Frequently Asked Questions About Employment Drug Testing Policies


Drug testing is an important tool for many companies. It can help prevent accidents and injuries, boost employee morale and save costs related to turnover and workers’ compensation claims. However, employers must ensure their policy aligns with federal, state and local civil rights and workers’ compensation laws. Otherwise, they can face lawsuits for invasion of privacy and discrimination.

What is a Drug Testing Policy?

A drug testing policy is a statement of how your company will handle workplace drug tests. It should include information about what drugs your company will test for and when. It should also specify the repercussions for any employees who test positive for drugs and how the business will decide whether a worker has abused alcohol or drugs. Some companies require all new hires to pass a pre-employment drug test. Others limit drug screening to specific job categories, such as long-haul truck drivers or oil and gas workers. Some regulated industries require all employees to have a drug testing policy, including contractors working on federal projects.

Other employers may conduct drug tests on employees after a work-related accident or near-miss. They might also test employees when there is reasonable suspicion that the worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or when they are returning to work after being on leave for addiction treatment. It is important to consider the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act when drafting a policy for your company. Your company should provide a copy of the policy to all employees. Generally, it will make the policy part of an overall employee handbook or complete signing the document as a condition of employment.

Applicants and current employees have various legal options regarding their company’s drug testing policies, depending on state laws, where they live and work and federal laws. Some states have specific rules requiring companies to test job applicants for drugs and alcohol before they hire them. These laws may also require employers to pay for screenings and include them in workers’ paychecks. Federally, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division regulates this and other workplace-related issues. The most common type of employment drug testing is the urinalysis, which tests for several substances. Employers often use it in pre-employment screening, as part of a random drug testing program, or on a “for cause” basis, such as when a supervisor observes an employee’s behavior that suggests they might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work. The best way to communicate an employee drug-testing policy is by meeting with the entire staff and explaining it in person. Then, the policy can be distributed in writing so that everyone knows it. A written policy is essential because it provides clear guidelines for employees unfamiliar with the need to become more aware of drug testing procedures.

A drug testing policy can be a very sensitive issue for employees. Even if federal law doesn’t require it, employers must be aware of privacy concerns and potential discrimination issues. Because of this, the employer must be consistent and clear with employees about what is covered and how to proceed in the event of a violation. It is also important to keep up with changing laws at the state and local levels and any changes that affect the status of certain substances, such as medical marijuana or e-cigarettes. Many states have specific test administration procedures, including how they should be conducted and whether a third party must verify the results. In addition, the ADA and other federal regulations protect employees from being singled out for testing based on their protected characteristics or medical conditions. Many symptoms that indicate drug use, such as slurred speech or lack of coordination, can result from a serious illness or a medication used to treat an ongoing medical condition, such as diabetes or low blood sugar. Companies are typically allowed to test employees following an incident that may have been brought on by drug impairment or when they have a solid suspicion that an employee is abusing drugs at work. Companies are usually also allowed to test employees if the job involves a high risk of injury if the person is working under the influence.

Drug testing policies can be a legal minefield for employers. Employers must be sure their policies are clear and do not violate federal or state laws on privacy, discrimination, or invasion of rights. In addition, companies must be careful not to target employees with legally prescribed drugs or medications (like sleep aids for insomnia). The National Labor Relations Act also applies to unionized workplaces. If a company wants to implement a drug testing policy affecting current or incoming workers, it must negotiate with the union formally. The legality of drug tests often depends on how the test is conducted rather than what is found in the urine or blood sample. For instance, some states limit how early in the testing process a company can require an employee to submit to a test or whether an employer can use pre-employment test results as grounds for rejecting an employment application. Some states also regulate how a company can obtain test results from outside laboratories, which must follow strict scientific procedures. Depending on the situation, some states also allow workers to refuse a drug test or to provide a doctor’s note excusing them from a test. Refusal to take a drug test can frequently result in disciplinary action, including firing.

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