Why Workplace Drug Testing Is Needed
According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 68.9 percent of the estimated 22.4 million illicit drug users of ages 18 or older are employed full time or part-time.
Alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription drug abuse can negatively impact the workplace and cause declines in productivity, employee morale, and overall economic outcome. For this reason, many organizations implement a zero tolerance drug policy whether mandated by federal laws or implemented in accordance with the company’s own regulations.
In a study published in 2014, it was found that about 58 percent of organizations in the United States conducted pre and post-employment drug testing among workers, while 62 percent of establishments that had a workforce of over 4,000 employees implemented such screening procedures.
Drug Abuse in the Workplace Statistics
There are a lot of significant facts and statistics that need to be taken into consideration regarding drug abuse and statistics in the workplace. Here are a few of them:
In some industries, as much as 12.3% of employees abuse drugs and 15.7% of employees abuse alcohol according to the white office drug policy desk.
Construction and mining jobs are particularly susceptible to these levels, partially because of the higher concentration of men in their typical workforce. Many companies are unaware that a large percentage of drug and alcohol abusers are actually in their employment and this is ultimately affecting their workplace productivity levels. This is one of the many reasons that random drug testing is an important part of any workplace.
According to SAMSHA, many younger workers between the ages of 18 and 25 use drugs and 9.3 million full-time employees have abused drugs in the last month.
This shows that while drug use may not always be clearly evident, it is often present in employees’ lives on and off the job site. This is especially true for younger employees who are just beginning to be employed and are more likely to use such substances in their free time. While it may seem that such use outside of work would not and should not affect the workplace, it often does, causing workplace injury, accidents and extraneous sick days for many employers. In the event of a serious accident or injury, employers can conduct post-accident drug testing.
Illegal drug users between the ages of 18 and 64 are full-time employees; that’s 57.4% of drug abusers according to the Bureau of Justice.
Many assumptions are made about substance abusers which simply aren’t true. Many assume they are more likely to be unemployed, socially inept, mentally inferior, and have low income. The fact is that most substance abusers are middle class, highly intelligent, socially active and otherwise law-abiding. Maintaining a job is important to a user for many reasons, among them consistent income to afford those substances, access to employer and fellow employee items that can be stolen and used for profit, access to other substance users who can either act as sources or who may purchase them from the employee.
For every $1 spent on drug abuse prevention, there is a $20 return on that investment according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.
This is in large part due to the reduction of workplace waste both in time and in productivity that comes with substance abuse. By having a drug program and investing in the education and random drug testing of employees many employers are able to improve the productivity and employee absentee rate through prevention and through drug counseling or termination for positive drug test results. This also makes an impact on the health of employees as many who abuse substances are prone to higher rates of illness and more serious health conditions like heart, liver and lung disease. Employers who invest in a random drug testing and education program help prevent loss of productivity, improve overall employee well-being, reduce the risk of workplace accidents and injury and reduce the rate of substance abuse among their employees.
According to a nationwide study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), 70% of all drug abusers in the country are currently employed.
These drug abusers are 10 times more likely to miss work, and 3 times more likely to be less productive than an average worker. They are 5 times more likely to file for workers’ comp and almost 4 times as likely to get into a workplace accident determined by post-accident drug testing programs. They cost, on average, twice as much as an average worker with regards to their healthcare costs. And due to all those reasons, they tend to change jobs almost 3 times more than the rest of the workforce.
Drug users and entrepreneurs both have addictive behavioral tendencies.
According to The New York Times¹, entrepreneurs and CEOs who are serially dedicated to their work exhibit the same addictive personality traits as routine drug abusers. Both subsets of the population have a desire for novelty and reward, which means executive-level workers can be equally at risk of developing an addiction as other members of the workplace.
Other facts and statistics on workplace substance abuse:
- After random drug testing almost 12 million employees in 2011, almost 3.5% (about 400,000 people) of tests came back positive.
- Marijuana was the top drug that people were busted for, with about half of that 3.5% of positive results being for marijuana.
Prescription drug abuse follows suit, which is a concern for both young and older employees. Oxycodone and opiate-based prescription drugs were the top two groups among prescription drugs abused. Prescription drug abuse seems to be a concern mostly for urban, white-collar employees. All together they made up about 30% of all the positive drug test results.
- Amphetamine and methamphetamine were the third most common group, making up about 15-20% of positive results.
Also on the rise, and a concern mostly for young people, are synthetic drugs like synthetic marijuana and synthetic cocaine.
Impact of Workplace Drug Use
The effects of substance abuse among workers can be debilitating for the organization as it affects various aspects that influence productivity, economic output, employee morale, and health care costs. Here are some of the effects of workplace drug use:
Tardiness and absenteeism
Chronic use of alcohol or illicit drugs can cause an employee to incur increased tardiness and absenteeism. Addiction is characterized by a compulsive pattern of substance use to the point where a person is unable to perform his duties and responsibilities. When an abuser’s life purpose revolves around the use of the drugs or substances, he loses his motivation to pursue his career aspirations. As a result, he neglects his daily work responsibilities.
In 2011, it was estimated that the reduction in workplace efficiency due to drug-related causes resulted in about $120 billion GDP losses. Implementing a random drug testing program can encourage employees to stay focused. Reporting for work under the influence of drugs can result in productivity losses. Most drugs affect cognitive skills. They also impair reasoning, judgment, concentration, and memory. Habitual users may be unable to perform even the most simple tasks properly when heavily intoxicated or high on drugs. As such, they could not meet work output targets or perform their jobs as required.
Drug addiction can also increase the organization’s employee attrition or turnover rates. Drug users are more likely to lose their jobs and move from one organization to the next compared to non-drug users.
Recruiting and training new employees may be expensive for companies. The cost can amount to 25% to 200% of the employee’s annual compensation, according to this article. In addition, high turnover rates can affect overall employee morale in the workplace.
Accidents and Fatalities
Many disability claims can be attributed to substance abuse. A study showed that employees who abuse alcohol or drugs are three and a half times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident.
The effects of the drugs on the employee’s mental functioning and coordination place him at an increased risk for workplace accidents. If his job involves operating machinery or driving an automobile, he likewise places co-workers and the public at risk for accidents or injuries.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues guidelines for FAA drug testing, the Department of Transportation (DOT) offers rules to follow as well. 2010 survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that 18% of fatally injured drivers had tested positive for illicit drugs. Another study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 35.4% of drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 had admitted to driving under the influence of impairing substances.
As addicts and abusers need to find means to continue to support their drug use, they are inclined to commit theft, swindling activities, robberies and related crimes in order to gain sufficient finances to purchase the drugs. This places the co-workers and the workplace at risk for losing company assets, supplies, or personal belongings.
Increased health care costs
Employees with substance abuse issues are more likely to incur health care costs compared to their peers. Chronic drug use places them at a higher risk of developing serious health conditions that can cause a drain on the company health insurance. It is estimated that American companies spend about $81 billion yearly on drug abuse-related health care expenses.
How Substance Abuse Affects Job Performance
Often employers make the decision not to adopt random drug testing and/or post-accident drug testing policies because they are confident in their ability to spot substance abuse problems in their employees. Unfortunately, these problems rarely become evident until further into the downward spiral of addiction. Beginning users may not always show the typical signs of a “user” but the substances in his or her system can still impair their ability to function efficiently as an employee. Below is an overview of the symptoms, signs, and effects associated with substance abuse as they relate to the workplace.
Entry Level Abuse
At this point, the employee has moved on from recreational use of drugs and alcohol. Now, these chemicals are required to help the employee cope with the stress of their lives. While you may not know this has happened, you can start to see the tell-tale signs of abuse affecting performance:
- Increased lateness and absenteeism
- Increased errors, particularly those associated with a lack of attention or bad judgment
- Increased number of missed deadlines
Overall, a marked decline in efficiency occurs. However, these changes could be explained by other problems, such a divorce, illness in the family, or other personal situations.
Phase 2 Level Abuse
Soon enough the employee will develop the habit of drinking secretively to hide an increase in intake. At this point, you’ll see another marked slide in overall performance and one that is more difficult to explain away.
- Lack of dependability
- An increase in hospitalization, injuries, and vague afflictions which lead to more days missed from work
- Lack of concentration
- Reduced quality of work
Phase 3 Level Abuse
By now, employers should begin to take notice of the problem. However, they may not make the connection between poor work performance and substance abuse. As the problem worsens, the employee will begin to show more serious signs such as:
- Repeated disappearance after lunch
- Refusal to discuss the possibility of substance abuse problems
- A marked decrease in impulse control
- May have financial and legal problems
- Increased absenteeism – sometimes lasting for three to five consecutive days
- Refusal to communicate with anyone
When the user reaches this point, he has stopped even pretending to use substances for other purposes. Now he or she uses primarily alone and replaces meals with these chemicals.
Highest Level Abuse
A point comes in the existence of the user when he or she may reach "rock bottom". That would usually come at this level of substance abuse. Because now, the user views work as an inconvenience that gets in the ways of being able to use, he or she may accept random drug testing as an easy way to get out of work or may even simply disappear without returning to the office for a long period of time.
Overall, by this point, other parts of the user’s life have begun to fall apart, including marriages and family relationships. Money is scarce. Absences are many and usually are no explanation is even attempted in most cases. By this point, the worker has become completely incompetent if he or she is showing up at all.
Phases of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Drinking alcohol and misusing drugs can bring detrimental effects to an individual’s job performance. However, many people still drink alcohol and take drugs for a variety of reasons. Some drink occasionally to socialize, to feel ease, to get drunk and forget problems. Some simply drink because everybody does it. At some point, people take drugs to feel high and avoid feeling drowsy during duty hours, especially during night shifts.
What employees do not realize are the side effects of drugs on their job performance. This is the reason why every workplace is encouraged to research the benefits of having a random drug test program.
During the first phase, a person may drink alcohol to relieve tension, increase tolerance to alcohol, or cover up any insecurity. At first try, a person who awakens from alcohol or drug use experience memory blackout and lie about the use.
- Overreaction to criticisms (i.e. a person may be too defensive upon accuse)
- Complaining about not feeling well, as a result of a hangover. A person who awakens from alcohol or drug use usually experiences headaches and nausea.
- Obvious change in behavior, such as sudden paranoia and defensiveness. At some point, a person can become very talkative.
Effects on job performance:
- Missed deadlines
- Leaving job early for some reasons
- Miscommunication with co-workers when under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Inability to make sound decisions because of poor judgment and inattentiveness
- Decreased work efficiency and reliability
During the middle phase, a person may feel guilty about his habit causing him or her to sneak drinks or drugs. In this phase, a person may start experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not being able to take alcohol and drugs, such as tremors, nausea, headache, and loss of appetite.
- Expressing nonsense thoughts that the employer and co-workers cannot understand
- Leaving the house without asking permission
- Avoiding the chance to socialize with associates
- Borrowing big amount of money from co-worker
- Incurring repeated minor injuries on and off the job due to petty quarrels
- Experiencing unreasonable resentment
Effects on job performance:
- Taking frequent days off due to unexplained ailment
- Inability to focus on important assignments in the job, oftentimes showing poor performance in the job
- Habitual absence on the job
- Inability to think straight and decide under pressure
- Becoming impatient especially when there are difficult tasks
- Poor work organization
Late Middle Phase
During the late middle phase, a person may start to avoid discussing issues and problems at work, at home, or with friends. Oftentimes, the drug addicted person may prefer to be alone upon experiencing slight psychological disturbance, such as paranoia. This situation can also lead to lack of appetite, loss of interest to socialize with family and friends, and loss of self-control.
- Becoming more aggressive, pretentious, and talkative
- Obvious display of reduced ethical values
- Frequent misunderstanding with co-workers and employer
- Poor performance
- Increasing absences
- Increased instances of hospitalization
Effects on job performance:
- Job performance is very poor
- Absences exceeds the allowed number of days
During the late phase, a person may become fully dependent on alcohol and drugs. A person may either get used to working while under the influence of alcohol and drugs or resign from work because of loss of concentration. Some employees who have gotten used to drinking and taking drugs may still be able to work efficiently, but most would significantly fail in their career. Unfortunately, many employers do not learn of a worker's drug abuse until they have to issue post-accident drug testing:
- Becoming totally unreliable or irresponsible
- Noticeable display of physical deterioration, such as decreased self-esteem
- Increase in financial problems
- Experiencing serious family problems (e.g. divorce, tarnished relationships with parents and siblings)
Effects on job performance:
- Prolonged and unexpected absences on the job
- Inability to properly perform tasks
- Person becomes generally incompetent
Workplace Drug Testing FAQs
Employers and workers alike have numerous queries when it comes to workplace drug testing. Here are some of the answers to most frequently asked questions:
Q: Can an employer implement a random drug testing program?
A: Yes. Some corporations and industries are required by federal laws to enforce anti-drug policies. Pursuant to such regulations, employers can conduct random drug testing in the workplace. Other companies which are not so mandated by federal law, may likewise implement a Drug-Free Workplace policy to protect the health and safety of the workplace. Random drug testing has been found to be an effective deterrent to workplace drug use.
Q: Can an employee be tested and subsequently terminated based on a positive THC result, even when medical or recreational marijuana is allowed in the state?
A: Yes. Because marijuana (recreational or medical) is illegal under federal law, state laws permitting its use do not afford an employee protection against federal prosecution. Supreme Court decisions have held that despite compliance with state laws on the use, possession, and acquisition of marijuana, an employee may be validly terminated based on a positive drug test. If it is found via post-accident drug testing that an employee caused an injury as the result of THC, they may be legally terminated.
Q: Can an employer conduct pre-employment drug testing?
A: Yes. Potential employees may be tested as a condition of employment. This is subject to the requirement that all incoming employees are tested and that no single applicant is discriminated against.
Some states, however, have limitations on pre-employment drug testing. For example, California allows a drug test only after an applicant has received an offer of employment conditioned on passing the test. In other states, employers are required to indicate in their job postings that testing is required.
Q: What does “reasonable suspicion” to test for drugs mean?
A: Reasonable suspicion means that an employer has a legitimate reason, based on logic and facts, to believe that an employee has been taking drugs. It is more than speculation or discrimination but may be based on any of the following:
- Direct observation of drug use or physical symptoms indicating drug use;
- Abnormal conduct;
- A report from a reliable source that the employee is using drugs;
- Evidence that an employee has tampered with his drug test results;
- Erratic behavior at work or significant deterioration in work performance;
- Evidence that an employee has used, possessed, sold, solicited, or transferred drugs while working.
The “reasonable suspicion” test is utilized by some companies regardless of whether or not they have DOT-regulated employees. Pilots and airline operators specifically also need to undergo periodic FAA drug testing. Some industries, however, are required by the DOT to conduct “reasonable suspicion” training for supervisors and managers.
Q: What if an employee refuses to cooperate?
A: An employer may not compel an employee to submit to a search or to undergo random drug testing. However, employers are allowed to include a provision in their policies that employees who refuse to submit a sample for screening will be subject to termination.
Q: What disciplinary sanctions may an employer impose for an employee’s failure to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace policy?
A: The employer has the discretion to impose the appropriate sanctions. Most companies provide in their policies that employees who test positive for drugs will be subject to immediate termination. Others may allow the employee to undergo rehabilitation. It is important that these consequences are explicitly provided in the policy and that the employees are made aware of the same so that they may be validly held liable for non-compliance.
Q: Is an employer allowed to post the results of the drug tests?
A: No. All information regarding random drug testing should be kept absolutely confidential and may be shared only with supervisors or managers. In fact, the ADA requires that drug test results be kept in a separate medical file. Any willful or negligent violation of the confidentiality requirement can result in a legal action against the company.
Q: What remedies are available to an employee who wants to contest the results of a drug test?
A: State laws vary as to the actions a worker may take when he believes that a positive test result is inaccurate. If the worker belongs to a union, he may refer to the grievance procedures or mechanisms so allowed. He may also consult the Department of Labor or a private attorney. Best practice recommends that the workplace policy also includes provisions for an employee’s recourse or appeal in such cases.
Employer Rights and Responsibilities
The employer has the right to protect the business from drug-related losses resulting from inefficiency, tardiness, workplace accidents, and health care costs. In pursuing the goal of preventing such incidents or reducing these risks, the employer is entitled to pursue certain remedies.
For instance, an organization may enforce a Drug-Free Workplace policy. It must be written and inform the employees of his rights and responsibilities. A comprehensive anti-drug program must contain the following:
- Purpose and objectives of the program;
- Definition of substance abuse;
- Who is covered by the policy;
- Under what circumstances post-accident drug testing will be conducted;
- Employee rights to confidentiality;
- Employee remedies when contesting results from random drug testing;
- Educational opportunities for employees regarding substance abuse;
- Disciplinary actions;
- Prevention, intervention, and treatment options.
In implementing such policies, the company must also ensure that the program is well-publicized to protect the employees’ rights to be informed of the organization’s policies.
Other measures that an organization may include the following:
- Implement educational programs on the workplace risks associated with drug use and heavy alcohol consumption;
- Initiate company health and wellness programs to promote work-life balance and encourage healthy lifestyles;
- Offer or provide access to employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide information, resources, and counseling on issues related to substance use, mental health, stress, work and family problems, and related concerns;
- Offer a comprehensive health plan that includes a coverage for substance abuse screening, counseling, therapy, and after-care treatment;
- Conduct pre-employment and random drug testing pursuant to state laws or federal laws and in compliance with company policies.
Legality of Workplace Drug Testing
Some industries are mandated by federal law to observe and implement anti-drug policies. These include those involved in safety-sensitive transportation, those who handle classified information, and those who perform obligations related to national security. In a lot of decisions, the Supreme Court has held that although drug testing may infringe on an employee’s rights to privacy, it has to be conducted for the health, safety and protection of the public.
Most states likewise maintain the legality of random drug testing among employees. Companies are allowed to perform both pre-employment drug screening and post-accident drug testing among current employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) likewise recognizes the rights of employers to ensure an alcohol and drug-free workplace, test employees for illegal drugs, and comply with other laws and regulations concerning substance abuse.
However, under the ADA, the employers are required to observe fairness in the implementation of their policies and to prevent any acts of discrimination against recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. Furthermore, the ADA allows employees to request for reasonable accommodation for prescription drug use or medical cannabis use when the local laws so allow.
Industry Drug and Alcohol Use
Alcohol and drug use can do harm to our health, as well as to those in our surroundings. Even with continuous effort to warn of its health effects, there are still millions of people who use prohibited substances. Some of them are employed in different industries across the country. Research finds that there are industries that have higher cases of workers with alcohol and drug use. It is found that industries that were traditionally dominated by males and those employed with more young workers have higher rates of alcohol and drug use.
The following industries are listed by the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) to have higher risks of substance use and abuse in the workplace:
The construction industry requires safety at all times. Handling machines, other equipment, and tools are dangerous when used without caution. But according to a Federal government survey, the construction industry has the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse.
Among full-time workers aged 18 to 49:
- 12% reported illicit drug use in the past 30 days.
- About 21% reported illicit drug use during the past year.
- About 13% admitted to heavy alcohol consumption.
With this number, safety is a paramount concern. That is why a lot of businesses in the construction industry are adopting programs to lower the risk of drug and alcohol use in the workplace.
General Services Industry
Random drug testing programs are most often implemented in “safety-sensitive” industries. Substance abuse in this industry also post a high risk as workers in this industry have access to important documents like financial statements, confidential information, and hold company ideas and plans. Workers handle “security-sensitive” duties in this industry. A Federal survey shows the rate of workers who abuse drugs and alcohol in different fields in this industry.
- Business & Repair – current illicit drug use was found at 11.1%, while current heavy alcohol use was at 9.7% of workers.
- Finance, Real Estate, Insurance – 5.4% are current illicit drug users, while 4.5% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
Personal Services – 10.3% are illicit drug users, while 5.8% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
Professional and Related Services – 4.2% are illicit drug users, while 3.1% are heavy alcohol users.
Public Administration – 3.7% are current illicit drug users, while 7.2% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
It is important to employ workers who are healthy, to ensure that all information in the workplace is safe, especially when it involves handling other people’s personal information.
Health Care Industry
Health care workers are also found to be at risk of workplace substance abuse. Workers in this industry who use and abuse prohibited substances pose a threat to themselves, their co-workers, and patients. Among the different professions in this industry, nurses and nursing aides have the highest rate of current drug use, at 5.5%. Therapists have the highest rate of current heavy alcohol drinkers, at 3.5%. Physicians, Dentists, and Optometrists have the highest reported rate of illicit drug use in the past year with 19.8%.
In this industry, customer service is the key to success. It is a threat to the business when workers start doing things out of character because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Workers who abuse drugs and alcohol can give a bad reputation to any kind of business. According to a Federal survey:
- Food preparers reported the highest rate of current illicit drug use and current heavy alcohol use at 16.3%.
- Waiters and waitresses reported the second highest in the hospitality industry with 15.4% admitted to current illicit drug use and 12.1% current heavy alcohol use.
- Among maids, 7.9% are current illicit drug users while 3.6% are current heavy alcohol drinkers.
- Among ground keepers, 11.4% admit to current illicit drug use and 9.8% heavy alcohol consumption.
- Janitors also have high rates with 13% admitting to illicit drug use and 10.3% with heavy alcohol use.
This industry is responsible for technology and 100% focus is needed when performing duties. Alcohol and drug use can impair workers in this industry, which can pose a threat to a company’s success. The research found that 6.1% of employees who handle computer and data processors admit to current illicit drug use, and 16.2% are currently heavy alcohol drinkers. 3.6% of computer programmers and operators are current illicit drug users while 2.7% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
Part of establishing business success is providing quality products. In the manufacturing industry, workers who use and abuse alcohol can cause damage to goods, increase the risk of accident in the workplace, and harm to oneself. Substance abuse is a problem in this industry and the following fields are mostly affected:
Durable goods sector
- Lumber and wood product workers reported the highest rate of current illicit drug use and current heavy alcohol use at 8.9% and 12%.
- Professional equipment workers reported that 7.7% of them are current illicit drug users while 7.3% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
- Other categories include workers who handle electrical machinery, machinery, metal industries, and transportation equipment.
Non-durable goods sector
- Printing and publishing workers have the highest rate of current illicit drug use at 11.7%.
- Chemical product workers have the highest rate of current heavy alcohol use at 9.5%.
- Other categories include workers who handle apparel, food, paper, rubber & plastic, and textile.
Drug abuse is a problem in the retail industry. When workers are impaired by prohibited substances they are putting themselves in danger, at the same time become a threat to customers and co-workers. Prevention is necessary especially because workers deal with customers face-to-face. According to a Federal government survey, the following rates show drug and alcohol abuse among workers in the retail industry, aged 18 to 49:
- Food and drink workers have the highest rates in this industry. 16.3% admitted that they are currently using illicit drugs, while 15.4% admitted they are currently heavy alcohol drinkers.
- Furniture and appliance store workers admitted that 14.4% of them are current illicit drug users and 6.2% are heavy alcohol drinkers.
- Auto supply and gas station workers reported that there are 11.2% current illicit drug users and 13.2% heavy alcohol drinkers.
- Other areas that have a drug and alcohol abuse problem include workers from shoe and apparel stores, department stores, grocery stores, and other retail stores.
The transportation industry is one of the industries that have high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. This poses a threat to road safety and increases the risk of an accident. FAA drug testing, DOT drug testing, and post-accident drug testing should be issued for all areas of the transportation industry:
- Truck drivers (light) have the highest use of illicit drugs in the past year, at 18.9%. They also have the highest rate of heavy alcohol use, at 15.1%.
- Vehicle repairers reported a 17% illicit drug use in the past year. 14.9% admitted to heavy alcohol drinking.
- Among truck drivers (heavy), 16.4% admitted to illicit drug use in the past year while 13.3% admitted to heavy alcohol drinking.
- Bus drivers reported a 13.6% illicit drug use in the past year and 6.7% admitted to heavy alcohol use.
The wholesale industry is responsible for delivering products to businesses. Drug and alcohol use can impair workers that can possibly lead to errors with consequences. A Federal government survey found that drug and alcohol abuse in this industry is a significant problem. They found that among full-time wholesale workers, aged 18 to 49:
- 8% admitted to drug use in the past 30 days.
- 15.5% showed that they used illicit drugs in the past year.
- 10.3% admitted to heavy alcohol consumption.
The rates show how drug and alcohol abuse can pose a threat to different industries. Some industries and organizations are already following a random drug testing program to decrease the rates and provide a safer working environment. For organizations or businesses who want to start their own drug and alcohol program, there are agencies and organizations that provide materials and assistance in developing a program that meets your needs. You can visit the DATIA website or The U.S. Department of Labor for information.
The Role of the Workplace in Drug Abuse
Employers can play a huge role in putting an end to drug abuse in the workplace. Most employees have a problem addressing alcoholism and drug abuse issues and this can have an effect on their job performance. By establishing an employee assistance program (EAP), employers can improve the productivity and efficiency of their employees. From short-term counseling of employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems to intervention in personal problems, employers can look forward to reducing drug abuse prevalence in their workplace, and in the process lowering their expenses.
Another way that employers can lower drug abuse among their employees is to implement a drug-free workplace, as well as offer health benefits that include coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling.
Implementing an employee assistance program can have long-term effects on the workplace. Treating alcohol and drug abuse among employees can result in reduced healthcare costs. A successful employee assistance program also contributes to increased morale and productivity while reducing absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft.
What is an EAP?
As an employer, you would always strive to make your employees happy and satisfied with their jobs. Like members of the family, you need to care for their health and well-being. Any sign of addiction among your employees can have a devastating impact on your company. It translates to increased healthcare costs, loss of productivity, reduced employee morale, and even fatalities.
This is where having an employee assistance program can come in. The aim of EAP is to help employees maintain a healthy work and life balance. The program is generally offered to the employees for free. It is paid for by an employer through a health insurance provider or through another third party administrator.
Most workers deal with various issues such as personal problems, mental and emotional health, and general well-being. Some issues that these programs focus on include:
- Financial problems
- Legal issues
- Family problems
- Major life-changing events
- Relationship issues
- Drug and alcohol abuse and dependence
- Work-related issues
- Psychological disorders
However, you should bear in mind that an EAP does not necessarily solve these issues. For instance, it is not designed to get an employee out of a financial problem. Instead, the program aims to assist employees in finding a way to cope with these issues in a healthy and productive manner.
EAPs are offered to workers in a variety of ways. It is dependent upon how a particular program is administered. The usual manner is that the employee can avail of assistance by getting in touch with a counselor over the phone or through a face-to-face encounter. There are no restrictions on the number of phone calls that an employee can make.
However, in the case of face-to-face meetings, there are limits to the number of sessions for every employee. The good news is that they can access a variety of online resources that help them learn more about their problems and how to cope with their difficulties.
One important aspect of an EAP that every employee should bear in mind is that all information is confidential. Even if the employee pays for the program, the information is held in extreme confidentiality. Employees may avail of the service without their employers knowing about it or having any knowledge about the issues. Employers can refer any of their employees to the program as long as they feel that their workers need assistance and will benefit greatly from the program.
Benefits of Employee Assistance Programs
Studies have shown that an employee assistance program offers a wide range of benefits to the workplace. These programs can help reduce the costs of medical care by addressing mental and substance abuse issues. Aside from that, EAPs can also reduce employee turnover.
In addition, EAPs help lower absenteeism among employees. With reduced absenteeism comes an increase in productivity. This is because the employees are happier, healthier, and more balanced.
While there are criticisms about these programs, the negative comments about them can be prevented by letting an outside party manage the program. When the company itself is running the program, there could be issues like bullying or targeting employees that can arise.
While employee assistance programs focus on a wide range of issues, it can be especially helpful when addiction is a problem in more than one employee. Substance abuse in the workplace can be a huge issue because addicted workers have the tendency to lose focus, have little care about the quality of their work, and will most likely miss time on the job.
Another advantage of employee assistance program is that it can extend to the family members of employees. If workers have family members who are suffering from drug or alcohol dependence, this may affect their performance at work. The said family member can enjoy the EAP benefits.
The characteristics and provisions of EAPs may vary considerably, and so employers must carefully study each program before deciding. Here are some factors to consider when comparing programs:
Are the staff who will run the program qualified?
Make sure that the people who will run the program are professionally qualified and licensed. They should have established connections with local health groups and national self-help agencies. Likewise, they should be taking a continuing education program. You can always check their affiliations and experience in running EAPs.
Are their fees affordable?
The cost of EAPs may be different from one program to another depending on the structure of operation, type and extent of services provided, and method of computing charges. Experts recommend that the base fee should include the materials and administration costs that will be incurred by the providers. National services tend to provide more affordable programs than local companies but this is not always the case.
What is included in their services?
Employee assistance programs offer a variety of scope and subject matter. Comprehensive programs will usually provide managers with help in dealing with troubled employees, developing wellness policies, setting up seminars on health issues, and organization return-to-duty testing.
Is the facility accessible? Can they be easily reached?
One important aspect of choosing an employee assistance program is the accessibility of the facility. The training facility should be conveniently reached by employees who may want to visit before, during, or after work.
Likewise, the company should have a toll-free line that should be reachable round the clock in case the employee encounters difficulties while working. Response time is an important consideration when choosing a company to handle your EAP.
Do they constantly communicate with members?
When choosing a company who will handle your employee assistance program, you should choose one that constantly communicates with you and other members. They should also have a record of their effectiveness in helping customers reach their productivity goals or implement safety programs.
Signs of a Defective Employee Assistance Program
Employee assistance programs have often been recognized for the roles they play in cost management. However, if the implementation or design is defective, then the expected cost savings goal of the program will not be achieved.
Employers should consider the following signs that the program may need some polishing:
- Employees were generally dissatisfied with the program
- Only a small percentage (i.e. less than 5 percent) of qualified employees use the program
- Issues raised were not addressed within a reasonable amount of time
- The program reflected an unwarranted bias towards a particular method of treatment
- Employees indicated distrust to the program viewing it as a potential management tool for getting rid of punishment or justifying termination
- There is a conflict of interest on the part of the personnel running the program. For example, they have financial ties with a provider where they are referring employees.
While these warning signs can be easily addressed, it is important for employers to first have sufficient research regarding the needs and desires of their employees before trying to change the program. In similar fashion, when the company decides to revise their employee assistance program, they need to take all the necessary precautions to make sure that the employees who benefitted from the previous program will not be left behind.
Employers play an important role in getting rid of drug abuse in the workplace. While it may only be true to a handful of employees, sooner or later it can have a snowball effect on other employees as they may tend to decrease their morale and confidence in the company.
Corporate Drug Testing FAQs
There are a lot of things to know and understand when it comes to corporate drug testing. This list of frequently asked questions should be able to clear up some things related to workplace drug testing.
- What is drug testing?
Corporate drug testing is a test done by analyzing biological specimens like urine, hair, blood and saliva to determine the presence of drugs in the metabolites of a performance. It involves checking if illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine and heroin are present in the biological sample of a person. There are many types of drug testing procedures, including:
- Random drug testing
- Post-accident drug testing
- FAA drug testing
- DOT drug testing
- Return-to-duty drug testing
- When should a company implement drug testing?
Drug testing is usually done as a pre-employment requirement. It is done to determine work-related drug abuse that may affect the company, or it may be conducted if an employee’s work responsibility is safety-related. It is used to determine if a person can be trusted with judgment.
There are also circumstances wherein drug testing is done in sports competitions and post-accident scenarios. This is to gauge what really happened during accidents and injuries.
- What laboratory tests needed and used for drug testing?
Please note that it is important to make sure that presumptive positive results are confirmed in a certified laboratory. Random drug testing should involve a two-step process using Immunoassay and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).
- Immunoassay is the initial testing process and is used as a screening method.
- GC/MS is a confirmatory test to identify individual drug substances, and this is utilized prior to reporting drug test results.
- Is drug test a legal requirement for employers?
Yes. Federal, state and private employees are all required to undergo corporate drug testing. This is especially evident for employees who work in national security or whose responsibilities and duties are to protect and safe-keep property, life and health.
- Who are required to take corporate drug tests?
Employers are not obligated to impose random drug testing unless they operate in a safety-sensitive industry. Employees from federal agencies like Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Coast Guard and those who work or are in contract with Department of Defense and NASA. Those in trucking, aviation, mass transit and public transportation industry are also required to take the corporate drug testing and alcohol testing.
- Why is it important to take corporate drug testing?
Drug abuse and addiction can be very detrimental to the workplace because it can lower productivity, harm business reputation, and put employees at risk. According to Best Job Interview, 98% of Fortune 200 companies use pre-employment drug testing during the recruitment process to combat these risks.
Drug testing is important because of four factors to consider: safety, performance, productivity and medical costs. Drug abuse and addiction are said to be the number one contributor to work-related incidents and safety risks. That is why it is important for employees who work in transportation and safety-related industries to undergo random drug testing in order for them to make correct decisions and make sure they’re on a right disposition.
- What drug test is the most accurate?
Most drug tests are close to 100% accurate\. It may be confounded with limitations and may cause false positives. Although screening tests cannot be easily fooled by over-the-counter drugs, it may register false negative results when drug users dilute their lab samples. Moreover, experts agree that faulty laboratory equipment and ill-trained technicians may lead to erroneous test results.
- Who can access drug test results?
Drug test results are sent to the company’s human resources department. Afterwards, the company will need to hire medical officers to review the laboratory results and suggest on resolutions to resolve on any laboratory rest issues.
- What is the process for corporate drug testing?
Applicants will be notified that the company needs them to undergo testing as part of application and employment requirements. They will be instructed to go to a specific testing laboratory, where they would need to submit biological samples such as urine and hair. Afterwards, the lab results will be emailed and sent to the company.
In case of positive drug test results, the applicant would need to go through random drug testing.
- What is random drug testing?
Random drug testing is an unannounced testing to give employees equal chances of being selected for drug detection. It is an effective way to determine substance misuse in the workplace.
- Why is random drug testing important?
Random drug testing ensures that the organization is following regulatory guidelines, and also keeps the workforce safe and out of harm. It can also prevent and avoid future problems by hiring employees who use illegal drugs and deter employees from using illegal substances.
- How long do drugs stay inside a person’s body system?
Many factors are to be considered in terms of the length of time that a drug remains detectable in the urine or blood. The duration of time that illicit drugs stay in the system largely depends on a person’s physiological makeup. Another thing to consider is the frequency, dosage and the kind of drug used.
- Will prescription drugs show in drug tests?
Some medications and prescription drugs may fall in between categories that are screened and may be detected in a drug test that may result in false positives. In cases like this, a medical doctor will review the test results, and you would need to prepare a list of prescription drugs assigned to treat your medical condition.
If the drug detected is proven to be legally prescribed to you, the drug test result will be reported as negative. Otherwise, if the medication has not been prescribed, the result will still remain positive.
- What are the chances of having “false positive” results?
One of the common concerns among those who undergo drug testing is the possibility of having false positive results. There are two steps in fulfilling a drug test: initial screening and confirmatory screening. Initial screening drug tests may result in some circumstances of having a false positive. This is where a confirmatory test is needed to re-assess and review the drug test results.
The second drug test procedure is the confirmatory screening and this test reduces the probability of getting false positives. There are a number of variables that affect the accuracy and results of drug test screenings. Some of these factors include how the screening procedure was done, how the biological specimen was stored, whether the person performed fasting or over-fasting, or whether the person took over-the-counter drugs prior to taking the test.
Some of the medications that may affect your drug test results include cold remedies, Vitamin B supplements, and ibuprofen. According to Medline Plus, cold medicine’s main ingredient is Pseudoephedrine and is known to be a synthetic amphetamine used to make meth. Meanwhile, Vitamin B supplements and riboflavin are synthetically produced from lactose carbohydrates and hempseed oil, which may show traces of THC (the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana). Lastly, ibuprofen is an over-the-counter painkiller that can lead to false positives due to the psychoactive ingredient used in barbiturates and marijuana.
- If drug tests are negative, is it accurate to confirm that the person is not abusing drugs?
No. Checking for positive or negative results in drug test screening processes involves different variables that may affect the results. Negative drug test results may happen or occur even though a person is addicted to drugs due to various factors, and these include:
- Testing for wrong drugs
- Collecting the urine while going "cold turkey"
- Mixing urine with water to change the chemical balance of the sample
- Incorrectly storing samples
- Can drug test be redone upon suspicion of incorrect and inaccurate drug test results?
No. It is within the company’s policy to provide a well-designed program to implement regulations that an employee is not allowed to take the drug test again. This is to ensure equal chances for all employees. However, an applicant or employee may request to have the test redone using the same specimen but it will be at their own expense, and it should be done in another laboratory and diagnostics test.
- Are there state laws pertaining to marijuana and its use?
Since 1996, there are already 23 states that have enacted and implemented laws that allow smoking marijuana for medical conditions. There are several state laws enacted by the federal government that helped change the criteria and process of FDA approval of self and effective medication. There are a lot of states that conclude a significant discussion in legalizing medical marijuana. State marijuana laws vary across the United States.
- Can an employee be examined and fired for marijuana use in a state where it’s legal?
Yes, you can be tested for marijuana use. Some states like Arizona and Delaware provide protection against consequences for medical marijuana users. Some other states like Colorado do not provide that form of policy and protection, leaving employees open to the risk of getting fired for use of medical marijuana.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and that is why it would be best to check with a lawyer as to what the best approach to marijuana legality would be.
- What are the states that have legalized marijuana use and possession?
There are various state laws that govern the use and possession of marijuana. There are several localities in the United States that legalize marijuana, and this is growing to become a legislation issue for other states.
The legalization, decriminalization, and distribution of marijuana vary from one state to another. Here are some states that legalized marijuana together with its possession limit:
- Alaska: Possession Limit of 1 oz or 6 plants
- California: Possession Limit of 8oz or 6 mature plants / 12 immature plants
- New York: 30-day supply non-smokable marijuana.
- Oregon: Possession Limit of 24oz usable or 24 plants
- What are the limitations or regulations of drug testing?
Legislators have recognized that drug testing can implicate and violate a person’s privacy. The reason why it violates privacy rights is that aside from showing current drug use, it also gives a glimpse of the history of drug use.
These test procedures would need a person to give bodily fluids under close supervision, making it an intrusive procedure. Due to its nature, state and federal laws put some limit and regulations on drug testing. There are some legal limits on drug testing, and here are some of limitations and regulations that apply:
Disability Discrimination Claims: An employee with a disability who is taking proper medication is protected from discrimination. Most of the medicines are legally prescribed for certain conditions consisting of psychoactive ingredients like opiates and codeine. If an employee with disability tested positive for drug test with the applicant’s medication was legally prescribed, the company may be held liable.
Other Discrimination Claims: If a company singled out a group of applicants for drug testing due to race and disability, this may lead to discrimination claims.
Drug Testing Jargon Buster: Workplace Drug Testing Terminology Explained
Many of the terms used in drug testing can be confusing if you are not familiar with them. Here you will find a useful listing of terms and their meanings that will help dispel that confusion:
Adulterated Specimen: This term refers to a sample of body tissue that has been tampered with in some way. Generally, this means that the sample either contains a lot of a particular ingredient, which makes it clear that the substance was consumed to throw off the drug test or that something was added directly to the sample to try to hide drug use.
Blind Specimen: A specimen that is taken and sent to a lab with the intention of acting as a quality control for that lab. This type of specimen is shipped with a fake identifier to hide its purpose.
Chain of Custody: The record kept of how the specimen was handled and by who over the course of the drug testing process, from the time it leaves the person being tested to the point at which it is destroyed after drug testing is complete.
DOT: The Department of Transportation is a large grouping of several organizations such as the National Coast Guard, The FAA, and Federal Transit Administration among many, many others associated with transport in the United States. The regulations set out by this group are considered a valid, standardized manner of conducting drug testing in the U.S.
Invalid Drug Test: This is a drug test that has been tampered with and therefore invalidated for drug testing.
MRO: Medical Review Officer, a licensed physician in charge of receiving and then reviewing lab results made from an organizations’ drug testing program. The MRO is also in charge of evaluating those results for possible medical causes.
Split Specimen: A split specimen refers to a urine specimen that is divided to ensure the integrity of the sample’s results. One portion of the sample is stored for later evaluation and the other is tested for drug use. If that specimen is returned as a positive test then the other portion can be tested if the person being tested or the organization that asked for the drug test have requested it in order to ensure the positive result is accurate.
Stand Down: A Stand Down refers to a situation wherein an employee is asked to remove themselves from duties that involve using machinery or materials that are deemed to be unsafe for those under the influence of drugs, alcohol or other substances that leave the user impaired. Generally, this happens when a positive drug test has come back or the person is undergoing evaluation before returning to the regular use of such materials and machinery.
Accession Number: A number used to identify a sample as it passes through the drug testing process in order to keep track of where it goes through the system.
Designated Employer Representative: A Designated Employer Representative is an employee who has been given the role of pulling employees from safety-sensitive jobs and making a decision in cases where drug testing is involved. They also receive the drug test results.
Common Concerns Faced by Employers in Implementing a Drug-free Workplace Program
Implementing a drug-free workplace program can bring some positive changes to the company. While the company may experience some challenges with the employees at the onset of the policy implementation, an effective drug-free workplace program can elicit long-term benefits to both the employer’s business and the workers. Meanwhile, understanding the issues that could arise in the implementation of a drug-free workplace program can help a company balance its policies and get ready for the big change.
Listed below are the 5 common concerns faced by employers in implementing a drug-free workplace program:
- Size of the organization
Some employers are hesitant to implement a drug-free workplace program because they mistakenly assume that such policy is only designed for larger organizations. Regardless of the company’s size, a drug-free workplace program is highly encouraged for the safety of the business and the employees. Even though your organization is too small; problems regarding drug abuse can arise. Without a drug-free workplace policy, more problems are likely to occur in the organization.
- Cost of a drug-free workplace program
A drug-free workplace program may look a bit expensive in the first place; however, it is a worthy investment. An effective drug-free policy can help improve the company’s safety and productivity in the long run, which can lead to reduced employee claims and insurance expenses.
There are many ways to cut back on the cost of starting a drug-free workplace program. You can avail free or low-cost assistant programs or start a drug-free workplace policy stage by stage. There are also some reputable third-party service providers (you can hire) that are willing to extend affordable terms in their drug testing services.
- Legal Issues
Another major concern of employers in the implementation of a drug-free workplace policy is the possibility of employees to sue the company. However, every organization should take note that drug testing is already widely accepted as one of the significant methods to monitor and maintain employee safety and productivity. One good way to ensure fairness and avoid legal issues in the future is to have your policies and implementation strategies reviewed by a lawyer.
- Policy maintenance
Employers may be worried that their drug-free workplace program might not be effective at all. At some point, some employers are not able to detect employees that use drugs until it’s too late. A policy may or may not work depending on the implementation strategy. Always remember that companies should not use fear-approach when implementing the policy.
Creating a drug-free workplace program for the welfare of employees is proven to be more effective and successful. To maintain the effectiveness of the policy, you can hold meetings, seminars, workshops, and facilitate employee assistance program, which will encourage employees to stay drug-free.
- Social Stigma
There can be numerous presumptions and negative feedback that employers may receive on the first few days of the policy implementation. Employees are sensitive by nature. However, the negative notions will soon ease up as long as you listen to the questions and concerns raised by employees, explain why there is the need to implement such policy, and accept employee feedback and suggestions.
Things to Avoid when Starting a Drug Testing Program
Employee-specific drug testing program
One of the common errors in establishing drug testing programs is making it work around a specific problem employee or group of employees. Companies formulate policies and guidelines that aim to get rid of problem employees. This can be disastrous since the company may face discrimination charges and other possible legal cases when the employees sense that they are the targets of the new program. Also, this may discourage other employees who may feel that the company has not been promoting fair treatment to everyone.
Adapting a general drug testing program just because others are doing it
Every company is unique and so it takes a lot to come up with a program that will work for each unique environment. Many employers conduct pre-employment drug testing, just so they can say that they have a program, and don’t do follow-up testing on those who got hired. This is a waste of resources since the company spends money on drug tests under a program that does not have clear goals and well-built strategies.
In addition to that, workers are now more sensitive about protecting their “right to be let alone”. It would be unfair for employees to be subjected to substance abuse tests when the company has no concrete plan and well-defined objectives to back the testing up. Companies must perform and spend resources for these tests only if the program can truly help further the cause of the organization as well as the welfare of the employees.
Short-sighted drug testing program
There should be a comprehensive outline of specific plans and procedures after conducting drug tests to employees. Drug testing should not be taken as the ultimate end, as the aim of a real and effective drug testing program is not merely to catch who the users are, but also to provide assistance, where possible. Good employees can also have drug problems, and it may be beneficial to offer them support or a second chance after rehabilitation.
When a drug abuse test returns positive, the employer has several options – to fire the employee immediately, to seek for follow-up testing to confirm or discredit the initial results, to suspend the employee and offer a rehabilitation program, or to keep the employee in the staff, offer rehabilitation and fire him or her when another test done after a few months still returns positive. The best plan of action would depend on the company’s substance abuse policy, which must be consistent with the company’s capacity to provide assistance as well as its long-term goals, and how it has been implemented in the past. The key thing is consistency within reasonable limits.
Creating a drug testing program with limited understanding
A urine analysis is not the only method to test drugs. Companies must align their choice of testing method to their set goals.
If you need to check current drug use of employees to avoid accidents in the workplace, especially those involved in critical locations, an oral drug test will be most helpful. It has a short window of detection and samples can be taken anywhere in no time.
If you need to make sure you don’t hire anyone with drug problems, especially if your business concerns handling of money or critical information, a cheat-proof hair follicle drug test will be a good option. It is extremely accurate and a hair drug test can provide a drug history of up to 3 months.
Also, the company must take extra effort to determine the medical background of every employee undergoing substance abuse testing. It is a possibility that some employees were legally prescribed to take drugs that may yield positive results in the tests. Not being able to consider this significant detail may lead to the company being dragged along and difficult legal battles.
Ill-planned drug testing programs resulting in loss of money
Planning is crucial when choosing the methods of testing, the frequency of testing and the follow-up strategies for your drug testing program. You may realize that using instant drug testing kits, which allow collection of samples within the workplace in a few minutes, will be more cost-efficient than sending everyone to a drug testing laboratory, an option that requires you to pay not only for the laboratory tests but also for the employees’ time (about an hour). Those who tested positive on the instant drug tests may be sent to the laboratory for confirmatory or additional tests, and the company’s overall testing-related expenses would still be lower.
As drug use evolves over time, employers also need to stay updated with the trends in drug testing, and to carefully study which ones they can use to fully maximize the benefits of having a drug testing program.
Workplace Substance Abuse Testing Trends to Know
Inclusion of prescription drug abuse testing
Prescription drugs may be obtained legally as these can help manage certain illnesses, but that does not mean that taking them in high doses for reasons other than what is intended is less dangerous.
Painkillers, sleeping pills, decongestants and cough syrups numb the senses giving an artificial sense of freedom from pain or discomfort. Psychostimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are also commonly abused to enhance memory and focus. Companies must, therefore, look into these addictions and include prescription drug abuse into their programs.
Inclusion of nicotine abuse testing
There are several studies linking nicotine addiction to decrease in productivity, with affected employees leaving work during non-break periods to smoke. Nicotine testing will be helpful to ensure a healthy workforce and to decrease health insurance costs. This, however, is an issue that needs to be addressed extra carefully as it can be very sensitive.
Inclusion of alcohol abuse testing
Aside from alcohol Breathalyzers and saliva tests that ensure no one had alcohol before or during work, alcohol EtG tests have significantly grown in popularity. It can detect alcohol use as far back as 3 days from sample collection. Like nicotine abuse, though, this has been a topic of several debates revolving around privacy issues and must be considered with caution.
Inclusion of steroid abuse testing
A good number of companies have already implemented no-steroid policies. Steroid abuse has been found common in fields requiring physique and performance enhancement, like professional and amateur sports, law enforcement, citizen protection, and construction. One of its serious side effects is increased aggression, which may affect an employee’s relationship with clients and co-workers.
Use of hair follicle and oral fluid drug testing methods
Urine drug tests remain to be the most common method, but hair follicle and oral fluid drug tests have recently been getting excellent reception from several industries. Samples for the hair follicle and oral fluid tests are not only easy to collect, but they are also difficult to tamper with.
In addition, hair follicle drug tests provide a more detailed analysis, indicating not only a positive drug use but also the frequency of use. A well-built substance testing program can be an employer’s best ally in finding and keeping healthy and productive employees.
Pros and Cons of Testing Your Employees for Smoking
Many companies reward non-smoking employees by giving them discounts on their health insurance premiums, or by making employees who smoke pay a surcharge or penalty for that. (Whether you view it as a discount or a penalty probably depends on whether you’re a smoker or not.)
According to the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, more and more companies are relying on nicotine testing to decide which of their employees will be paying more for health insurance benefits instead of relying on their employees to self-declare whether or not they are smokers.
Because smokers can wind up paying around $500 more per year for their health insurance premiums, it’s tempting for many employees who do smoke to declare themselves as non-smokers and simply be as surreptitious as possible while smoking at work.
The majority of employers that offer discounted health insurance premiums for non-smokers still rely on employees’ honesty when self-declaring whether they are a smoker or not, but the number of companies requiring nicotine testing is up to 10% Human resources firm Towers Watson estimates, compared to just a handful of firms that required testing just a few years ago.
One of the companies that have begun testing employees for nicotine use is Xerox, which also assesses other health indicators like cholesterol. Altogether, there are up to $1,200 worth of savings for Xerox employees and their spouses to take advantage of if they get tested for nicotine and those tests are negative. Marathon Oil and construction firm Jacobs Engineering Group also routinely test their workers for nicotine and offer insurance premium reductions to non-smokers.
And HR experts believe that more companies will start to test workers in the near future. In 2014, almost three-quarters of employers plan to reward or penalize employees based on their tobacco use, compared with only 44% this year, according to Towers Watson.
Smokers might be in for even more bad news, as the new Affordable Care Act guidelines — which are still being finalized — would permit employers to levy a surcharge on them worth up to 50% of the total cost of their health coverage, compared to the 20% that is currently allowed.
To illustrate that, a company that charges individual health insurance premiums of $100 per month would be able to charge a smoker an extra $600 for the entire year compared to only an extra $240 right now.
Requiring smokers to pay more helps employers cover the additional health-care expenses they incur, which Alere Toxicology has estimated at an extra $21 per smoker per day, or $7,874 per year, in additional medical costs and lost productivity.
With so much money at stake for employees, the concern is that most smokers will simply declare they are non-smokers to get the better premium rates and do their best to hide their smoking while at work.
And that is where nicotine testing comes in. Nicotine, or its biometric marker, cotinine, can be detected in a urine or saliva test up to several days after a person has smoked. Blood testing can detect nicotine use for a longer period of time but is highly unlikely to be used in an employment setting.
But while employers are increasingly leaning toward nicotine testing, it does have its critics, most notably the American Lung Association, which questions the reliability of some nicotine tests and also that testing people instead of trusting them to self-declare their smoking fosters a corporate culture of mistrust.
It has been suggested by StayWell Health Management, which runs corporate wellness programs, that instead of testing, employers should require workers to sign a legal-sounding pledge that they are tobacco-free, much like people pledge to tell the truth in court.
Affinia Group, an industrial manufacturing firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, is one company that had nicotine testing in place in 2011 and 2012 but has since stopped testing and gone back to having employees self-declare their tobacco use. The company’s director of benefits administration told MarketWatch that Affinia stopped the testing because the company has a high level of trust in its employees.
However, Affinia only offers a $100 tobacco-free incentive on its health insurance premiums and the benefits director noted that saving $100 per year wouldn’t be enough incentive for people to cheat but if a company is offering in the range of $1,000 or more in savings, a company would be best to test for nicotine instead of relying on employees to self-declare.
Going forward, it is likely that a growing number of companies will elect to test employees for nicotine (by testing for cotinine) if they declare themselves to be non-smokers.
Legal issues on Nicotine Testing
Some companies have even started testing job candidates for nicotine, saying they will no longer hire smokers.
This, however, has raised some legal issues since smoking tobacco is not illegal and refusing to hire someone who is not breaking any law could be seen as discrimination.
There are already laws and statutes in place in 29 states and in Washington, DC that prohibit employers from discriminating against people who use tobacco in their spare time.
Legal experts have stated that if companies are allowed to discriminate against smokers, then there may come a time when they are also allowed to discriminate against other groups like the obese or people with chronic conditions who are not breaking any laws.
Before starting any type of nicotine testing regimen, employers should get to know the laws regarding smokers’ rights and nicotine testing in their individual states, as they vary just like drug testing laws.
Employers may also be opening themselves up to a potential invasion of privacy claims, which can be submitted if it is alleged that an employer is trying to control the off-duty activities of its employees too much.
The legality surrounding nicotine testing continues to evolve and any company looking to implement it should do so carefully.
The Ethics of Workplace Drug Testing
The prominence of drug testing in the workplace is expanding throughout the country as more and more companies employ drug tests to take this critical step to ensure the safety and sanctity of the workplace. Optimally, keeping the workplace clear of drug users would ensure greater safety for the employees as a whole and increase the overall productivity of the company, and cheap, easy and accessible drug tests would make that happen.
In spite of all this optimism, it is to be noted that drug testing in the workplace was never accepted by most communities as such in the beginning.
It is true that drug use by the employees would lead to on-the-job accidents, absenteeism and employee theft and that recurrent drug testing in the workplace could potentially discourage the use of drugs altogether. The major gripe of the employees was that it was not just the regular drug users and addicts that were being targeted. Drug testing proved a threat to the employment of people who used recreational drugs occasionally.
There were fears of knee-jerk dismissals of employees that were highly productive and efficient for the simple reason that they indulged themselves in a rave so long back that they could not even remember. Drug testing was promoted to being focused on counseling and rehabilitating the employees that were detected, but people perceived it as a threat to their employment prospects.
Drug testing in the workplace was also being widely characterized as a blatant violation of the privacy of an individual. Today, these points of protests are dying a slow death as more and more people realize the importance of weeding out drug abusers from the workplace.
Drug testing in the workplace in some form is approved in most states of the US, but the practice is not properly regulated in most cases. The people who are subjected to drug testing in the workplace do not necessarily give their consent, nor is it considered essential. The fact that a so-called official could walk in and order you to urinate in a vial without a specified reason compounds the argument that this whole practice is a violation of personal privacy.
There is also an argument that drug testing in the workplace cannot single-handedly ensure sobriety on the job. The crux of the argument of this lobby is that current drug tests that are employed are insufficiently accurate and cannot identify reliably all the possible substances that may be abused in all cases. Although it is true that the availability of some testing is better than none at all, it is also deplorable that these tests would club together both a regular drug abuser and a clean person who simply experimented with a drug unfortunately too close to the random drug test.
Although drug testing the employees were considered impractical just a few months ago due to its high costs, a new wave of practical and cheap drug tests flooding the market has caused a phenomenon of sorts. It is not just current employees who are subjected to drug testing in the workplace, prospective employees and job applicants are also put through a drug test before they start off on the job.
The campaign towards widespread drug testing got its first major boost when President Reagan signed an Executive order to promote the concept of a workplace that was free of drugs. For the first time, this order not only made it impossible to use drugs in the workplace but also effectively outlawed the use of drugs off duty. Although this executive order only encompassed Federal employees and contractors, this paved the way towards a universal acceptance of drug testing in the workplace.
Today the hundreds of existing laws that govern the drug testing in the workplace have aggravated the confusion on what is acceptable and what is not. To add to the woes, most of these laws do not help through the way they are stated to convince the employees who are on the receiving end of these laws.
Still, the practice continually evolves in its execution to encompass more and more employees bringing the dream of a drug-free workplace true – one employee at a time.
¹ LINDEN, D. J. (2011, July 23). Addictive Personality? You Might be a Leader. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24addicts.html