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Baltimore eliminates preemployment drug testing for many city jobs

Baltimore’s spending board agreed Wednesday to eliminate preemployment drug testing for applicants for many city jobs.

The decision, made by a unanimous vote of the five-member Board of Estimates, comes amid a rash of vacancies for city positions and a highly-competitive job market.

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Preemployment drug testing still would apply for so-called positions of trust, which includes jobs responsible for children, the safety of others, money or sensitive materials. Hires for senior city staff, such as department and agency heads, also would be subject to such testing.

City Human Resources Director Quinton Herbert said lifting the drug testing policy will make city positions more attractive to candidates.

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“The test itself is a disincentive for people to even apply,” he said.

Herbert said he also expects the elimination of the policy to speed up the hiring process, a concern for Baltimore due to substantial staffing shortages in the departments of Public Works and Recreation and Parks, among others. Overtime expenses have jumped as the city attempts to cover shifts for vacant positions, city budget officials told the City Council in November.

The city has budgeted for about 14,000 employees but currently has a workforce of about 12,500, according to comptroller data.

Dropping drug testing also will align Baltimore with national trends moving away from preemployment drug screening, said Herbert, noting that New York City and Atlanta have enacted similar policies. Eliminating the policy also could save the city money as it pays for fewer employees to be tested, he said.

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Baltimore will retain the right to drug test employees because they are showing signs of being impaired on the job, Herbert said.

Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat and member of the board, said he pushed to eliminate the policy in his first days in office to “make sure our employment process was more fair and open, and we were no longer locking people out of the pool who are ready, willing and able to work in our city.”

Comptroller Bill Henry, also a Democratic member of the board, noted that Baltimore City Council made a failed attempt to bar drug testing for marijuana on non-safety sensitive employees in 2019. That bill, proposed by then-Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, did not make it out of committee.

“I am glad and proud that the city has adopted this as a policy,” Henry said Wednesday. “I think this is a really good thing the city is doing.”

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