- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MORROW, Ga. (AP) - State officials are researching a pilot program aimed at helping rehabilitate job applicants who fail drug screening tests at Georgia businesses, Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday.

While the idea is still being developed, Deal suggested that private employers should inform the state Labor Department when an applicant fails a drug screening required for employment. He said state agencies then could offer help for the person to get clean and find a job. He noted that the Labor Department handles unemployment benefits.

Deal briefly outlined the idea at a gathering focused on workforce development in Georgia, telling a roomful of employers and education officials that he believes failed drug screenings are a major roadblock to filling open jobs.

“You have to have reward and you also have to have consequences for bad conduct,” Deal said.

Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall said a drug screening is not required to be approved for unemployment benefits in Georgia.

However, state Department of Labor does provide a form on its website for reporting people who fail screenings and may receive unemployment. Hall said about five come in per week and are investigated. People determined to be on unemployment and who failed employers’ drug testing lose their benefits.

He said state agencies are not required to report job applicants who fail or refuse drug screenings.

Deal said employers may hesitate to report failed screenings, leaving applicants addicted to drugs or alcohol and still without a job. They may not get treatment until getting in legal trouble and being routed into a drug or DUI court, he said.

Dawn Bading, a Kaiser Permanente vice president of human resources, said some companies may even have concerns about hiring people recovering from addiction who have criminal records.

“We need to get better at understanding that as HR professionals and manager and leaders so that we’re not totally fearful,” Bading said. “Because there are a lot of great people who have many, many wonderful years of recovery.”

Deal pitched a similar idea last spring to withhold unemployment compensation and require people to enter state-funded treatment programs after a failed pre-employment drug test.

Deal said that he’s still discussing details with Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and said it would take approval from the U.S. Department of Labor. Deal said he’s not aware of any state with such a program.

“The approach may be: Give us the opportunity to design a pilot project and give us the opportunity to do that and see if it works,” Deal said.

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