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July 7, 2021

Drug Testing in the Workplace: The Details You Need to Know

Checkr Editorial

Wondering about drug testing in the workplace? Modern advances in medical technology provide the ability to test for drug use in the workplace and determine whether an employee has recently taken a drug. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about drug testing in the workplace, pros and cons, and more.

What is workplace drug testing?

Workplace drug testing is one method employers can use to figure out if job applicants or employees use drugs, including prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol. Drug testing tends to work well when the drug testing policy is clear and shared with all of your employees, along with information about drug and alcohol abuse, education and training of supervisors about the symptoms and signs of drug and alcohol abuse, and an employee assistance program that helps employees who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to health and safety hazards in the workplace, as well as reduced morale and productivity among employees. It can also lead to extra costs for your company in the form of short-term disability claims and other healthcare claims. Employers tend to drug test in the workplace for the following reasons:

  • Prevent hiring employees that use illicit drugs
  • Offer a safe and healthy workplace for all employees
  • Identify and help employees with alcohol and drug problems
  • Protect the general public
  • Keep employees from abusing drugs and alcohol
  • Comply with federal regulations and state laws

What are the pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace?

There are a number of pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace. For example, the benefits of drug testing in the workplace include:

  • Encourage increased responsibility among employees. Workplace drug testing leads to increased responsibility among employees, especially those who might otherwise work under the influence of drugs and alcohol and cause harm to not only themselves but their colleagues, customers, and the general public as well.
  • Identify employees who need help. Workplace drug testing also identifies workers who have drug and alcohol problems and need outside help. People struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol may not seek help right away, but drug testing can help identify workers with issues rather than relying on self-reporting. Employers can then help these employees by assisting them in the form of a rehabilitative program.
  • Enhance the health and safety of the workplace. Workplace drug testing helps improve the health and safety of the workplace by deterring people who might otherwise regularly use alcohol or experiment with illicit drugs. Drug testing helps discourage these employees from abusing drugs, which can help curb health problems and decrease the risk of injuries or accidents in the workplace.

Some disadvantages of drug testing in the workplace include:

  • Random drug testing is not done in real time. Random drug tests simply let employers know that an employee used a specific drug sometime in the past, but there is typically a wide time frame. This isn’t always helpful, as the main priority of drug testing is to discourage intoxication while employees are working. 
  • Drug testing is not a safety measure. Because workplace drug tests don’t measure drug use in real time, they also can’t truly be used as a safety measure. Many job candidates simply take a break from using drugs when they know they have a drug screen. 
  • Drug testing is not always accurate. There are often false positives on drug tests, as specific foods and medications can show up as illicit substances.

What is the effectiveness of drug testing in the workplace?

Urinalysis is the most common form of drug testing and is considered highly accurate and effective. This method can be done at a doctor’s office, a workplace health unit, or another location chosen by the employer. The worker or job applicant gives a urine sample to be tested and it’s sent to a certified laboratory. There are typically several procedures required to ensure the testing process is as valid and accurate as possible.

Should drug testing be mandatory?

Workplace drug testing usually provides an accurate and objective method of determining if a worker or applicant uses drugs or alcohol. That being said, if drug testing is mandatory for employees and applicants, there should be a few basic ethical principles put in place to protect the rights of the workers, including:

  • Informed consent. The worker should know before taking the job that abstinence from drugs or alcohol is expected, and workplace drug testing will occur at some point. That way, the employee can consent to drug testing in an informed way.
  • Confidentiality. The worker’s privacy should also be respected. This means that the result and consequences of the drug testing should be kept private from other employees.
  • Setting reasonable expectations. The worker’s ability to deal with stressful work experiences should be considered during the interview process. For example, some jobs include exposure to stressful or traumatic experiences, including extended screen time, excessively long or changeable shifts, large numbers of demanding customers or clients, and caring for sick or dying individuals. Ensure the employee understands the requirements and is prepared for such situations. 
  • Defending a positive test. When a workplace drug test comes back positive, there should be repeat tests conducted. The worker should also have the chance to explain a positive drug test result before consequences are considered.
  • Getting help. In the case of a positive drug test, the employer should offer rehab or addiction counseling as options.
  • Support. The employer should also provide support and provide options like transitioning to a more suitable role if needed.
  • Justification. The employer should clearly justify the need for workplace drug testing. The employee or job applicant’s drug use should be seen as relevant to their role and responsibilities.

If you want to learn more about drug testing in the workplace, look no further than Checkr. Contact us to learn more about our services and employee drug testing at work.

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