Should You Drug Test?

Screening employees for illegal substances has benefits as well as drawbacks.
Should You Drug Test?
Should You Drug Test?

When your name is on the trucks and on the door, you don’t want anyone – especially an employee – tarnishing your reputation or damaging your equipment. You do want your employees to be as healthy, happy and productive as possible. These are all reasons a business owner might consider having employees drug tested.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, illicit drug users are significantly more likely to skip work, change jobs frequently and take time off for illness or injury than employees who don’t use drugs. Screening for substance abusers, especially as part of the hiring process, can boost a company’s productivity and retention rates.

Any private employer has the right to drug test employees, and it is required of companies that contract with the federal government. That said, do you require drug testing in your company? Should you? It’s not a simple endeavor. There are laws and procedures to follow and, of course,
costs involved.

Potential benefits

Testing can cost from $25 to $75 per employee, so you’re probably wondering if it would be worth the expense. Here are some possible benefits:

  • Reduced risk of on-the-job injuries
  • Fewer employee sick days
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality of service
  • Reduced risk of equipment damage
  • Reduced chance of theft
  • Fewer worker compensation claims
  • Reduction in employee turnover
  • Being a drug-free company sends a positive message to the public

Possible drawbacks

Besides the expense, there could be negatives to implementing a drug-testing program, including:

  • Dealing with complicated legal issues. Drug testing regulations vary by state, industry, federal contract status and more. You should consult with an attorney before putting a policy into practice.
  • Negative pushback from employees. Employees may resent the lack of trust drug testing implies. Also, if you choose to do random drug testing, individuals who are selected may feel they are being singled out too frequently for drug testing and make a claim of discrimination. Be sure to adopt a truly random selection process.
  • Medical marijuana makes things trickier. Forms of medical marijuana are allowed in 23 states and others have pending legislation, but the federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule 1 drug. This discrepancy means you must address medical marijuana in your employee drug testing policy. Some employers operating in states that allow medical marijuana usage maintain a zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy except for those legitimately prescribed marijuana by a doctor for a medical condition. Others choose to allow medical marijuana usage for low-risk jobs but ban it for higher-risk positions, like heavy-equipment operators. As for nonmedical marijuana, while it is legal in two states, it is still considered an illegal substance under federal law.

Program implementation

There are several steps to take if you decide to implement drug testing.

First, decide what type of drug testing you want to do. Options include pre-employment testing, post-accident testing, reasonable cause testing, periodic or scheduled testing, and random testing.

If you are going to make hiring contingent on passing a drug test, it’s important to know that you must legally offer the prospective employee a job and have them sign a consent form before you can have them tested. The job offer is then contingent on them passing the drug test. You cannot use drug testing as a way to narrow down a pool of applicants.

If you choose to perform periodic or scheduled testing, it’s best to test everyone. Picking and choosing who is tested can look like discrimination and get you in legal trouble.

Next, you need to find a certified and reputable drug-testing laboratory. Many clinics and hospitals provide this service or can recommend a reliable provider to you. You want to make sure the provider you choose follows consistent procedures for collection and handling to ensure the specimens are not mislabeled, switched or tampered with.

Have a written policy

After you decide on the type and frequency of testing, you need to decide what drugs you will be testing for. You need to determine the consequences for someone who tests positive or alters a test. Is a positive test grounds for immediate dismissal, or will there be a second-chance program? Will there be an amnesty program for anyone who admits to having a problem before they are chosen for a test?

Before finalizing your company drug policy, make sure you are in compliance with federal and state laws. Then include all the details of your company’s drug-testing policy in a written document and distribute it to employees and potential employees. Make it a part of the employee handbook if you have one.

Avoid springing the policy on your employees. Give them at least 30-days notice that a drug-testing program will be implemented so they have time to read the policy and ask questions. All employees should be given an acknowledgement and consent form to sign that proves they received a copy of the policy and have agreed to be tested for the listed drugs at any time during their employment. Be prepared to terminate any employee who refuses to sign the form to underscore that this is a serious policy.

The final step in establishing an employee drug-testing program is to set up a recordkeeping system. Keep results of drug testing confidential by filing this information separately from an employee’s other personnel records.


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