President Signs Legislation Expanding Drug Testing for Unemployment Recipients

Last week, President Donald J. Trump signed legislation to nullify a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule that narrowly limited the circumstances under which drug testing could be carried out by states in administering their unemployment insurance systems.

According to the DOL’s press release, the president’s action halted a 2016 rule drafted by the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, based on a 2012 law. The rule contradicted clear congressional intent by narrowly limiting the circumstances under which a state could drug test unemployment compensation recipients.

“The Department of Labor supports the president’s nullification and looks forward to examining additional flexibilities for states relative to the drug testing of persons seeking unemployment benefits,” said Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Ed Hugler.

The 2012 law permitted states to drug test unemployment compensation applicants as a condition of eligibility and deny jobless benefits for failing the test, under two specific circumstances:

  • If they were terminated from employment with their most recent employer because of the unlawful use of a controlled substance; or
  • If the only available suitable work for an individual was in an occupation that regularly conducted drug testing.

The law required the department to define such “occupations” in regulation. The DOL issued a final rule to establish occupations that regularly conduct drug testing in the Federal Register on Aug. 1, 2016; it became effective on Sept. 30, 2016.