Drug Free Workplace Act

Approximately 58% of organizations conduct drug and alcohol testing on both job applicants and current employees. For organizations with over 4,000 employees this number is higher at 62%. Of these respondents, 95% use urine tests and 23% use breath alcohol tests.

While these numbers may have declined in recent years, they are still a good indication of how alcohol and drug testing has become a critical part of keeping the American workplace safe and productive.

Prior to the 1980s, private corporations showed little interest in workplace alcohol and drug testing. Even the Federal Government only started drug testing in the late 1970s after rampant drug use among the U.S. military personnel returning from the Vietnam War came to light.

The concept of workplace drug testing however can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1914, Henry Ford established a “social department” whose main task was to monitor their employees’ lifestyles and the effects of said lifestyles on their performance at work. With a huge work force of some 14,000 at any particular time, turnover at Ford was high. Major areas of concern were drinking and gambling. It was a far cry from today’s drug free workplace programs, but the idea was there – by implementing his “social department”, Ford was able to cut down on his work force turnover from 360% in 1913 to 16% by 1915.

In 1981, a tragic accident aboard the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz killed 14 soldiers and injured 48. Damage to property was $150 million. It was found that 6 of the dead tested positive for marijuana upon autopsy. The Department of Defense responded by implementing several new policies and regulations on drug testing and imposing penalties for drug use and abuse. Other departments and industries followed suit and began instituting drug testing programs in an effort to tackle the growing epidemic of drug use and abuse in the workplace.

President Reagan and the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988

President Ronald Reagan saw drug abuse sweeping the military and the entire nation and understood the importance of and the benefits to implementing drug testing programs. He issued Executive Order 12564 banning all federal employees (on and off duty) from using drugs. This mandate was subsequently (albeit slowly) adopted by private corporations.

In support of this presidential initiative, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. They created a framework that expanded federal drug testing to cover private corporations with government contracts, all with the intention of reducing if not eliminating employee drug use at the workplace.

Soon after, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 was passed by the Department of Transportation. It made drug testing a requirement for all DOT truck drivers.

Employers began realizing that increased productivity and lessened incidences of injuries and damage to property were direct benefits of implementing drug testing in the workplace. New York State implemented Code Rules 60 and 59, under which they provide monetary incentives (like a direct reduction of workers’ compensation rates ranging from 2-10%) to businesses that put up their own drug-free workplace programs.

Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988: Requirements

“The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires some Federal contractors and ALL Federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a Federal agency.”

The specific components of meeting these requirements vary depending on whether the federal contractor or grantee is an individual or an organization. Needless to say, organizational requirements are more comprehensive as they have to establish actual workplace drug testing programs. Among the processes that organizations seeking a federal contract are the following:

  • Create a written Drug-free Workplace Policy statement and distribute copies to all employees covered by it. The policy must explicitly state the prohibition of “unlawful use, manufacture, dispensation, distribution or possession of a controlled substance” in the workplace as mandated by law. Disciplinary action against policy violators must also be clearly stated.
  • Formulate a drug-free awareness campaign within the workplace.
  • Require employees to abide by the policy terms and to inform the company in case of drug-related crimes committed by the employee. The same must be required of employees working for contracting or granting agencies.

While private corporations that have no plans of entering into federal contracts or grants are not required to comply, they are free to establish (and actually encouraged to establish) their own  drug-free workplace policy that best applies to their organization.