Georgia drug users could lose jobless benefits

Failed test can jeopardize unemployment

Friday, June 1, 2012 10:55 AM
Last updated 10:37 PM
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ATLANTA — Georgians who fail a drug test while trying to get a job could lose their unemployment benefits under a new policy being quietly implemented by the state’s Labor Department.

The agency isn’t forcing everyone who collects jobless benefits to take a drug test. Instead, officials are asking businesses and the public to essentially rat out people who fail a drug test required to apply for a job.

It’s a novel strategy, in part because the policy took effect without needing buy-in from lawmakers.

Record numbers of people have filed for unemployment across the country during the economic downturn, putting a huge strain on states. But cash-strapped agencies can’t afford to test people – and aren’t allowed to do so up front under federal law.

Supporters say cutting off the cash for known drug users would not only ease pressure on the state’s bank account, but also prevent what they say amounts to fraud.

“The commissioner feels it is unconscionable for people to defraud the system when so many people need it,” said Tom Krause, a spokesman for Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

That logic also has been used to support drug tests for welfare recipients. Georgia has passed such a law, and a similar law in Florida has for now been blocked by a federal judge who cited constitutional concerns.

To receive unemployment, people must not only be actively seeking work, but must also make themselves able and available to work any job. Failing a drug test, or even refusing to take one, could be interpreted as a violation of those terms – making Georgia’s policy permissible under federal law.

A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management last year showed 57 percent of U.S. employers conduct drug tests on all job candidates.

But Georgia’s approach appears to be unique, said Rebecca Dixon, a policy analyst and attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts research, education and advocacy on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.

Because so many companies already require workers to be drug-free, U.S. Labor has said states can require “being available for work” to include being drug-free, she said.

The U.S. Department of Labor said in a statement that states “have every right” to disqualify people from unemployment benefits if a failed drug test either causes them to be fired or not be hired.

“There’s been this huge furor in the last two years trying to test unemployed workers or anybody getting any type of government assistance,” Dixon said. “It’s a way to blame the unemployed for their situation.”

At least 30 states have considered requiring drug tests for people seeking public assistance such as welfare, unemployment benefits or public employment. Currently, Indiana and West Virginia require drug testing for people seeking job training.

Nationally, congressional Republicans recently tried unsuccessfully to win approval for states to require applicants for unemployment benefits to take a drug test. Instead, Congress in February approved a law that allows states to make benefit applicants take drug tests only if they lost their job because they failed an employer’s drug test or apply for a job that requires one.

Georgia’s unemployment rate stands at just under 9 percent, still above the national average of about 8 percent.

In March, the state Labor Department began reaching out to employers, asking them to notify the agency if a job applicant fails a drug test. Businesses and others can report people anonymously, and no one’s checks are cut off before the Labor Department investigates and confirms the claim.

To date, no one has been reported for failing a drug test, said Brenda Brown, the department’s unemployment insurance director. However, she said she expects that will change once employers become more familiar with the policy.

Although supporters say the policy is necessary to stamp out fraud, only a fraction of unemployment payments were fraudulent. In 2011, 1.2 percent of claims in Georgia involved fraud, Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor, said in a statement.

Unemployment benefits are in part paid for with taxes paid by businesses, so getting fraudulent recipients off the rolls is in their interest, said Rick McAllister, president of the Georgia Retail Association. He added that he was not aware of Georgia’s new policy and said many of his group’s members may not know about it, either.

“They’re not playing by the rules and they’re draining the system, which hurts not only employers, but good, honest recipients as well,” he said.

Still, others say businesses may not take the time to report people even after the policy is well-known. Some employers may have privacy concerns because the tests could be considered medical records, said Dixon of the National Employment Law Project.

Furthermore, the unemployment benefits are being paid by an applicant’s previous employer – not the business they are applying to work for, Dixon said. That means businesses don’t really save themselves any money by reporting people who fail a drug test.

“It’s not saving you any money to turn this person in,” she said. “This may be for show more than anything else.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the Labor Department policy may do even more harm than the state’s law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients. Not only do employers not have time for such reporting, Fort said, but in his opinion, the policy only adds to the burden of a group of people already struggling.

“I would like corporate executives whose companies receive millions in tax credits to be tested if we’re going to test an unemployed person during a period of high unemployment,” he said.

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allhans
23287
Points
allhans 06/01/12 - 12:50 pm
3
1
I would think that the

I would think that the users/abusers would not show up. Might serve as a deterrent, and should be a good way to weed out the fraud.
Tough on the legitimate recipients though.

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 06/01/12 - 11:25 am
6
1
Drug testing is good!

If we could vote on this, I would vote YES!

Jeepster2001
268
Points
Jeepster2001 06/01/12 - 11:36 am
6
1
Common Sense
Unpublished

This should've been done years ago. Same with popping out more babies, for more money.

mrducks
59
Points
mrducks 06/01/12 - 11:54 am
0
0
Test politicians too...
Unpublished

Like soapy said, it's been tried, and it's a waste of money. But, I would like to see mandatory random testing for those holding any public office. I believe it would make for VERY interesting reading.

dichotomy
30657
Points
dichotomy 06/01/12 - 11:58 am
7
4
Well, it may not be cost

Well, it may not be cost effective but it's kind of like the liberal's excuse for "taxing the rich" even though everyone admits it won't accomplish anything. It just seems like the FAIR thing to do and will make us taxpayers feel a little better about having to support their sorry rear ends.

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 06/01/12 - 12:06 pm
8
1
Maybe a determent

Maybe if people know they are going to be tested they will stay clean. Like I always say, if you aren't doing anything wrong then you don't have anything to worry about. It seems that the ones who complain the most are the ones with something to hide. I have had to submit drug test to work so why should it be any different for people who are getting free handouts? Obviously it is a problem and I suppose they are trying in some way to solve it but it can't continue to just be ignored, we have already ignored way to much in this country and look where it has gotten us. A country filled with lazy people with an entitlement mentality.

itsanotherday1
40291
Points
itsanotherday1 06/01/12 - 12:40 pm
4
3
Good point dichotomy, I

Good point dichotomy, I haven't thought about from that angle. An old junior high classmate I connected with on Facebook is a flaming liberal sociologist, and his response to the Buffet rule was just as you said; "yea, but it is about fairness, not the budget.." WHAAA????

So, in the interest of fairness, I go with being fair to those working who support the bums sitting on their hineys.

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 06/01/12 - 01:02 pm
5
1
Unemployment vs Welfare

I think there may be some confusion about the Georgia program and the Florida program. If I am understanding this article Georgia's program applies to the unemployed where Florida's Program is for welfare recipients. The two are completely different. Taxpayers do not support unemployment, the employers do. Taxpayers do support the welfare programs.

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/01/12 - 01:12 pm
7
2
Okay, either I've strained

Okay, either I've strained the brain too much this morning or hopefully someone can explain to me.....if someone is receiving unemployment, doesn't that mean they are not working, so how can an employer turn them in for failing a drug test? The person is unemployed?

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 06/01/12 - 01:17 pm
5
1
Good point ICL

Obviously, a system will have to be put in place to test the people who are drawing unemployment benefits. The article does not address that issue.

copperhead
1035
Points
copperhead 06/01/12 - 01:26 pm
3
5
Common sense-if an unemployed

Common sense-if an unemployed person fails a hire-on drug test(to get off of unemployment) the company that gave the failed test is to report that as the reason for NOT hiring the applicant.

Little Lamb
43890
Points
Little Lamb 06/01/12 - 02:13 pm
3
2
ICL

Thanks for your 1:12 post. I thought the same thing. I guess the Labor Department is on the receiving end of an unfunded legislative mandate. The General Assembly tells the Labor Department to take drug users off the unemployment benefit rolls, but the General Assembly did not provide funding for drug testing.

The Labor Department gets a big "thumbs down" for kicking the can down "employers and others" whom the Labor Department is asking to become snitches.

Little Lamb
43890
Points
Little Lamb 06/01/12 - 02:16 pm
6
1
Snitching

Let's think about this for a moment: If you are an employer and you catch an employee on drugs, you fire that employee for cause. That employee is not entitled, not eligible to collect unemployment benefit checks because he was fired for cause.

Little Lamb
43890
Points
Little Lamb 06/01/12 - 02:21 pm
4
1
Reason

Copperhead posted:

If an unemployed person fails a hire-on drug test (to get off of unemployment) the company that gave the failed test is to report that as the reason for NOT hiring the applicant.

That company would be on shaky ground if an applicant found out that the company is going around telling government agencies why they did or did not hire someone. The companies know that. That's probably why no company has snitched to the Labor Department.

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 06/01/12 - 02:25 pm
7
1
Little Lamb

You are correct. Companies are very careful about disclosing anything about an employee, ex-employee or possible employee.

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/01/12 - 02:26 pm
2
0
Thanks copperhead, that makes

Thanks copperhead, that makes sense.

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 06/01/12 - 03:59 pm
4
0
///

Whatever I said is just proof that I was confused. I will take a nap now and be better when I awaken

Shea_Addams
1337
Points
Shea_Addams 06/01/12 - 03:41 pm
2
1
Soapy.....are you taking into
Unpublished

Soapy.....are you taking into account the % of people that simply don't apply because they know they won't pass? The 3% number is only failures........applications in FL are drastically down....wonder why that is?

specsta
6104
Points
specsta 06/01/12 - 04:10 pm
6
3
Fraud???

"Labor Department Commissioner Mark Butler says the measure is aimed at reducing unemployment fraud."

Fraud? The only fraud I can think of is collecting unemployment benefits at the same time you have an actual job. Someone testing positive for drugs is not fraud, it's just a bad life choice.

If the government has its way, where does it stop? Maybe folks that slap their spouses or spank their kids should be denied benefits. What about folks caught speeding or driving recklessly? Maybe folks who gossip or have marital affairs should be denied benefits. Maybe if you don't go to church twice a week, you should be denied benefits. This whole idea of denying benefits/government assistance to someone based on a positive drug test or moral criteria is ridiculous.

Unemployed folks deserve their benefits. There is no fraud unless they are collecting unemployment insurance and are still employed.

Shea_Addams
1337
Points
Shea_Addams 06/01/12 - 04:17 pm
3
3
It's fraud if you are
Unpublished

It's fraud if you are collecting unemployment benefits and not making an honest attempt to get a job.....which could include being able to pass a drug screening, since most jobs require them.

specsta
6104
Points
specsta 06/01/12 - 04:39 pm
5
3
No Fraud

In order to collect benefits, a person must provide proof of job searches every week. Also, every job does not require a drug screening. My problem with drug screening is that a person could get drunk almost every night of their lives and still pass a drug screen, while someone could have eaten a bagel or a muffin with poppy seeds and fail a drug screen.

The test is flawed and should not be a requirement to receive benefits.

Shea_Addams
1337
Points
Shea_Addams 06/01/12 - 04:56 pm
5
3
I agree that not every job
Unpublished

I agree that not every job requires testing.....I never said they do. My point is that we should NOT give benefits to criminals. Whether or not you agree that drug use should be illegal is a different issue. I personally see no difference in alcohol and pot use. Problem is, pot is currently illegal, and if you are using it, you are a criminal.

On a different note. Any legislator who passes a law requiring drug screening, should themseves be subject to the same drug screening. Can I get an amen?!

Shea_Addams
1337
Points
Shea_Addams 06/01/12 - 05:56 pm
3
5
I'm curious as to why
Unpublished

I'm curious as to why liberals so frequently defend criminals and criminal behavior.

twolane
191
Points
twolane 06/01/12 - 06:23 pm
0
0
love big brother or hate big brother
Unpublished

so folks want their privacy....folks hate the government meddling in their lives but you folks love this....citizens and private companies snitching on other private citizens wow

specsta
6104
Points
specsta 06/01/12 - 07:18 pm
5
3
Liberals Defend Freedom

Well, it used to be "criminal behavior" for a black person to marry a white person. It used to be criminal behavior for a black person to drink from a "Whites Only" water fountain. It used to be criminal behavior for a woman or minority to vote. If liberals had not risen up and fought against these unjust laws, what sort of wicked world would we be living in?

allhans
23287
Points
allhans 06/01/12 - 09:10 pm
3
1
specta..Are you saying this

specta..Are you saying this is unjust?

I agree that wrongs should be corrected but this law is doing just that.

specsta
6104
Points
specsta 06/01/12 - 10:29 pm
3
3
The Worker Without Rights

Drug testing is discriminatory.

Alcohol and nicotine are some of the most widely abused and addictive drugs in the world, but drug tests don't screen for that. Drug screens test for THC, opiates, PCP, meth-amphetamines, and 6 other chemicals. Why should a person who ate poppy seeds or even smoked a joint be barred from getting a job, while an alcoholic or a nicotine addict can pass the test with flying colors? What about the epidemic of folks addicted to legal prescription drugs, why shouldn't they be held accountable on the job? Why the distinction between "good drug" and "bad drug" when many drugs can be addictive and promote risky decisions and create unsafe conditions in the workplace?

Yes, I consider drug screening unjust in most cases, especially when it involves taking someone's private body fluids and making the components of that fluid available to any employer. I think there are very few jobs (such as a pilot or bus driver) that should require any sort of drug screening.

I also don't think it is any employer's business what an applicant's FICO score might be, or what they are posting on their social network personal page or what a Google search brings up about them. I agree that a background check can be warranted to weed out some folks, such as those applying for a job at a bank or working with kids, but this country has managed to hire folks for generations without the use of drug screens, credit checks, etc. and this country has done just fine.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 06/02/12 - 06:43 am
4
0
I'm all for it, IF all

I'm all for it, IF all elected officials, government employees, government contractors, and all of their employees are subjected to the same scrutiny.

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/02/12 - 07:24 am
3
2
Specsta, drug testing is not

Specsta, drug testing is not discriminatory. When a company hires an individual, it does not matter if you are male or female, black, white, Asian, fat, skinny, tall or short, they will require you to take a drug test. Where I work, monthly random drug tests are done through a computer system that spits out employee’s name (no discrimination). Alcohol and nicotine are LEGAL substances and are not tested for, drug test for ILLEGAL substances. If someone ate poppy seeds before a drug test, then it’s that person’s responsibility to let the tester know of anything they feel might alter the results of the test (seriously most people know poppy seeds will give you a false positive and anyone eating them before a testing I’d seriously consider on the lower end of the brain scale). As for smoking a joint keeping you from getting the job…..well an employer feel’s if you are so blatant to disregard a law and smoke an illegal substances then you must not be a respectable or trustworthy person. If you disregard this law (because you want to smoke) then what safety rule might you violate (because you want to do the job the easy way)? I will agree with you that alcohol on the job promotes an unsafe condition and most places, if they suspect someone is under the influence of alcohol, can require that person to be tested. These test aren’t so much about getting into your business as it is keeping their workers safe and doing what they can to keep the work environment drug free. It’s not a perfect solution but it does help.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 06/02/12 - 07:55 am
1
2
There lies part of the

There lies part of the problem. You have to let the testers know what LEGAL drugs you're taking.
"well an employer feel’s if you are so blatant to disregard a law and smoke an illegal substances then you must not be a respectable or trustworthy person." Wow, let's apply this standard to all laws. Watch those speeding tickets.

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