Drug Testing Programs

Workplace drug testing options for employers

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Drug Testing Programs

Employers have a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to setting-up a workplace drug testing policy. Mobile Health outlines 7 popular options many companies consider for their own workforce. Although best used when complete, a custom testing policy can address the specific challenges facing your business in a more cost-effective way.

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Companies interested in implementing a workplace drug testing program are encouraged to use the following six common options either as a whole or as components so a custom testing policy. When evaluating your program policy consider the benefits your company is trying to achieve. Pre-employment programs are great for discouraging current drug users, but annual testing will maintain a drug free workplace. Likewise, post-incident will help clarify workplace accidents and reasonable suspicion empowers your management to take action against employees believed to be under the influence.

Drug Testing Options:

As with any workplace policy change, it is recommended that HR professionals are consulted as well as local employee screening providers, such as Mobile Health, to help determine the best mix for your organization.

To avoid potential discriminatory accusations, it is extremely important to apply the same standards to all employees in your organization. If certain departments or employees are screened differently or have less requirements, complaints of illegal preferential treatments may occur. Mobile Health can help guide you during your policy construction process and refer clients to professional lawyers and consultants for further assistance.

Pre-Employment Workplace Drug Tests

Drug Testing Method: Pre-employment

Pre-employment drug testing is the most popular type of drug testing among employers. Even though most businesses in the US are not required to drug test their employees, a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed 454 HR professionals and found that 84% administer pre-employment drug tests.

Employers choose to drug test because it is an effective deterrent against drug abuse and the impact it has on businesses. A comprehensive study examining the relationship between pre-employment drug test results and absenteeism determined that those who tested positive had absenteeism rates 59.3% higher than those who tested negative. Additionally, the turnover rate for employees with positive drug test results was 47% higher.

In New York, private employers can give drug tests to potential employees once an offer for employment has been made. Employers are also required to test all those that apply for similar positions in the interest of fairness and to avoid discrimination.

Notifying applicants in advance of a pre-employment drug testing policy can discourage those with existing drug abuse problems from applying in the first place. Along the same lines, applicants can decline to take a drug test, but this usually disqualifies them for consideration.

Applicants that are taking certain prescription drugs may test positive for some substances when taking a drug test. A medical review officer (MRO) will contact the employee regarding legitimate reasons for a positive test, at which point the employee can inform them of their prescription medications. Of course prescription drugs can be intentionally abused, and so particularly high concentrations of some substances may be a red flag for abuse. It is up to a certified MRO to make these decisions and not the employer.

Random Drug Tests

Drug Testing Methods: Random

Drug testing at random is a powerful testing method for companies that want to be sure there is no illegal drug use occurring among its employees at any time. The Department of Transportation (DOT) refers to random drug testing as the “best tool employers have for deterring drug and alcohol use in the workplace”.

Transportation is a safety-sensitive industry, so every DOT regulated agency as well as the Coast Guard have their own regulations that establish minimum levels of random drug testing. Drug testing at random is not a practice that is only reserved for transportation, however, its widespread practice in the industry can shed some light on its effectiveness for any business that aims to remain drug-free.

Perhaps the main factor that makes random testing such a useful deterrent against drug use is the element of surprise. Employees know they may be tested at any time, so in a situation where they have an opportunity to take illicit drugs, they have yet another important reason to abstain: their employment depends on remaining drug-free.

When combined with pre-employment drug tests, random testing can minimize the likelihood of undesirable or even dangerous behavior among employees. The timespan that employees have to submit a sample for a random drug test is, by nature, much shorter than a pre-employment test, so abstaining from a drug habit in anticipation of a test is not an option.

It is important for employers and employees alike to remember that a positive random drug test does not automatically result in termination. Random testing helps employers identify those with substance abuse issues and can refer them to the appropriate treatment. Employee assistance programs (EAP’s) offer employees a fair chance at recovering from drug addiction, and are an integral part of any successful drug-free workplace program.

Employers are strongly encouraged to set-up a workplace drug testing policy that clearly outlines the consequences of positive tests. This policy must be applied for all cases, involving all positive employees.

Annual Drug Tests

Annual drug tests are a consistent reminder to employees that a drug free workplace policy exists and will be enforced. These tests also help prevent any discrimination or preferential treatment since all employees will be tested annually from the date of their hire. This is a great, transparent opportunity to treat all employees equally under the company’s policies.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Tests

Drug Testing Methods: Reasonable Suspicion

Aside from standard drug tests given periodically or before hiring, there is another type of test that can pinpoint the cause of inappropriate or unusual behavior and prevent it from continuing. Reasonable suspicion drug tests are given when there is reason to believe that an employee is under the influence of drugs while on the job.

In drug free workplace programs, supervisors are trained on identifying the signs of drug use. This can include what the supervisor sees, hears, smells or notices as a trend in the employee’s performance.

Supervisors trained in drug free workplace policy must witness the behavior, and only then can they make the call to conduct a reasonable suspicion test. Having more than one supervisor witness the signs can help strengthen the integrity of the case. Rumors or gut feelings are never a legitimate cause to conduct this type of test.

Some signs of drug and alcohol use may be:

  • A pattern of lateness
  • Excessive absence
  • Decreasing productivity
  • Poor work performance
  • Problems involving interactions with co-workers

These problems alone are usually not enough to conduct a reasonable suspicion test. Explicit signs of alcohol and illicit drug use should also be observed. These are a few symptoms that may be present, although this university HR list is by no means comprehensive:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Constricted pupils
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow reaction time
  • Odor of alcohol or marijuana
  • Profuse sweating
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Delayed decision-making
  • Constricted pupils
  • Mood changes

It is critical to notify the individual and conduct a test soon after observing the signs of drug use, so as to not allow the employee to take steps to alter the results.

Confronting an employee about suspected drug use can be difficult, but should be done privately, and with a focus on behavior and appearance, rather than drug use. The use of a drug test should be explained as a way to rule out drug or alcohol abuse as a cause of behavioral changes.

Post-Accident Drug Tests

Drug Testing Methods: Post Accident

When accidents occur on the job, it is often crucial to know whether drugs were involved. While employers should not assume that drugs were the cause of an accident or injury, post-accident drug tests can help make a determination about how the issue should be handled.

As with annual and random drug tests, each division of the US Department of Transportation (DOT) has specific protocols for the use of post-accident drug testing. Transportation is a safety-sensitive industry where employees operate commercial motor vehicles – accidents can be dangerous and can cause property damage, injuries and fatalities, so ruling out the use of drugs or alcohol as a cause is imperative.

For DOT-compliant businesses, one of these three conditions generally must be met to conduct a post-accident test:

  • A fatality occurred
  • Someone involved required immediate medical care
  • A vehicle was towed and the driver was cited for a moving violation

The construction industry is also safety-sensitive, and consistently ranks among the highest of all industries in illicit drug and alcohol use. For these reasons, many construction companies opt to perform drug testing, and research has shown that having a drug-free program reduces injury rates in the construction industry. Post-accident testing can be an especially useful method for discovering the underlying cause of worksite accidents.

The period of time between the incident and a post-accident drug test should be minimal, especially when testing for alcohol. In general, alcohol testing should occur less than 2 hours and no more than 8 hours after the accident. Drug testing should occur within 32 hours.

Employers may also be able to better defend against Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations given after an accident as a result of the employee’s impairment. If the employer is diligent about pre-employment, random, and other types of drug tests, and a post-accident test reveals the employee’s drug use, the employer is usually not liable.

Return-to-Duty Drug Tests

Drug Testing Methods: Return to Duty

When an employee tests positive for illegal drugs or alcohol, or refuses to take the test, they are immediately removed from their safety-sensitive position, if applicable. (Safety-sensitive positions are common in the construction and transportation industries.) If the employee is not in a safety-sensitive position, actions can vary, but employees should typically relieve the employee of all duties at work.

In either case, in order to stay compliant with drug-free workplace laws, employers must offer treatment options. This is most commonly done in the form of an employee assistance program.

Employee assistance programs (EAP’s) are a cornerstone of effective drug-free workplace programs and a helpful benefit for employees and their families. Providing a chance to undergo the proper treatment through an EAP is more cost-effective than simply terminating those who test positive.

When an employee successfully finishes treatment for drug abuse through an EAP or the services of a substance abuse professional, return-to-duty drug tests are administered so that the employer can be sure that drug use is no longer an issue with the employee. In addition, follow-up tests may also be administered to the employee down the line to make sure that the drug use does not continue at any time after treatment.

For companies that follow Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, direct observation of the test being taken is required for return-to-duty and follow-up tests. This is a good practice for any employer, to ensure that the test results are not manipulated in any way.

Another case in which a business would conduct a return-to-duty test is when an employee is returning from a leave of absence due to injury or illness. This condition of reinstatement would be described in the company’s drug-free workplace policy and can go a long way towards discouraging drug use among employees in any setting.

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