General Question

girlofscience's avatar

How do you feel about pre-employment screenings (drug testing, background checks, etc.)?

Asked by girlofscience (7567points) August 19th, 2008

Thankfully, this nonsense is usually absent from academia, but unfortunately, it still permeates through the interview process of many industry jobs. Personally, I find it extremely offensive and insulting. An in-person interview should be sufficient in judging a person. There’s a lot one can tell from the eloquence of a person’s speech, a person’s demeanor, and the way in which a person presents oneself. A candidate for any job should be hired based on his/her credentials, knowledge, experience, and potential for contribution to the position.

Drug testing: Perhaps the most offensive type of pre-employment screening. Of course, no one wants to hire a lousy addict whose drug use is going to interfere with a job. However, whether a person is an addict should be at least apparent somewhat from his/her in-person interview and further apparent from one’s past accomplishments. Calling previous employers and reviewing past work performance and success should be enough to determine that a candidate is not a drug-addicted bum who is unable to accomplish the necessary tasks at work. Many brilliant minds enjoy occasional recreational drug use, and I believe it incredibly invasive to hold a person’s spare-time activities against him or her. The fact that marijuana is even illegal is absurd to begin with (but that’s a story for another thread—let’s restrict this debate to employment screening only, please). No potential employee should be discriminated against because he/she enjoys relaxing at home with a nice blunt at the end of the workday.

Background checks: Why should future life be hopeless for those who have made mistakes in the past? It’s really not any of an employer’s business to know that a candidate was a “hard partier” back in college and had a few run-ins with the local police. Prison exists for a reason. If a person is due to be punished, he/she will be incarcerated rather than showing up in a suit and tie at your company’s HR office. Once that time is served, this person should have a fair chance. But really, I am not trying to get into the life of convicted felons here, either. I’m talking about upstanding citizens who may have a few youthful indiscretions on their records that are nothing but a cause for embarrassment. Do you really need to know that your company’s brightest software engineer had this one crazy night back in college that resulted in a few mortifying charges? Again, and in-person interview should be sufficient for determining that a candidate is not a wasteful lowlife.

Credit checks: Okay, so I understand why a credit check is necessary if you’re applying for a loan. Whoever is lending you money wants to know that you’re going to pay it back. But for employment? Most have had financial difficulties at one point or another or were given a credit card in college they never should have been given. So now, this person needs a job in order to be able to pay these off! Why discriminate against him/her because he/she wasn’t able to do so in the past, thereby preventing him/her from ever being able to do so in the future?! Why do we live in a society that preys on those who have been fucked over to see how much more we can fuck them over?

Your company’s missing out if you reject that bright-minded fellow over there who just happens to enjoy indulging in marijuana usage to clear his head, had that crazy night back in college that left him with a misdemeanor, and has a credit score that plummeted when he was a poor grad student.


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46 Answers

flameboi's avatar

This is nothing compared to the tests my current employer run to hire me… (I’m not with the credit check, I hate that one)

wildflower's avatar

I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’ve never been responsible for the performance of an addict, all-round irresponsible, financially unsound and/ or mentally unstable employee.

Personally I find some standard screenings, such as drug tests and reference checks are essential when recruiting. Especially if recruiting large numbers or on short notice.
Probation period is also a must.

Of course, screenings and checks should be work-related. Checking what you got up to in your spare time in your college years isn’t relevant if you have good professional credentials and applying for an analyst position. However, knowing if you have a criminal record is relevant if applying for a position as facilities manager in a bank.

girlofscience's avatar

@wildflower: I never said reference checks were a bad idea; in fact, I think they’re a very legitimate concept to use when considering a candidate for a job. Hiring should be based on past experience, and what better way to hear about one’s experience than to contact previous employers? This is what should be used.

While I can understand that dealing with “an addict, all-round irresponsible, financially unsound and/ or mentally unstable employee” would be undesirable, I think that using drug testing and background checks is an unfair way in which to assess such characteristics. By doing so, you’re unjustly lumping in the guy I mentioned in my last paragraph with the aforementioned people in quotes. You could easily determine if those characteristics are true of a person through his/her interview, work history, and references.

wildflower's avatar

I suspect most companies with a strict policy regarding drugs or criminal record recruit high volumes of employees and this is one way to ensure fair and consistent treatment of candidates. Yes, there’s a chance of missing out on a great talent if that person has a misdemeanor and therefore doesn’t qualify fir the job, but from a people-manager POV, I’d rather support an employee to develop in to something great than to work with a great talent that I need to be prepared may not show up on time because they spent the night in a holding cell.
Smaller organizations could take a more case-by-case approach.

I agree that personal background checks are unfair, an invasion of privacy and I’m fairly certain, illegal over here (EU).

girlofscience's avatar

@wildflower: You said:

than to work with a great talent that I need to be prepared may not show up on time because they spent the night in a holding cell.

It seems you’re still missing the point. Many who may have past criminal records could be so far beyond these days that such is no longer even a possibility, let alone a risk. You say you’d “rather support an employee to develop in to something great,” but do you not feel this is unjust to the other candidate?

Anyway, let’s take this a step further. So far, we’ve really just been discussing higher-level positions at great companies. But what about the minimum wage jobs that drug test? The jobs that require little to no credentials. Do you think it’s fair for those companies to drug test? Some poor schmuck just wants to make a few bucks working at Walmart to feed his babymomma and the kids, and he can’t even do that. So, he has to go on welfare. Poor guy can’t kick his habit, but he was still trying to be honorable enough to not feed off the government, and he can’t even get the shitty job he’s willing to do.

aisyna's avatar

I think it is totaly approprite, you cant know everything about a person just by having a 30 minute interview. This year they started doing fingerprinting on the teachers in my school district, they had to fire several of them because of that. So ya i think it is appropite.

girlofscience's avatar

@aisyna: .....

I don’t feel that sufficiently contests any of the claims I made in my original post. Perhaps I should direct you back to my initial paragraphs.

How do you think any of this is fair to those with amazing credentials who just happen enjoy a few hits on the ol’ blunt in the evening and may have made some silly mistakes in their past?

Additionally, why were the teachers fired? Do you really think it was fair to all of them? What if they were incredible, inspiring teachers, who taught so much to children?

girlofscience's avatar

@flameboi: What tests did your current employer run to hire you? Did you feel they were fair? Additionally, what did you mean by, “I’m not with the credit check, I hate that one”?

Judi's avatar

Drug Testing: The jobs I hire for require good judgement skills and interaction skills. I have apartments Most of my residents don’t want drug users for neighbors, and especially not as the manager or maintenance supervisor having access to the keys to their apartment.
Back Ground Checks: The problem here is liability. If I hire someone that has a history of embezzlement, theft or violent crime and I didn’t screen, and someone gets ripped off or hurt, I could be liable for hiring them if a jury determines that I “knew or should have known” about the criminal history. With criminal background checks so easy, I really should have known.
Credit Checks: In this day and age, getting honest answers from any previous employers is next to impossible. No one wants to risk that the information will come back on them. We’re lucky to get hire date and termination date. The credit check is about the only way we have to determine character. Entering into credit is entering into a promise. If someone makes a promise to pay and doesn’t fulfill it then I know that they may not be real reliable for me either. If I run a credit report and see a lot of medical bills I may be able to conclude that they have fallen on hard times and overlook the poor credit. If they have a bunch of defaulted retail accounts then I may conclude that they made poor decisions.

Our litigious society has forced us to choose employees based on the facts we can draw together and rely much less on instinct.

wildflower's avatar

I still stand by the notion that setting standards is mostly a good idea. As I said, it may cause you to loose out on the type of character you mention, who has turned things around, however, compared to the cost and effort required to manage staff that have not been screened and may turn out to be a liability, it has probably been evaluated and judged to be the better option.

As fir the entry level jobs, I think it’s even more relevant as these jobs are often customer facing (liability) and the employee to supervisor ratio is higher, so you need the ‘front line’ to live up to certain criteria before you decide to trust them with the responsibility the job comes with.

girlofscience's avatar

@Judi: You said, “Most of my residents don’t want drug users for neighbors.” By “drug users” here, it sounds you’re referring to the lowlife-addict types. No rational person is going to be against having a neighbor who is an upstanding citizen and just happens to occasionally smoke marijuana. My main point is that there are many intelligent, responsible, worthwhile marijuana smokers who are unjustly discriminated against because of drug testing. How is it fair to lump them in with the addicts and prevent them from getting jobs?

As for the credit checks, what if this person spent beyond his/her means when he/she was younger and irresponsible, and has since been trying to rectify this situation? How is it fair to prevent him/her from ever getting a decent job to ever pay it back?

TheHaight's avatar

I agree with you on your opinions with the drug testing, but I feel that it is very important for certain minimum wage jobs to get drug tested. For example; a few friends I know work at Home Depot and have to work with machines, heavy lifting,etc: being on certain drugs will and can impair you, and therefore a drug test could be important when it comes to the safety of a worker,etc.

girlofscience's avatar

@wildflower: Okay, so what is the character I mention to do? Is it fair for him to keep being rejected from jobs and eventually need to start flipping burgers like a teenager? When he’s incredibly smart and capable of so much more? Is it really just for this person to be doomed for life?

wildflower's avatar

Having to start at the bottom, despite higher qualifications, may be the price of that one act of irresponsibility.
Having said that, if the person is that talented, they’re bound to find an employer who is willing to bend the rules to acquire their skills for their organisation.

Judi's avatar

@girlof science;
One thing he could do is start his own business. I have a nephew who is in the same boat. He moved to Dubai and with his brother started a fitness camp.

girlofscience's avatar

(By the way, this “character” does not actually exist. It was just an example used to explain the potentially devastating results of pre-employment screenings.)

girlofscience's avatar

@wildflower: _Having to start at the bottom, despite higher qualifications, may be the price of that one act of irresponsibility. _

The legal system already punishes people. Why must they be punished more?

wildflower's avatar

A private company, paying people to make/ keep them profitable is not ‘society’ and is fully entitled to distrust someone with a criminal record in their past. Cest la vie.
[edit]: it’s not a competitive organizations role to hire people in order to be fair to that individual. They’re looking to recruit people who will help them stay in business. Being helpful/charitable is a luxary they may or may not be able to afford.

flameboi's avatar

A part form Med tests, background tests, something called security clearance
and, I just don’t like the credit reports, being on debt is not a sin…

poofandmook's avatar

I don’t agree with credit checks, but the rest is fine by me.

A workplace is a business… it’s not a rehabilitation center for troubled pasts and drug users, however recreational it may be. An employer is running a business to make money, not to give the little guy a shot at life improvement. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. Therefore, an employer won’t hire someone who could even possibly affect their money-making when there’s probably some other clean-cut guy who’s just as smart and talented waiting for his interview in the lobby.

manoffaith's avatar

Wildflower: It seems as though most of your rationalizations for
utilizing pre-employment screenings stem from the concept that
whomever is responsible for the actual hiring process is wholly

The entire purpose of employing a Hiring Manager/HR Director/Recruiter
is to have someone on staff who is capable of reading and vetting
people based upon their interview.

If reading people is a skill you possess, it’s not that hard to
realize whether someone is an addict, boozer, charlatan or deviant
after speaking with them for more than ten minutes. Of course, you may
not pick up on something like: this person likes to get high on the
weekend, or, this person was arrested for public intoxication when
they were in college. And you shouldn’t have to. Because those things
have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to perform their job.

Let me make it a little simpler for you.

A drug test will not vet out an alcoholic. An experienced recruiter
will. Would you rather have in your employ a chronic drunk, or someone
who likes to get high?

A background check will not vet out someone who was fortunate enough
to buy/luck their way out of trouble enough times that they’ve never
been prosecuted. A hiring manager worth his or her salt would be able
to realize that a potential employee is a prick who figures that as
long as they get away with something, they’ve done nothing wrong.

I could keep on listing examples, but I don’t think you’ll make the connection, so I’ll make it easy for you:

Background checks are the last resort of a lazy employer. Aside from verifying the information provided on a resume (which often includes the question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?”) and calling up your references, how much does your employer need to know?

For example Wildflower: Would you want your supervisor at 1–800-Flowers knowing about the restraining order your high-school boyfriend put out on you? Unless you come off like a complete headcase in the interview (which you probably would), the person or persons responsible for bringing you on should have no business snooping around in your personal life.

Just because someone had their identity stolen/got mixed up in a bad situation/prefers illegal drugs over legal ones doesn’t make them a bad person. A qualified recruiter would realize this, and recommend (or warn against) a prospect based on their own analysis.

Judi's avatar

So the fact that someone is financially irresponsible would not effect his ability to do his job if he was in a position of making budget and financial decisions?

poofandmook's avatar

There could be any number of reasons one’s credit has been damaged. Mine, for instance, was an ex who knew my social security number. I’ve found that spending someone else’s money – when you know your PERSONAL flow of money is on the line should you be irresponsible – is completely different from how you manage your own finances.

poofandmook's avatar

That being said, I suppose if you were a bank or hiring for that type of position, a credit check might be warranted. But not for every position.

Judi's avatar

Then they can explain that and provide me with the documentation in the interview.

Judi's avatar

In apartments it IS important. You wouldn’t believe how many times a manager will take cash and on paper move the person in a week later. That $15—$30 credit check fee you paid often ends up in the managers pocket, at least it did until we started checking credit on our managers. When I got into the business in 1985 the joke was, “I couldn’t qualify to rent an apartment so I managed it.”

poofandmook's avatar

@Judi: Okay, so in your business it’s important. I’m speaking in a very general sense. My employer here at ***big laboratory testing company*** would have no use with knowing I have bill collectors looking for me.

aisyna's avatar

some were fired for refusing to do the fingerprinting but other than that the rest of the reasons were not made public. And this just taught kids that if u make a stupid mistake as a kid like smoking a blunt it will stay witgh you for the rest of your life. And one of my teachers was fired because of this he was a horrible teacher, i did not learn one thing in his clas and i dont think anybody missd him when he was fired.

Judi's avatar

I concede. If you’re not handling money then a credit check probably isn’t important.

girlofscience's avatar

@aisyna: Yes. The “mistake” of smoking a blunt will stay with you the rest of your life.

poofandmook's avatar

@GoS: you can’t expect everyone to condone drug use as wantonly as you do.

benseven's avatar

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.

That said, I don’t think a person’s credit hsitory is entirely relevant. You pay them money, not the other way around, and bad credit sticks around longer than traces of drugs and alcohol in the body – past financial troubles shouldn’t have any real bearing.

jaredg's avatar

Background and credit checks along with drug tests gives a skittish employer, or more likely a line supervisor that’s just a cog in a bigger corporate machine, an excuse as to why a candidate wasn’t hired. In a lot of high turnover jobs, they don’t have the human resources to actually interview and then check references on the candidates—having some computer or lab result make that decision for you is just more convenient. Since the scores / tests come from a “disinterested” third party, they may also be useful in dealing with fair hiring practice disputes.

Credit checks can cut both ways. Not paying your bills on time may be an indicator of flakiness. Really needing a job because the debt collectors are always at your door can serve as a pretty powerful motivation. Usually people’s cynicism causes the former explanation to carry more weight.

You can stereotype people in many different ways, including based on the results from a credit agency or a drug testing lab. All a clean criminal record guarantees you is that this particular candidate has never been caught.

rss's avatar

@GofS: For pre-employment drug screening, can’t a “recreational” drug user lay off for a month to clear a screening? Since few jobs require frequent/random screenings, pre-screening seems like a reasonable way to see if someone is “responsible” (ie, won’t come high to work) by seeing if they are a habitual user (ie, can’t take a break to get a job). I think your real point here is that marijuana should be legal – and if it were, obviously this would be different.

For background checks: many jobs are restricted by law to persons who have not committed certain crimes (ex, persons working with children). For these jobs background checks are the only way to accurately comply with the law. In other jobs it is illegal to discriminate because of previous convictions – although obviously this is hard to prove when it happens. I guess I think this is just very job-specific and does have a legitimate purpose (though is definitely not always necessary, nor is it always used).

For credit checks – I agree that this is usually silly (taking into account the good points by judi). Also, I’ve never even heard of this happening, so is it really all that common? Just curious.

Interesting question!

girlofscience's avatar

@rss: Usually a person does not have a month to “prepare.” If they did, certainly, it would not be a problem to lay off for a month, but typically, candidates are notified within the week of when they are expected to take a drug test.

Thanks for your input, and honestly, I’m not sure how often the credit check happens!

wildflower's avatar

How charming; incompetent, headcase…any others you want to add to the list?
I don’t particularly care to respond to the details of your insults, but I will say this:
You try defending you equal opportunities employer title in labour court (if you have those) with “our competent recruiter read this person as unreliable in a 30 min interview, that’s why we didn’t offer the job” as opposed to “our by has a policy on requiring a clean police record, that’s why they weren’t hired”

wildflower's avatar

go iPhone auto-correct!!

ninjaxmarc's avatar

in my field of shipping, background checks are required due to security issues. We do not want to hire a possible terrorist that may put a bomb on an airplane or use one of our trucks as a car bomb, etc.

Drug testing I agree is necessary in a place where impaired judgement may cause safety issues for that person and people around that person.

Credit check is taking it too far.

Judi's avatar

Even when they handle money?

ninjaxmarc's avatar

if someone is going to steal, they are going to steal. I don’t want my employer knowing my credit score.

scamp's avatar

@ninjaxmarc exactly!

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i completely agree with most of what you’ve said.
i’m not that clear on the credit score thing – i’m completely blank when it comes to dealing with money and things of that nature – but your views on drug screening completely match mine. the background check – well, i think that anything that is reason for real concern should certainly be looked into – but it’s just not wise to judge a potential employee by little misdemeanors, especially ones that have little or nothing to say about how they handle a job. an employer could lose out on a lot of wonderful employees if they nitpick on things that are more or less irrelevant.

newjob's avatar

Pre-employment drug screenings are wrong period! I don’t do drugs but I do take a prescription medicine for anxiety. I write software for a living and I work alot on a contract basis. Recently I got hired by a big company on a contract and they require a Pre-employment drug screen. Now, I know I will test positive because of the medicine I take. As long as I have a doctors note stating that this is a prescription then they will still hire me. So what’s the problem? Here t is… Why should they know what medicines I take and what condition I have? It is none of their business. What if they want to make me a full time offer in the future but decide not to because of my condition.

pinkparaluies's avatar

I love all of these things. I worked as a telemarketer right out of high school and worked with too many drug addicts and criminals. They didn’t back ground check these people or drug test them. Too many times I heard about insane parties and the fun drugs they’d do. This made me extremely uncomfortable.

The fact that these people were handling (i.e, writing the numbers down on paper before they would enter it into the computer..) credit card numbers didn’t make me feel any better, either…

thedrumand87's avatar

Did you know it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone who is an alcoholic? It is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Who would you rather have working for you? A qualified individual who made a stupid mistake to shoplift and will probably never do it again because of all the embarrassment it caused back in the day or an equally qualified person who is a CURRENT alcoholic. Oh wait, you don’t have a choice, you HAVE to choose the alcoholic, otherwise he/she can sue you. The only way you can fire someone for being an alcoholic is if they show up to work while drunk.

While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use, a person who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol.

thedrumand87's avatar

also… alcohol is a DRUG. An alcoholic is a DRUG ADDICT! Alcohol causes more harm than half the drugs out there anyway

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