State Senate Bill Would Cut Unemployment Benefits to Those Who Fail Drug Tests

“Based on a case in Stevens County where an employee failed a mandatory drug test and the county was forced to pay unemployment benefits, state Senator Bob Morton, R-Orient, has introduced a bill to prevent this from happening in the future.It doesn’t seem fair to allow a person to fail a drug test, then continue to collect unemployment benefits, Morton said. In the case of Stevens County, the cost of this problem is borne by the taxpayers. However, even in private business, the cost gets passed along to the consumer. It’s simply ridiculous to reward a person for abusing illegal drugs.Stevens County had adopted a drug-free workplace policy to qualify for federal funding. The employee in question was a seasonal employee who worked for the county, was laid off, went on unemployment, and then returned to the job the following year. When she returned to work, the employee was required to pass a drug test to get her job back.When she failed the test, she was able to continue collecting unemployment benefits paid for by the county. Stevens County appealed the case and lost because current law allows people to fail or refuse a drug test and still receive unemployment benefits.Morton’s bill would change state law to prohibit people from continuing to collect unemployment benefits if the reason they are not working is because they failed or refused to take a pre-employment drug test.This is just common sense, Morton said. Why should our cities and counties be penalized for attempting to maintain a drug-free workplace?The Senate Labor & Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on the bill January 11. Jim Potts, representing Stevens County, and Gary Smith, a lobbyist for the Washington Independent Business Association both spoke in favor of the measure.Employee safety is an important issue, Smith said. Sometimes employees under the influence of various illegal substances pose a safety risk for other employees so employers often establish a drug-free workplace. We think this legislation is consistent with that. We think if someone is under the influence of illegal substances then they shouldn’t be allowed to collect unemployment benefits.Jeff Johnson of the Washington State Labor Council and Garard Sheehan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington both spoke against Morton’s bill.”