Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace can take a costly toll on an organization, resulting in low productivity, poor employee morale and a higher than average number of health care and disability claims. In addition, safety concerns related to drug and alcohol use are an issue on many job sites.
A simple test – usually a urinalysis – can identify evidence of recent use of alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit drugs. This testing is normally paid for by the employer, and can be done at the workplace (providing it has a health unit), in a doctors office, or at another site chosen by the employer. Employees (or job applicants) are asked to sign a release in order for the employer to view the results.
Private employers have a great deal of flexibility in determining drug testing programs for their organizations except for certain “safety-sensitive” jobs where they need to comply with Federal regulations. Federal agencies, on the other hand, must follow standardized procedures set forth by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration), which is part of the US Dept of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA testing guidelines apply to alcohol plus five illicit drugs: Amphetamines, Cocaine, THC (marijuana, hash), Opiates, and Phencyclidine (PCP). Private employers may also choose to test for other substances, such as prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
The reasons an employer may request a drug test are many and varied. The most common circumstances are:
- Pre-Employment: Pre-employment testing is conducted to prevent hiring those who illegally use drugs.
- Reasonable Suspicion: Drug tests are given based on careful documentation by supervisors who have noted signs and behaviors that cause them to suspect illegal drug use.
- Post-Accident: When property damage or personal injury results from a work-related accident, drug testing may be done to determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor in that accident.
- Random: Unannounced, random drug testing is done within an organization to deter illegal drug use.
- Periodic: Periodic drug testing within an organization is scheduled in advance and administered in a uniform fashion to all employees as a deterrent.
- Return-to-Duty: When an employee has tested positive for drugs or alcohol and has completed the required substance abuse treatment, they are tested before returning to the workplace.
State laws govern how often and for what reasons an employer may test for drugs, and these laws vary from state to state. It is important that an employer become familiar with the state laws that apply to their organization. Certain Federal non-discrimination statutes may also apply.
Drug testing can be an effective tool in an overall drug-free workplace program. It is most effective when used with a written policy that clearly states employer expectations regarding drug use. Education for employees about the dangers of drug use as well as supervisor training to recognize the signs and symptoms of substance abuse is also necessary. By encouraging those who abuse drugs to seek help through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers will increase employee retention and create a safe and healthy work environment.