Drug Testing Programs

Workplace drug testing options for employers

They are excellent at moving procedures along and really push their labs and external services to expedite samples or specimens in order to provide the quickest possible result.
—Mobile Health Client

Employer Drug Testing

A wide variety of employer drug testing options exist to help companies set up a workplace drug testing policy. Mobile Health outlines seven popular options many companies consider for their own workforce. A custom employer drug testing policy can address specific challenges facing your business in a more cost-effective way.

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Companies interested in launching a workplace drug testing program should consider the following common employer drug testing options as components for a custom testing policy. When evaluating your program policy, consider the benefits your company is trying to achieve. Pre-employment programs help to discourage 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, businesses should consult HR professionals as well as local employee screening providers, such as Mobile Health. They will help determine the best solution for your organization.

To avoid potential discriminatory accusations, you must apply the same screening standards to all employees in your organization. If  you screen certain departments or employees differently or have fewer 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 ranks as the most popular type of drug testing among employers. Most businesses in the United States are not required to drug test their employees.  However, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed 454 HR professionals and found that 84% administer pre-employment drug tests.

Employers choose drug testing because it acts as an effective deterrent against drug abuse and its impact 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. New York also requires employers to test everyone who applies 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 from consideration.

Applicants that take 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 that point, the employee can inform them of their prescription medications. Of course, intentional abuse of prescription drugs does exist. Consequently, particularly high concentrations of some substances may constitute a red flag for abuse. A certified MRO should make these decisions and not the employer.

Random Drug Tests

Drug Testing Methods: Random

Drug testing at random provides companies a powerful testing tool to help ensure  no illegal drug use occurs 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”.

Give the safety-sensitive nature of the transportation industry, 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 only reserved for transportation. However, its widespread practice in the industry can shed 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. Consequently, 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. Employees have less time to submit a sample for a random drug test than they do for a pre-employment test.  Random drug testing eliminates the option of abstaining from a drug habit in anticipation of a test.

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

In setting up a workplace drug testing policy, employers should clearly outline the consequences of positive tests. This policy must be applied for all cases, involving all positive employees.

Annual Drug Tests

Annual drug tests consistently remind employees that a drug-free workplace policy exists and will be enforced. These tests also help prevent any discrimination or preferential treatment, since the company tests all employees annually from their date of hire. This provides 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, another type of test pinpoints the cause of inappropriate or unusual behavior and prevents it from continuing. Employers give reasonable suspicion drug tests when they believe an employee is under the influence of drugs while on the job.

Drug-free workplace programs train supervisors to identify the signs of drug use. Signs 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. 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. Employers should never rely on rumors or gut feelings as a legitimate cause to conduct this type of test.

Some signs of drug and alcohol use include:

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

These problems alone don’t constitute grounds to conduct a reasonable suspicion test. Employers must observe explicit signs of alcohol and illicit drug use. The following list represents a few symptoms that may be present. However, 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 drugs were the cause of an accident or injury, post-accident drug tests can help determine 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. In a safety-sensitive industry like transportation where employees operate commercial motor vehicles, accidents can be dangerous. They can cause property damage, injuries and fatalities, so businesses must rule out the use of drugs or alcohol as a cause.

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

  • A fatality
  • Someone involved requiring immediate medical care
  • Towing of a vehicle and citation of the driver for a moving violation

Also a safety-sensitive field, construction consistently ranks highest among all industries in illicit drug and alcohol use. For that reason, many construction companies opt to perform drug testing. Research has shown having a drug-free program reduces injury rates in the construction industry. Construction companies have found post-accident testing  especially useful in 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 post-accident Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations that result from the employee’s impairment. If the employer remains 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

Employees testing positive for illegal drugs or alcohol, or refusing to take the test are immediately removed from their safety-sensitive position, if applicable. (Safety-sensitive positions are common in the construction and transportation industries.) If the employee does not hold 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 most commonly occurs with the help of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Corporate EAPs are a cornerstone of effective drug-free workplace programs. They also provide support to 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. These reassure the employer that drug use no longer poses an issue with the employee. In addition, follow-up tests may also be administered to the employee down the line to make sure the drug use does not continue at any time after treatment.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires direct observation of the test being taken for return-to-duty and follow-up tests. This practice benefits any employer, to ensure the employee does not manipulate test results in any way.

Another case in which a business would conduct a return-to-duty test is when an employee returns 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.