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Drug tests and background checks are becoming less important to employers. Here’s why

Aug 13, 2019, 11:27 AM
utah unemployment rate...
FILE: While the Utah unemployment rate increased in September, analysts say other indicators point to signs of recovery. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty

(CNN) — It’s brutal out there for employers looking to hire.

“America has a talent crunch,” said Steven Lindner, CEO of The WorkPlace Group. “This one, unlike past ones, is across all age groups. We also see it across all industries.”

So some companies are reducing hiring requirements — like drug testing, background checks and the amount of experience and education wanted.

When Bob Camire started working at New England Document Systems in 2010 he had no problem finding workers for the document management company — even for the entry-level production positions that paid $8 an hour.

“We had people beating down our door to get in at the low rate we were offering at the time,” said Camire, who is the director of human resources and operations. “We had one person coming in for an $8-an-hour job who was earning $60,000. Today, the total opposite is true.”

To help expand its applicant pool, the company is more lenient on what it will let pass in a background check, according to Camire. Previous blue-collar crimes, like drug or alcohol-related offenses and motor vehicle issues, aren’t automatic disqualifiers unless the position is for a driver or safety-related position.

However, because of the sensitive nature of many of the documents it handles from clients, the company is still strict on white collar crimes, like fraud and identity theft.

Paying more and asking for less to attract talent

Close to 40% of employers say they have loosened job requirements in order to recruit workers, according to a recent report from recruitment and staffing firm Adecco USA.

“It’s an indicator of where we are and how hard it is to find talent,” said Bill Ravenscroft, senior vice president at Adecco, adding that it’s taking 10-15 candidates to find one who is qualified and wants the job.

“A lot of these companies are also in a situation where they can’t compete on wages … they are finding more creative ways to still get access to talent.”

Document Systems increased its starting salaries for production jobs to $10.50 an hour, but it’s still having a hard time attracting candidates. “If we bumped up the starting rate to $12, that would open the pool up for us, but the problem is we have long-tenured employees we would also have to bump up and it would cost the company an awful lot of money,” said Camire.

Companies are also shedding their education requirements. The number of jobs listed on ZipRecruiter requiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or an MBA has dropped in the last two years, according to the company.

Certain sectors have seen big reductions. For instance, 13% of food service sector jobs posted required a high school diploma or equivalent compared to 21% in 2017, ZipRecruiter found.

Hanover Co-op Food Stores, the second largest food co-op in the country, currently has around 30 open positions. To help get more applicants, the company has relaxed its education and experience requirements and increased wages for new employees.

While all hires still go through a background check, the food cooperative has also relaxed its stance on past convictions, according to Lori Hildbrand, director of administrative operations.

“Before I got here, there was a rule we would never hire someone who had a felony conviction,” she said. “We now look at the length of time since things have happened and their history since then.”

If an applicant has had a clean history for about seven to 10 years since the conviction, then they would still be in the running. However, if someone applied for a cashier job with a larceny conviction, the applicant would instead be considered for a position in another department, such as food prep or grocery.

The company said it will not hire anyone with a history of child molestation.

The co-op has also sped up its hiring process. The HR department used to pre-screen candidates before a hiring manager reached out. Now, those pre-screening questions are incorporated into the application process and candidates are passed straight to the hiring manager.

“The delay was up to two weeks and we would lose people,” said Hildbrand. The co-op also works to get offers made within 24 hours.

Opening up the pool

Some companies have also stopped drug testing candidates or have relaxed which results are flagged.

“Clients are saying that is no longer the most important criteria and are eliminating drug screening for certain positions,” said Ravenscroft.

And for companies who still drug test, they aren’t as strict with what they’re looking for.

“A lot of clients are saying even if we drug test, we’ve dropped marijuana from the panel,” said attorney Jim Reidy, with the lawfirm Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green.

Some companies are targeting older workers, who might not be ready for full retirement. The average number of job postings with language aimed at candidates who are retirement age more than doubled from 2017 to 2019 on ZipRecruiter.

“They are including language in job postings saying ‘retirees welcome’ or ‘perfect jobs for retirees’ and saying how they will work with them to provide things like flexible schedules,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

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Drug tests and background checks are becoming less important to employers. Here’s why