Employee Drug Testing: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Employee drug testing is a measure that employers use to determine whether their employees are using drugs. While drug testing for employees will not determine whether drugs will hurt their abilities to perform at their jobs, such testing can be a good indicator that a current or potential employee may need help with a drug or alcohol issue. Drug testing for employees is popular, with 51.5 percent of companies using at least some form of testing, according to the American Management Association.

 Why Is Employee Drug Testing Worthwhile?

While some people find drug testing to be unnecessary in today’s workplace, substance abuse costs businesses $197 billion dollars yearly in reduced productivity, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Health care is also an important factor for employers, with health care costing twice as much for employees with substance abuse issues. While drug abuse can create financial issues, it can also create other issues for the office:

  • Drug abuse can lead to more accidents and injuries in the workplace. This fact is especially important for workplaces where employees are operating heavy machinery, working with hazardous chemicals, or performing any other tasks where safety is important.
  • Drug abusing employees are 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more over the course of a year. Increased employee attendance often leads to a drop in productivity.
  • Having an office void of substance abuse can reduce conflict, as drug abusers tend to be more aggressive and sometimes even violent.
  • Drug abusers often need money to fuel their habits, so they are more likely to steal on the job to support their substance abuse.

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When Does Employee Drug Testing Take Place

Employers have quite a few options when deciding when they will drug test employees. Some employers feel that it is best to drug test employees before they officially hire them. Others use specific circumstances to test their current employees. Here are some of the more popular choices that employers use:

  • Pre-Employment: Employers make job offers and require potential employees to undergo drug tests as part of their screening processes.
  • Periodic: Workplaces require employees to undergo regular drug tests over set time intervals. This could be yearly or every few months.
  • Random: Employers select employees for drug testing at random times.
  • Reasonable Suspicion: Drug testing for employees only takes place after the employers find observable signs and symptoms of drug abuse. It is important for employers to set guidelines beforehand for this method.


How to Drug Test Employees

If employers are wondering how to drug test employees, they have different options, although state laws may prohibit some methods. Methods of collecting bodily samples vary from company to company, as each method has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few of the most common drug testing methods used today:

  • Urine: Urine tests are the most popular choice for drug tests because they are inexpensive, accurate, and reliable. The downside is that urine tests have a short period for detection and people can tamper with them more easily.
  • Saliva (Oral): Oral specimens are not as invasive as other tests, as only they require only a swab of the inner cheek. Unfortunately, oral specimens have a shorter detection window, so these tests are better to use with current or recent impairment.
  • Hair: Hair tests have the longest detection window, as they can detect whether people have used drugs ninety days or even six months prior to the tests. The main disadvantages of hair testing are their inconvenience and the long waiting time for results, as hair tests require the use of a laboratory.

Are There Any Employee Drug Testing Restrictions?

There is no federal drug law regarding employee drug testing, although several states have enacted various restrictions of their own. Some states limit testing to situations where the employer has probable cause, while other states hold certain restrictions for public companies only. Some states also enforce rules regarding specimen handling and employee drug test results. While employee drug testing is generally lawful as a rule, it would be wise for you to check your state’s specific rules and restriction variances before setting up such tests.

Which Substances Can Employee Drug Testing Detect?

The minimum standard for most companies is to test for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 5, a list of five drugs that could potentially concern employers. The five categories covered by the SAMHSA 5 are as follows:

Cannabinoids: Marijuana, hash, THC.
Cocaine: Cocaine, crack, benzoylecognine.
Phencyclidine: PCP.
Opioids/Opiates: Heroin, opium, codeine, morphine.
Amphetamines: Amphetamines, methamphetamine (speed or ice).

Some private companies in states with fewer restrictions use 10 panel tests, adding some prescription medications and weight loss drugs to their test. 10 panel tests include the SAMSHA 5, in addition to the following to drug test employees:

  • Barbiturates (Downers): Phenobarbital, butalbital, secobarbital.
  • Methadone: A drug used to treat heroin addiction.
  • Methaqualone: Quaaludes.
  • Benzodiazepines: Tranquilizers, including Valium and Xanax.
  • Propoxyphene: A banned painkiller once found in drugs such as Darvon and Darvocet.