Drug testing is one way you can protect your workplace from the negative effects of alcohol and other drug abuse. A drug testing program can deter people from coming to work unfit for duty and also discourage alcohol and other drug abusers from joining your organization in the first place.
Some employers believe that a drug free workplace program and drug testing are one and the same; however, drug testing is only one element of a program. Drug testing may be appropriate for some organizations and not others. In some cases drug testing is required; in others, it is optional. When drug testing is optional, the decision about whether or not to test will depend on a variety of factors such as the cost, appropriateness, and feasibility.
When considering a drug testing program, the first question to ask is, "Am I required to conduct drug test on some or all of my employees?" If not, then ask, "Are there other reasons I should consider drug testing?" Below are some of the most frequent reasons employers give for having a drug testing program:
To comply with Federal regulations, e.g., the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Energy.
To comply with customer or contract requirements.
To comply with insurance carrier requirements.
To match other employer efforts, and to minimize the chance of hiring employees who may be users or abusers.
To reinforce the company position on "no drug use".
To identify current users and abusers and refer them for assistance To establish grounds for discipline or firing.
To improve safety.
To convince "casual users" that the cost of using is too high.
To deter "recreational" drug use that could lead to addiction.
To reduce the costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in the workplace.
To give recovering users another reason to stay sober (relapse prevention).
Below are examples of situations in which drug testing might be appropriate or necessary:
Pre-Employment Tests. Offering employment only after a negative drug test result. Goal:To decrease the chance of hiring someone who is currently using or abusing drugs.
Pre-Promotion Tests. Testing employees prior to promotion within the organization. Goal:To decrease the chance of promoting someone who is currently using or abusing drugs.
Annual Physical Tests. Testing employees for alcohol and other drug use as part of their annual physical. Goal:To identify current users and abusers so they can be referred for assistance and/or disciplinary action.
Reasonable Suspicion and For Cause Tests. Testing employees who show obvious signs of being unfit for duty (For Cause) or have documented patterns of unsafe work behavior (Reasonable Suspicion). Goal:To protect the safety and well-being of the employee and other coworkers and to provide the opportunity for rehabilitation if the employee tests positive.
Random Tests. Testing a selected group of employees at random and unpredictable times. Most commonly used in safety- and security-sensitive positions. Goal:To discourage use and abuse by making testing unpredictable, and to identify current users and abusers so they can be referred for assistance and/or disciplinary action if needed.
Post-Accident Tests. Testing employees who are involved in an accident or unsafe practice incident to help determine whether alcohol or other drug use was a factor. Goal:To protect the safety of the employees, and to identify and refer to treatment those persons whose alcohol or other drug use threatens the safety of the workplace.
Treatment Follow-up Tests. Periodically testing employees who return to work after participating in an alcohol or other drug rehabilitation program. Goal:To encourage and ensure that employees remain drug-free after they have completed the first stages of treatment.
An effective drug testing program needs a drug testing policy. This may be part of the organization’s drug-free workplace policy, or it may be a separate document. It should be distributed to all employees. The best protection against future legal challenges is to write a policy that is as detailed and specific as possible.
While the overall drug-free workplace policy should apply to everyone in an organization, the drug testing policy may apply only to some employees. Therefore, the testing policy should clearly identify the employee positions included in the testing program. The policy should also indicate under what circumstances employees in each position will be tested.
Employers who are required to drug test by one or more Federal agencies should refer to the specific regulations to determine the types of testing that are required (i.e., random, post-accident, etc.). Employers whose employees are members of a union or collective bargaining unit should know that unless drug testing is required by law or regulation, it will likely be a mandatory subject of bargaining.
Before beginning a drug testing program, carefully consider how you will handle a positive drug test result. The actions that will be taken in response to a positive drug test should be clearly detailed in the written policy. Although there are many options, common responses include referring the employee for treatment, disciplinary measures, or discharge.
Examples: If an applicant tests positive, she or he is usually denied employment. Some employers will allow the applicant to reapply after a period of time (e.g., 3 months). If an employee tests positive as part of a post-accident or reasonable suspicion test, the first response should be to remove that person from his or her position, especially if the job is safety-related.
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