Let’s face it: despite all the strides made in making the world a much more racially-tolerant place, the world can still be a racially-biased one. This is undeniably true in choosing people for employment. For one reason or another, unspoken racial biases still play a huge role in hiring. There is a possibility, however, that this racial disparity in hiring could be reduced by workplace drug testing. That is what a 2014 study by Notre Dame economist Abigail Wozniak seems to be suggesting.
Wrong assumption of employers about black job applicants
Wozniak’s suggestion revolves around the theory that many employers wrongfully assume that black job applicants have a higher likelihood of using illegal drugs compared to white applicants. With workplace drug testing, employers will get hard, physical proof that black job applicants are not necessarily doing more drugs than white applicants.
Even more promising for black workers are Wozniak’s results concerning the drug testing laws of states. The study discovered that states encouraging drug tests through their laws have 7 to 10 per cent more low-skilled black men working in high-testing industries compared to all states that don’t have such a law. Compared to states that actually discourage the practice, the results for states that encourage drug tests are even better: there are 30 per cent more low-skilled black men working in high-testing industries. Wozniak’s study also reveals that white women tend to be on the losing end with more drug testing, as employers can just replace them with black workers.
“White” vs. “Black” names
No one can deny that there are racial biases—unspoken ones mostly—in play during the hiring process. There are studies that document this phenomenon, such as a 2003 study that revealed how job applicants with stereotypically “white” names were 50 per cent more likely to get a callback for an interview. Even worse is a study that discovered white people have this perception that compared to “African Americans”, “black” Americans are less competent and have a personality that is less inviting.
Then again, even if the results of Wozniak’s test appear to be promising for black jobseekers, it would be naïve to think that drug testing at work can finally put an end to racial prejudice in hiring people. Beliefs about race, after all, are much more deeply embedded than any kind of drug use. Still, if drug testing in the workplace can help make the hiring process a less racially-biased one, then it would be great to see employers get them implemented.