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How Fair Is It To Pursue Workplace Drug Testing?

Drug testing has been fluttering a lot of feathers ever since it became a bone of contention between the federal and state governments in the US. As many as 29 US states have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Yet there is a lack of consensus as to if employers must universally practice the drug testing.

Over the last decades, the President as well as the Congress has been supporting public and private employers to conduct drug testing 1. In fact, many studies including the government funded have provided evidence in favor of workplace drug testing.

As per a nationwide study, the existence of medical marijuana laws are associated with “increased prevalence of illicit cannabis use and cannabis use disorders” among adults 2 . This goes on to question if laws are indeed favoring drug users jeopardizing the fabric of the society at large?

Many private companies have made drug testing mandatory to practice safe working conditions for their own discrete reasons. A comprehensive volume of academic evidence indicates that substance use in the workplace can be detrimental to the organization in terms of reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and more workplace accidents 3.

This goes onto to add more weight to the side of the employers who despite the general resistance continues to pursue random drug testing.

Generally, most private employers have a fair amount of latitude in implementing drug testing as they see fit for their organization, unless they are subject to certain Federal regulations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) drug-testing rules.  In such case, they have to adhere to strict norms violations of which can put the employer in a tight spot as well.

In this article, we will determine the situations when organization can stipulate drug testing and to which extent laws are supportive of their actions:

  • Pre-Employment:

Most companies have stringent rules to prohibit the entry of any suspected drug user in the workplace. The drug test takes place as a conditional part of the hiring procedure. If the applicants are tested negative for 6 or 12 panel drug, their candidature stands under shadow.

Often, it’s seen that prospective employees tweak the drug testing results in order to grab their dream job. However, such unethical practices are supposed to be discouraged.

The most acceptable measure would be to pursue random or unannounced drug testing to take such people off guard. However, occasional alcohol users need not bother as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.4

Remember, prolonged consumption of marijuana can turn into addiction in no time. If any such suspected drug user does breach through the examination, it would be hard to conceal the condition.

  • Situational Crisis

Employers hold the right to conduct drug testing if they find reasonable evidence suggesting the violation drug-free workplace policy. In fact, the Executive Order 12564 (1986) came out with the concept of “drug free workplace” which renders employers to conduct drug testing if

(1) They find sufficient evidence indicating the use of illegal drugs;

(2) an employee is noticed to have taken drugs resulting in an accident, and

(3) as part of, or as a follow-up to, counseling or rehabilitation for illegal drug use through an employee assistance program 3.

All these aspects will be discussed later in this article.

Be informed that most employers reserve the right of pursuing drug and alcohol testing under comprehensive training and certified supervision. Also, if any employee is found in possession of drugs thus putting the workplace in unsafe condition, he or she is liable for disciplinary action that includes suspension.

  • Workplace Incident

Any workplace incident that suggests the role of drug or alcohol calls for stern management action. The case severity furthers if there is property damage or someone is hurt in the process such as colleague or supervisor.

There is more than sufficient evidence suggesting a causal link between cannabis use and heightened risk of motor vehicle crashes.5 .The management needs to promptly document and act on such incidents that may give a deep insight into the loopholes in its policy framework.

Having said that the results of the post-accident drug test need not be considered conclusive enough and further investigation must happen.  Make sure you have well-laid guidelines to combat the precarious situations such as these and send a clear message across the workforce.

  • Random Drug Testing

Most employers prefer random drug testing to get hold of the suspected drug users in the workplace. Random drug testing mostly happens when least expected.

As per a 2015 study,“30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder” 6.

Thus, it makes decent sense for employers to randomly pursue drug testing. They can select the employees based on some predetermined order or based on any computer generated algorithm.

It allows every employee to have an equal chance to be drug tested on a random basis whether he or she has clean track record or not. It helps companies get a fair idea if the workplace is drug free or not.

  • Scheduled

Drug testing is dreaded in any and every situation. However, there are employers who might schedule them in advance to reinforce drug-free workplace policy. For instance, some employers pursue it annually or biannually.

There is concrete evidence suggesting statistical relation between the incidence of cannabis use and schizophrenia and other psychoses,7 with an increased risk of happening on frequent basis.

Thus, having it on predetermined basis could keep the situation in control. Please note that there are industries where drug or alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited.  For instance, the medical industry is highly scrutinized to ensure complete safety to the patients, as well as the medical staff.

Thus, scheduled drug testing seems more apt for such setups. However, do not negate the possibility of trouble makers who may find some or the other way to dupe the employers.

  • Post-Hiatus

It primarily involves situations wherein employees have returned after a long break due to personal health or any other unavoidable situation such as sabbatical. Also, if he or she is coming after rehabilitation or after prolonged illness, then a thorough drug test must be performed to be sure of the results and avert any unfortunate incident.

To Conclude With

These are some of the general situations wherein you may seem drug testing is befitting and mandatory to maintain a drug free workplace. However, a lot depends on the employers how they wish to undertake it under the changing legal situation in the United States.

The takeaway is that it is pretty much legal for employers to test employees for drugs. Yet there are some states that may prohibit this right if in case the employees are not operating in the safety-sensitive positions.

There is dire need for employers to get acquainted with the state laws before going ahead with a drug-testing program.  As much as the federal government is in favor of the workplace drug testing, it wouldn’t appreciate any individual take under deep scrutiny against the state laws.

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