Drug Tests May Determine Some Unemployment Eligibility

On the last day of March 2017, President Donald Trump signed legislation that will grant states more leeway to drug test unemployment insurance applicants for benefit eligibility and job readiness.

Historically, states haven’t drug tested people seeking unemployment benefits because the Social Security Act (SSA) hasn’t allow agencies to restrict factors that are not related to the “fact or cause” of a worker’s unemployment. Many lawmakers have been seeking to allow states to drug test applicants as a condition of receiving unemployment compensation (UC) benefits.

In 2012 an amendment to the SSA allowed states to drug test unemployment compensation applicants as a condition of eligibility in the following limited circumstances:

  • If they were fired by their last employer for unlawful drug use.
  • If they were seeking jobs in occupations that regularly drug test.

Then in 2016, a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule narrowly defined the “occupations” for which drug testing was permitted as those for which testing is required by federal or state law. That DOL ruling allowed drug testing for:

  • Occupations that require carrying firearms
  • Occupations that require operating vehicles that transport passengers.
  • Flight crews
  • Railroad crew members
  • Air traffic controllers.

On March 31, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed legislation to nullify the 2016 U.S. Department of Labor rule that narrowly limited the circumstances under which drug testing may be carried out by states in administering their unemployment insurance systems.

This most recent legislation now expands those DOL regulations so that all states are cleared to explicitly deny unemployment insurance benefits to applicants who lost their job due to illegal drug use, and establish a state’s ability to conduct a drug testing program as a condition of eligibility. As of now, 20 states deny unemployment insurance benefits to applicants who lost their job due to illegal drug use.