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Need a new job? Passing a pre-employment drug screen make take longer

Updated: Oct. 1, 2021 at 4:45 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Shortages and supply chain issues. They seem to be the words of the year at the root of all kinds of pandemic-related problems for employers and consumers.

Now we’ve learned they’re impacting one area of hiring, during an extremely competitive job market, that many people don’t think about: pre-employment drug screening.

With “now hiring” signs up just about anywhere you look, employers are clambering to bring on new staff. Most employers require those new hires to take a standard drug test before starting work.

That is no longer as quick and easy as it sounds.

“It’s been a challenge to try to keep everything operational to the point where it’s not affecting our employers as much as we can control it,” says Nicki Omdahl, team leader for occupational health and drug test management at Bellin Occupational Health, an organization hired by countless employers in Northeast Wisconsin to drug screen new hires.

What Omdahl calls a “perfect storm” of problems all collided in late summer, creating a sudden and unexpected backlog and delay in lab results.

“We have never had everything happen at once like that, and we’ve never experienced a shortage with kits,” says Omdahl.

Why? There are a few reasons.

Problem number one: the weather, starting with Hurricane Ida.

Federal guidelines require drug screens to be run at an HHS certified laboratory. The person who tests it for the final result, cannot collect the sample.

Some of those labs, for Bellin, are in Louisiana.

“So if the transport services can’t get on the road to get the sample where it needs to go, it gets held in the terminal facility. And in our case, two of our main labs were very affected by Hurricane Ida, so they had to shut down completely, and operations ceased, and the drug test had to be held at the delivery terminals,” explains Omdahl.

Once the storm passed, she says the labs worked 24/7 to get caught up, but even then there’s still problem number two: staffing shortages.

“They’ve all seen delays due to labor. One of our main laboratories had a competitor build in the area and then lost some staff to it, and then had to kind of uptick their labor force to manage that,” she says.

Problem three: a shortage of supplies needed to make the test kits in the first place.

That shortage, says Omdahl, is due to the ice storm in Texas in February.

“So the resin shortage contributed to a plastic shortage because all the polymers they use for composites were on a shortage, and none of the manufacturers could get it to get us the volumes that we need for testing,” says Omdahl.

While the hurricane temporarily delayed lab results for 10 days or more, that’s mostly back to normal at 24-72 hours, but the labor and supply shortages are not nearly as quick to recover.

“With labor shortages the way they have been, I wouldn’t anticipate it any time soon,” says Omdahl.

In the meantime, she says her supply chain staff will continue to work hard to find alternatives, but she asks for patience.

And if you’re waiting to start a new job, the sooner you can schedule a drug screening, the better.

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