Whether you’re just setting up shop or got caught up in a lawsuit, businesses have many different reasons for developing an employee drug and alcohol testing policy. A solid drug testing policy is the first line of defense to protect your company from potential liability and avoid workplace accidents and injuries.
Creating a drug and alcohol policy can be a complex undertaking, depending on the size, location and funding sources of your company. Business owners must also consider the cost of implementing an employee drug testing program, which can range anywhere from initial pre-employment screening of applicants to ongoing, random testing of all employees.
Drawing up a company drug and alcohol policy from scratch? Your first stop is in the legal department to investigate the relevant laws in each state your company operates with paid employees. Approximately 30 states have specific laws regarding employee drug testing. The remainder have no specific requirements or limitations, though they give private businesses the freedom to develop their own policies.
Businesses with employees in multiple states – a situation that has become commonplace – face a special challenge in delineating a policy that both covers their needs and is legally fair to all their employees. However, these business owners have an even greater need to develop a thorough, clear employee drug testing policy. That way, expectations and procedures are easily communicated, understood and enforced, no matter where an employee works.
Every business must look at its own unique needs and challenges to decide whether a drug and alcohol testing program is necessary and, if it is, which employees will be required to participate in it. Companies with two distinct labor forces – corporate office support staff and direct care service delivery staff, may opt to outline an individual policy for each group. Larger companies have even more diverse worker classifications and may segment them into different testing groups.
Within the private and local government workforce, workers in safety-sensitive jobs, such as those in the health, education, and child care fields, often are subject to drug testing by their employer. Those individuals employed by state agencies regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation fall under the Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug & Alcohol Testing. 49 CFR Part 40 requires that all regulated transportation industry employees be subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing screening for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP.
Regardless of which state laws employers are following, they cannot discriminate against employees with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse by compelling them to take additional drug tests. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that employees who are “successfully rehabilitated and who are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs” can’t be subjected to unique scrutiny. They have to be treated the same under the company’s drug and alcohol testing program.
Many employers test for the standard five drugs: marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP, though others also choose to screen for alcohol and other substances. According to the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, specific tests are also available for several other drugs, including:
Your company drug and alcohol policy should delineate exactly how drug tests will be administered. Will employees be directed to provide a urine sample or submit to a blood draw? This must be clearly stated in your policy and should not be arbitrarily changed, unless expressly written in the policy.
More extensive testing comes with a greater cost, of course, and more complicated collection procedures – think blood tests vs. urine tests. For these reasons, businesses often stick with the basic five panel urine drug screen. However, many companies that employ workers in safety-sensitive positions can’t afford to be conservative. They may choose a more extensive testing panel to further aid in preventing property damage or bodily injury. They choose a different testing method with a longer window of detection that limits opportunities to cheat the test. These various methods include:
Deciding when and how frequently to test employees also requires you to analyze the level of liability coverage your business needs. To cover the most basic employee drug testing, many companies create policies that require pre-employment screening and also give the employer the right to test if they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe that an employee is impaired while on the job.
As a compliment to their outgoing workplace safety programs, many companies include random or regularly scheduled drug testing in their policies, as well. Extra cautious workplaces, such as those in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, mandate employees submit to both random and scheduled testing.
Another common drug testing scenario that may be written into a company policy involves conducting “post accident” screening following a workplace accident . Because of the emergent nature of the situation, employees who are subject to this policy should understand it and be directed to execute it promptly. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s policy protecting whistleblowers says that employers cannot use drug testing as a method of intimidation or retaliation against employees who are involved in an accident. It’s another legal issue surrounding drug testing of which employers must be aware.
Decide in advance whether employees can be tested at the workplace or job site, or if they’ll go to a facility or clinic to complete their test. When employees are required to travel to fulfill their test obligation, consider how they’ll get there. Many employers send a supervisor with the worker to ensure the employee is transported to the testing facility as efficiently as possible. Arranging for on-site testing can alleviate this additional step and is strongly recommended for reasonable suspicion testing, and post accident testing that does not require medical treatment.
Once you have developed and refined your company’s drug testing policy, take the time to share it with your employees. Encourage them to ask questions in a forum or privately, and answer them without judgement. Or, anticipate some common questions and answer them up front. That way, when testing day comes, there’s not much to say, but “Your number’s up. Here’s your cup.”
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