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What Should a Workplace Drug Testing Program Include?

Published on: February 9, 2017

Written by: Janet Russell.

Any company has the responsibility to provide a safe workplace to its employees, and one way to ensure that safety standards are met is by setting up a workplace drug testing program. In this article, we will discuss the standard requirements of a workplace drug testing program that works for both employee and company owner.

What is a Workplace Drug Testing Program?

workplace drug testing program office

This is a comprehensive program focused on illicit substances used by federal employees and in federally regulated industries.

Such program is especially needed in industries whose employees are required to operate machinery or handle people. This includes:

  • Health care workers
  • Drivers
  • Employees taking care of young and/or elderly
  • Employees who handle money
  • Employees who work with dangerous equipment, machinery and chemicals

Benefits and Drawbacks of Workplace Drug Testing

Workplace drug testing programs aim to filter out drug users and to stop drug use by members of the workforce. Some individuals may not welcome the idea of being tested for drugs or alcohol because of the following reasons:

  • Invasion of privacy
  • Fear of losing the job
  • Fear of being exposed and be treated unfairly
  • Unfair dismissal suits

See Also: What is a Workplace Drug Testing Policy

However, weighing the good over the bad, workplace drug testing has several advantages:

  • Increases productivity
  • Provides a safer workplace
  • Reduces potential workplace violence
  • Uplifts employee morale
  • Deters workers from using drugs
  • Helps employees with drug problems via the Employee Assistance Program
  • Increases the credibility of the company

Workplace Drug Testing Facts

More and more companies are developing their own drug testing programs as they see how beneficial it is for both the company and its employees.

Here are some interesting facts and figures about workplace drug testing:

Cost Savings Icon

drugs in the workplace

Penalties Against Employees Who Test Positive For Drugs

Any employee who is found positive with illicit substance may be penalized with any of the following:

  • Suspension without pay for 30 days
  • Immediate removal from duty
  • Referral to a substance abuse professional for assessment and recommendation
  • Requirement to complete a rehabilitation program
  • Termination after testing positive for the second time

Employees who refuse to cooperate or tamper with the specimen will be treated the same way as those who were found positive for drugs.

Drug Detection Time

The detection time of any drug may be affected by the following factors:

  • Age and current health condition
  • Height and weight
  • Quality of drug used
  • Frequency of use
  • pH of urine

What is a Medical Review Officer (MRO)?

Drug testing can only be performed with the supervision of a medical review officer who is a physician as well as an expert for alcohol and drug testing. This person should have clinical experience in controlled substance abuse, knowledge on issues related to specimen adulteration or substitution, and information regarding the DOT MRO Guidelines.

Learn More About Medical Review Officers

Starting a Workplace Drug Testing Program

It is important that every employee is provided with a safe and healthy environment to work in. Employers should be able to take measures in keeping the workplace as safe as possible. Not only can it maintain the credibility of the company, but it can also provide a conducive environment where employees can perform their duties as required of them.

workplace drug testing program for construction workers

Implementing a workplace drug testing program should be done with absolute care ensuring that employee’s rights are not violated to avoid having legal issues and litigation.

Here are some of the requirements to start a workplace drug testing program:

Substance Abuse Policy

There should be a clear, written policy that will benefit all employees regardless of their age, sex or ethnicity. The policy should specify the employer’s stand on drug use within the workplace, expectations from the employees and consequences to employees who are found to be positive with either alcohol or drugs.

Prior to letting the employees know about these, consulting an attorney is recommended to ensure that everything that the employer has written conforms to the state and federal laws that will affect drug testing procedures. Let all employees sign the policy stating that they will abide by the rule written on the policy.

Training Program for Supervisors/HR Personnel

The people mostly in contact with employees are the supervisors, managers and HR personnel. These people should undergo a training program wherein they will be able to positively identify anyone who may be working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

They will not be responsible for determining the cause of the abuse or to provide treatment. Instead, their main role is to identify and report any employee who is identified to be under the influence of illicit substances, and refer them to an Employee Assistance Program.

Employee Education

Employees should be fully aware of the company’s workplace drug testing program. All newly hired employees and current employees should understand the company’s goals and commitment in maintaining a drug-free workplace. The workplace policy can also be posted on the company’s website or printed materials can be distributed among the employees to show the unfavorable effects of drug and alcohol use.

Drug Testing Program

Employers should ensure that the written policy adheres to the federal and state requirements and clearly identifies who should be tested. Will it be the applicants, existing employees or both? State which substances will be tested and the frequency of drug testing.

The employer needs to decide on how drug testing should be performed:

  • Prior to employment
  • Prior to promotion or to another position wherein drug testing has been implemented
  • Scheduled drug testing: Employees are informed beforehand of the time when the drug testing will take place. This is usually done annually.
  • Random drug testing
  • Post-accident drug testing: This may be an important time to have the drug test to determine if the cause of the accident or injury is related to substance abuse.
  • Probable cause testing: Some employees may exhibit suspicious acts which would require a trained supervisor to positively identify if these signs and symptoms are caused by alcohol or drug use.
  • Return to Duty: This is done after an employee who has been tested positive for drugs reports back to work. This ensures that the individual comes in clean and ready to be part of the workforce again.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

All employees who tested positive for substance abuse are given another chance in life. The next step for these individuals is to be given the proper care on how they can lead normal lives without having to deal with illicit substances again. This program can help them by being able to identify the root cause of abuse by referring them to specialists for counseling, as well as follow-up services.

workplace drug testing program safety

SAMHSA: Primary Agency Involved in Workplace Drug Testing Program

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has been pulling out all the stops to ensure a safe environment for the general public. The agency monitors the behavioral health of the nation in order to reduce the impact of substance abuse as well as mental illnesses.

SAMHSA was established in 1992 to be the agency responsible for providing services related substance abuse and mental illness, and this includes research and development.

Advisory councils – composed of members of the public and professionals working in the field of substance abuse and mental health – have been created to help achieve the goal of SAMHSA: to disseminate information, provide treatment and services for people who have substance abuse and mental disorders, build support to the families of individuals with substance abuse and mental disorders and to promote better health for all communities in the United States.

The advisory councils are as follows:

  • SAMHSA National Advisory Council
  • Advisory Committee for Women’s Services
  • Center for Mental Health Services National Advisory Council
  • Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council
  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment National Treatment Council
  • Drug Testing Advisory Board
  • Tribal Technical Advisory Committee

Strategic initiatives are focused on meeting the behavioral health care needs of individuals, communities and service providers. Through these initiatives, SAMHSA will be able to do the following:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of substance use and mental disorders
  • Promote emotional health and wellness
  • Provide preventive measures in order to avoid individuals from having substance abuse and mental illnesses
  • Provide support that individuals need for their recovery

Drug Testing Advisory Board

The Drug Testing Advisory Board is responsible for advising SAMHSA with regards to the drug testing activities provided by drug testing laboratories and shall recommend areas which may need any changes including identifying any new abused substances and the methods to use in detecting the presence of these new drugs.

Federal Laws and Regulations

There are several regulations that govern workplace drug testing program and policies:

Civil Right Act of 1964

This law prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating individuals, regardless of gender, race, religion or nationality.

In companies who may have employees of different ethnicity, it is best to formulate a policy that everyone can benefit from regardless of race, gender or ethnicity and to ensure that the program is fairly enforced and may meet the needs of every individual.

Americans with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990

This law prohibits all U.S. employers from discriminating against qualified job applicants and employees because of physical disability. It also prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire or promote individuals with a history of substance abuse or denying opportunities for people enrolled in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

It is in no way allowed for any employer to submit an employee for drug testing simply because the individual looks or acts as though he/she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Certain medical conditions may have similar symptoms such as slurred speech or lack of coordination. Putting any employee on this predicament may result to being charged with discrimination.

The National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) of 1935

Any drug testing program that may affect unionized workers must be negotiated and agreed on with the union through a collective bargaining process. It should be clear among the members of the union on the date when the testing will be implemented as well as the penalties that will be imposed on members who test positive for drugs or alcohol.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993

This law applies to all public agencies and private employers with more than 50 employees wherein an employee who has worked for his employer for at least one year (or at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months) can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This can be used to take care of a spouse, child or parent who has a serious medical condition. This can also be used by employees who are to undergo treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, treatment of another physical illness related to substance use or in caring for a close family member who is undergoing treatment for these conditions.

Employers cannot fire, demote or refuse promotion to an employee who requests for 12 weeks off for the treatment of substance use disorder.

workplace drug testing program machinery operator

State and Local Laws and Regulations

Marijuana Legalization in the USThe different states in the U.S. adopt different policies and regulations that would affect company drug-free workplace policies. For instance, although marijuana is being legalized on certain states, the substance may still fall under certain policies wherein reporting for work under the influence is prohibited.

The primary aim of a workplace drug testing program is to provide a safer and healthier work environment. Some states would offer employers with drug-free workplace programs a discount on their worker’s compensation insurance premiums. Compensation benefits of workers who are injured and are found to be the result of substance use are denied by the state. Some states would also deny unemployment benefits if they have been found out to be fired from a previous job due to a positive drug test.


For more information about workplace drug testing program, please read our whitepaper on Creating a Drug-Free Workplace & Corporate Employee Drug Testing Policy.