested positive for cannabis, suggested that companies could ditch those policies, especially since the drug is gaining social acceptance.

But Williams insisted that companies could neither tolerate the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana by their employees, or having them break company policies on drugs, which are often instituted because of the nature of the company.

"We are bound by the laws of the land and the policies of the company which we represent. It is not for HR to go and make it up, it is for HR to ensure that the laws of the land are adhered to and, by extension, the policies of the company," the HRMA president insisted.

Responding to concerns that the test could be causing some companies to lose out on recruiting some of the best talents, Williams said: "If somebody turns up for an interview and that person seems to be under the influence of anything, no matter how good that talent is, I don't see any HR person reaching for that person".

His advice to jobseekers is "clean up yourself before you seek employment".

No instant drug tests are available for marijuana.

The tests that are commonly used can detect evidence of marijuana use in people's bodies weeks after their last use.

Williams told The Gleaner that human resource managers may sometime apply discretion to jobseekers who use ganja; however, he warned that it can be sometimes be a dangerous gamble, "because if anything happens, that is what will be used to hold you accountable".

In further defending the pre-employment drug test, Williams said some jobs require employees who are mentally stable.

And, although the debate continues over the actual impact of cannabis on mental stability, he pointed out that some industries preferred to have a drug-free environment.

"If you have a job and you have to be mentally alert - let's say you are handling cash, and you need to fully alert - some people might say that might be a risk factor, so it depends on the nature of the job as well," he said.

The HRMA president also mentioned that HR professionals sometimes provide professional help to those struggling with substance abuse.

An insurance executive, who requested anonymity, told The Gleaner yesterday that some insurance companies will not honour claims for incidents involving employees who have tested positive for certain drugs, including marijuana.