The lowest U.S. employment rate in 18 years, but the difficulty of finding workers is having one effect: convincing companies to stop testing job candidates for marijuana.
Caesars Entertainment made headlines this week for its decision to opt out of screening potential hires for pot use, with the casino operator implementing the policy nationwide, a spokesman confirmed, adding: "It was one factor disqualifying a lot of good people."
While garnering attention in recent days, the spokesperson said the policy has actually been in place since the end of 2016. AutoNation, the country's biggest auto dealership chain, also quietly made the move more than two years ago, the company's CEO told Bloomberg in January.
Caesars will continue testing for cannabis use for jobs, such as drivers, where federal rules mandate screening for marijuana. "We still test for pot -- and other drugs -- if we believe an employee is high on the job," the spokesman said.
The rules at Caesars potentially impact tens of thousands of workers, given it employs some 63,000 people in 13 states. About half of Caesars' workforce reside in Nevada, where voters legalized recreational pot use, starting in January 2017.
The less stringent stance toward marijuana use, at least off the job, comes as businesses struggle to hire workers., up 7.8 percent from February and the highest count since the Department of Labor starting compiling the data in December 2000.
In Nevada, positive tests for marijuana use increased 43 percent last year in the state, according to data released by Quest Diagnostics, one of the biggest drug-testing labs in the country. Overall, 2.6 percent of workers tested by Quest tested positive for marijuana.
Employers in Colorado and Washington, the states where recreational use of pot has been legal the longest, have lower rates of including marijuana in drug tests, according to Barry Sample, Quest's senior director, science and technology. Last year, 98.4 percent of all urine drug tests conducted for employers nationwide included marijuana, versus 96.2 percent in Colorado and 97 percent in Washington.
"In the states that have more recently enacted recreational use statutes, it is still too early tell what will happen with testing patterns," Sample said in emailed statement.
The shift away from marijuana testing is expected to pick up as more states legalize cannabis for recreational use. About 30 states already allow medical use of the drug, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve last year found employers relaying experienced or qualified employees, some citing candidates' inability to pass drug tests" as among the factors making hiring more difficult.
In Maine, employers are effectively barred from testing job prospects for marijuana, a provision that took effect in February as part of the state's recreational marijuana law.