Drug-testing everyone in the state who applies for unemployment benefits would be cumbersome. It also might conflict with federal law.
But that’s no reason not to deny benefits to someone who fails an employer’s drug test.
A bill that would yank unemployment benefits from those who fail employee drug tests advanced last week in the S.C. House. While the measure failed on a 2-2 vote in a House Judiciary panel, it went to full committee anyway without a favorable report.
Under the measure, if an employer reports to the state’s unemployment agency that a potential hire refused to take or failed a drug test, benefits would cease. The end of benefits would result only from drug tests that businesses require as a condition of employment.
Some call this a back-door approach to denying unemployment benefits for failed drug tests. But it’s a far cry from requiring every applicant for benefits to take a drug test.
The distinction is important. By law, those receiving jobless benefits are supposed to be ready and able to work. If they fail to get hired because of drug use, then they aren’t meeting the requirements for receiving benefits.
Some Democrats argue that it’s wrong to take away a benefit based on a refusal, saying reasons for doing so may include offense at the request. But we suspect that most businesses would feel free to deny a job to any candidate who refused to take a required drug test.
If the bill were to allow anyone to refuse to take a drug test required by a potential employer because he was offended by the suggestion that he might be using drugs, what would prevent drug users from routinely refusing to take the test?
Under the original bill, employers would be required to report any candidate who refused or failed a test. But sponsors intend to alter that so reporting is up to the discretion of employers, not mandated.
We think that’s fair. Businesses shouldn’t be required by the government to be the enforcers of state laws.
We do, however, agree with with state Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, who argues that the bill should contain a drug treatment component. A person receiving jobless benefits who fails a drug test should have the option of seeking treatment and having the benefits reinstated once he or she completes the treatment program.
But we also think it is fair to deny benefits to those who make themselves ineligible for jobs because they abuse drugs. In the end, it’s their choice.