June 2, 2021
4 Things You Must Know About Employment Drug Testing

Employment drug testing is a critical safety measure for many types of companies. It keeps your team safe, reduces liability, and ensures a more productive workplace. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that up to 50% of all workers’ compensation claims are related to workplace substance abuse. Drug and alcohol screening mitigates risks associated with substance abuse and reduces workers’ compensation claims involving drug or alcohol use.

Employees under the influence also affect productivity due to missed workdays and poor performance. Not to mention, they could put themselves and others at risk of injury.

Many businesses require pre-employment drug and alcohol testing to hire healthy, safe, and reliable employees. When you make it clear on a job application that an offer of employment may be contingent on the results of a drug test, you’ll also deter substance abusers from applying.

Like many things in the human resources world, however, drug and alcohol testing isn’t always black and white. Read on to discover:

  • When employers may conduct drug and alcohol testing
  • The various drug and alcohol testing methods
  • The legality of drug testing
  • Marijuana drug testing and its complications

When do employers administer drug and alcohol testing?

When and how an employer can conduct drug and alcohol testing often depends on state laws and company policy, which vary from state to state and company to company. As long as the employer follows those regulations, they may request a screening at the following times:

  • Pre-employment: A company requires screening before making a job offer or as a contingency for an offer. Employers must be consistent in how they drug test applicants. They can’t pick and choose which applicants to test for a specific job.
  • Random Selection: The employer randomly chooses employees to test.
  • Post-accident: An employer tests an employee after an incident that causes injury, damage, or a near miss. This can protect the employer from responsibility if an employee injures themselves while under the influence.
  • Reasonable Suspicion: An employee who appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job, has unexcused absences or lateness, or has decreased performance seemingly caused by drug or alcohol abuse may be required to complete a drug test.

What types of drug and alcohol testing do employers use?

Employers may use one of several drug and alcohol tests based on ease and what substances they are testing for. Some are more cost-effective and less invasive than others.

Urine Drug & Alcohol Tests

Urine drug testing is the most commonly used test for both applicants and employees. This method shows traces of drugs that remain in the body after the effects of the drugs have worn off.

Employers may require a urine drug test as part of the pre-employment screening or for random employee testing, especially for specific occupations. It typically screens for:

  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids (narcotics)
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol

Mouth Swab Drug & Alcohol Tests

Also known as a saliva test or oral fluids test, the mouth swab screening collects saliva from inside the mouth. This is one of the easiest and least invasive types of drug testing, which is why it’s commonly used for pre-employment, random or regular, and post-accident testing.

Substances are typically detectable in oral fluid within about 30 minutes of ingestion, meaning it’s much faster than other tests. The general detection window is five to 48 hours, but this can vary depending on the substance, amount, how often, or how long the individual used it.

A mouth swab test can detect: 

  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamine
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Opioids (narcotics)
  • Cannabis (THC)
  • PCP
  • Alcohol

Breath Alcohol Tests

A breathalyzer measures the amount of alcohol in the air a person exhales in a breath alcohol test. The device estimates how much alcohol is currently in the individual’s blood. A breathalyzer Does not indicate past use and only detects alcohol. 

Did you know? One ounce of alcohol stays in a person’s system for one hour.

Hair Drug Tests 

A hair drug test examines the hair follicle to show a 90-day window of drug use. This test only indicates past use, not current impairment due to drugs. Additionally, it does not detect alcohol use.

During a hair test, a technician cuts a small amount of hair close to the scalp to test for drugs in the hair shaft. This test can detect:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Amphetamines 
  • Methamphetamine
  • ecstasy
  • PCP

Blood Drug & Alcohol Tests

Blood drug and alcohol tests are very accurate but are also quite expensive and invasive. This method measures the amount of alcohol or drugs in the blood when the blood is drawn.

A blood test can detect both illegal drugs and alcohol, including: 

  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol

How can employers ensure lawful drug testing?

There is no federal requirement for most private employers to have any kind of drug-free workplace policy. Exceptions to this include:

  • Federal contractors and grantees
  • Safety- and security-sensitive industries and positions

Federal laws require these types of employers to prevent drug use in the workplace through actions like a written policy, such as the Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988. For example, industries regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation are covered by federal or state drug testing requirements.

Some laws protect the fundamental civil rights of certain types of employees by setting clear limits on how far an employer can investigate and establish consequences for employee drug use, including:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993
  • The National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) of 1935

Private employers have the legal right to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace and test applicants and employees. Employers that require drug screening must: 

  • Notify applicants and employees of the company’s drug-testing policies in advance, including pre-employment screening and random drug testing.
  • Requiring all applicants for the same job to undergo the same type of drug test.
  • Administering drug tests via a state-certified lab.

State laws vary, and some don’t have specific regulations on drug testing. Always check your state and local laws and consult your legal counsel to ensure your drug testing policy complies with legal requirements in your location.

What about marijuana drug testing? 

Although some states have legislation protecting medical marijuana users and others have even fully legalized it, the federal government has not yet legalized marijuana. This complicates marijuana use by employees and employer testing for the drug.

New York, for example, has enacted the Compassionate Care Act that provides protections for employees with medical marijuana prescriptions. These individuals are considered to have a “disability” under the New York State Human Rights Law.

Although employment drug and alcohol testing is a crucial safety requirement for many companies, it can be challenging to navigate this sensitive issue. As long as you follow applicable federal and state laws and put a clear drug and alcohol testing policy in place, it can go a long way to keep your employees and your company safe. 

If you need guidance on drug and alcohol screening in your workplace, BlueLion will be happy to help ensure your business is compliant. Contact us today at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.