Workplace drug testing is common for numerous industries.
There are valid reasons for the practice, but it’s also important to know your rights.
The Hazards of Workplace Substance Abuse
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cites data from a 2013 study that indicates of the 22 million illicit drug users in the U.S., nearly 70 percent were employed part or full time.
Additionally, the data revealed “Of adult binge drinkers, 79.3 percent (41.2 million people) are employed either full or part time. Of adult heavy drinkers, 76.1 percent (12.4 million people) are employed.”
Workplace injuries and fatalities caused by substance abuse are higher than most people realize. Facing Addiction with NCADD, among other sources below, provides these details:
- Approximately 35 percent of individuals suffering occupational injuries were at-risk drinkers.
- Roughly 16 percent of ER patients injured on the job tested positive for alcohol.
- Eleven percent of individuals who died from job-related accidents were drinking at the time.
- Marijuana is the most commonly-used drug, according to the National Safety Council. The National Families in Action based in Atlanta provides information in a study how marijuana creates safety issues in occupations that involve transportation or heavy machinery operation.
- Prescription drug use continues to be a problem in the services sectors, rural workers, and professionals in extraction and construction industries—nearly 16 percent of these workers have substance abuse problems.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) cites a U.S. Department of Labor report that substance abuse is the cause of “65 percent of the on-the-job accidents, and 38–50 percent of workers’ compensation claims are related to the abuse of drugs or alcohol in the workplace.”
Other employment factors compromised by drug or alcohol use include absenteeism, theft, lost productivity, job turnover, and low morale.
Proponents for drug testing advocate on behalf of all workers’ health, safety, and welfare. There may also legal obligations for federal agencies, schools, hospitals, defense, transportation, and other key industries to prove through structured drug testing measures employees are substance-free, in accordance with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. In addition, some say workplace drug testing helps keep health insurance costs down, and can provide individuals and families with resources in the event there’s a substance use problem.
Employers also have a legal obligation to properly inform all employees of drug testing procedures. All workers have a right to a clear understanding of an organization’s drug-free policy.
Guidelines for a Drug-Free Workplace
As an employee or prospective employee, you have a right to receive comprehensive information about drug testing and the drug-free program at your company. Many employers are required to follow state and/or federal regulations regarding drug testing and have certain transparency regarding policy and procedures.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines possible testing methods you should know, including:
- Suspicion or cause within reason
- After an accident
- Return to work post-accident
- Follow-up after injury, leave, or suspension
It should also be made clear the methods that may be used, including hair, saliva, sweat, or urine.
OSHA outlines that an employer must have a written policy outlining a number of important points:
- Why the policy exists
- A clear definition of prohibited behaviors
- A full explanation of consequences for policy violation
A qualitative workplace drug prevention program should also provide detailed training and information to supervisors, and education to employees about the dangers of substance use and its impact on job performance, along with resources for assistance, if necessary.
Often people have many questions regarding ethical drug screening practices. Workplace Fairness.org compiled a list of the most commonly-asked questions and their answers. Here are just a few:
Q: Is it legal for my employer to require a drug test?
A: Yes—this includes federal, state, and private employers, although in the non-government sector, certain state or local laws have different privacy requirements.
Q: If I apply for a job, is it legal for the company to make me go through a drug screening?
A: Yes, but this mandate may differ by state law, and if policy, must be a factor for all prospective employees, not just a select few.
Q: If I’m going through an employee assistance rehabilitation or counseling program due to substance use, can my employer still make me take a drug test?
A: Yes. The employer has the right to testing to make sure you’re following the program.
Q: Is it legal for my employer to have someone watch me during a urine test?
A: No. But your employer can enact other procedures to avoid sample tampering, such as requiring you to change into a hospital gown, having someone in the same facility while you use a bathroom stall to listen during elimination, or checking the specimen temperature.
Q: Am I able to refuse a drug screen?
A: Yes, but keep in mind you may not be hired for a prospective position, or you may be fired from your current job, without recourse against existing policy or the possibility of unemployment benefits.
Quick tips from the Privacy Rights Organization detail how medical records and drug testing may coincide with your employee rights.
Watch Out for Workplace Stressors
There are numerous resources and support personnel if you feel substance use is an escape from job-related pressures. For example, Twin Lakes has options for 12-Step programs, as well as outpatient services in Athens and Gainesville that offer assistance.