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Drug Screening in the Workplace: Everything You Need to Know

CoAdvantage – Everything you need to know about drug screening your employees.

What is drug testing or drug screening?

Some employers test some or all of their employees for the presence of illegal substances, most commonly looking for indicators of marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), amphetamine, and/or opiate consumption. Drug testing can be conducted in several ways: pre-employment, random selection, and in isolated cases when an employee is suspected of intoxication or impairment.

Why might employers want to screen for drugs?

Studies show that drug use can be associated with increased absenteeism, increased accident and injury rates, and greater likelihood of performance problems. For example, according to an National Safety Council survey, employers have definitely felt the consequences of the opioid epidemic: over three-quarters say they have been affected by employee opioid use. By identifying employees who consume drugs, employers can prevent those problems and gain potential secondary benefits, like reduced insurance rates and reduced liability risk. The act of screening alone can also serve as an effective deterrent to drug use by employees.

Why might employers choose not to screen for drugs?

Drug screening programs can be expensive to administer, especially at scale. Additionally, they can alienate prospective and existing employees, which can worsen turnover rates and make recruitment more difficult.

Also, drug screening processes are not necessarily as cut-and-dry as they seem. An employee can test positive for certain substances, like marijuana, even if they haven’t consumed any for days or weeks prior. Drug tests can only tell if an employee has used a particular substance; they can’t necessarily determine if impairment or intoxication occurred, or when the employee last used the drug. Additionally, false positives are not uncommon. For example, common NSAIDS like Aleve, Motrin, and Advil can show a false positive for THC (marijuana).

Although there is no federal law prohibiting the use of drugs in the workplace, most companies are still allowed to carry out drug testing programs. Further, courts have generally found that pre-employment drug screening does not count as a medical examination under relevant regulations, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, though employers should have applicants and employees sign a release that explicitly allows test results to be shared with the employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions recommends that employers only administer drug screens after a condition offer of employment has been made, because the drug test can potentially necessitate asking medical questions depending on the results.

State laws can vary a great deal, and it is imperative that any employer consult with their legal advisors to understand the requirements under any jurisdiction in which they operate. For example, in some jurisdictions employers may only conduct random drug screening under certain conditions, e.g., it must be limited to occupations designated by the state labor commissioner as “high-risk” or “safety-sensitive.”

Should we screen for drugs?

Any organization considering drug testing needs to perform a cost-benefit analysis specific to their situation. Drug testing can potentially reduce lost productivity, absenteeism, accidents, and other problems. This may be particularly beneficial where workers operate heavy, potentially dangerous equipment that can incur significant safety risks.

But the downsides of drug screening can also be significant, not least of which is the erosion of employee experience that makes it harder to attract, hire and retain qualified candidates. How does it balance out? The answer to that question will vary according to each organization.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.