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Employee Drug Screening: Creating a Safer and More Productive Workplace

Drug Testing

Drug Testing can Create a Safer and More Productive Workplace

The use and abuse of illicit substances is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  While drug use has a negative impact on many areas of society, it is particularly hazardous in a workplace environment. Employees under the influence of drugs and alcohol present numerous risks to workplace safety, productivity and are at risk to potentially cost employers billions of dollars every year.

To prevent these dangers and costs, many employers are instituting drug testing policies. There are a number of reasons why you may want to consider doing the same.

Poor Performance and Working Environment

As we know, drug use negatively affects an individual’s performance; it impairs judgment and decision-making abilities, decreases efficiency and critical thinking skills, and diminishes a worker’s capacity to concentrate and function in a consistent manner.

The impact of drug use is not limited to the decreased performance of an individual worker — it also affects co-workers and customers. Drug users have a higher rate of tardiness and absenteeism and are more inclined to exhibit irritability and mood swings.

At the very least, these conditions can create a difficult environment for all parties and increase the likelihood of workplace conflict as well as poor customer service.

Compromised Safety

There is far more at stake when a drug-using employee holds a position in which he or she operates a motorized vehicle, sophisticated equipment or works with heavy machinery. Impaired judgment and compromised motor skills increase the possibility of damage to company property and injury to the employee or others.

Drug abuse on its own presents a potentially fatal hazard in the workplace. In January of 2018, SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) reported that workplace fatalities continued to rise for the third year in a row, with drug use cited as one of the contributing factors.  Additionally, on-the-job overdoses have seen annual increases every year since 2012, a statistic that should concern all employers.

Costs to the Company

Employee drug use has a negative impact on a company’s bottom line. Along with the costs associated with poor performance, missed time and safety issues, employees with addiction problems are more likely to be involved in company property theft. They may also use work time to try to obtain drugs or even to attempt to buy or sell drugs within the workplace.

Employees who use drugs also have a greater likelihood of filing worker’s compensation and disability claims. Drug users historically have higher medical costs in general, which drives up a company’s insurance premiums costs.  And once the addiction is revealed, medical treatment is costly. The price tag for opioid treatment to large employers was $2.6 billion in 2016.

Prevent the Problem

You may have heard, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and for many employers, this is a wise notion to keep in mind and in practice. Workplace drug testing can serve as a preventative measure to avoid the problems and costs associated with the use and abuse of illicit substances. Implementing a program that involves both pre-hire and random drug testing can help to establish and maintain a company culture with zero-tolerance for drug use.

Pre-Hire Screening

Implementing drug tests even in the initial hiring process is an effective way to avoid bringing employees with substance abuse problems onboard. Simply including a notice about drug screening in a job post could effectively deter potential applicants who know that they are unlikely to pass a drug test.

State laws determine the parameters for screening employees, and your company should become familiar with those laws before initiating a drug testing program.  You should also draft a formal policy to support the measure. SHRM’s Pre-Employment Drug Testing Policy is a useful template.

Random Employee Drug Testing

A copy of your company’s drug testing policy should be provided to all employees. The process for selecting individuals for random testing should be unbiased and clearly defined. Cases, where there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use, should be handled differently than regular random testing

If this is a new measure for your company, it may be a good idea to hold a staff meeting to discuss the reasons for drug testing. Inviting employees to talk confidentially with HR staff about the policy may encourage people struggling with substance abuse issues to come forward and seek assistance proactively.

Handle With Care

For both employers and workers, drug use is a sensitive issue. To be assured of accurate results, only a licensed medical professional should perform drug screenings. For faster results and better communication, it is advisable to contract with a local doctor or laboratory for testing services.

It is important that a company’s administrative and HR staff develop a clear plan of action for dealing with employees who test positive for drug use. Whether an employee faces immediate dismissal or a suspension of duties and a treatment referral, the consequences should be clearly defined and consistently enforced.

It is also pertinent that the people assigned to notify employees and management of policy violations be properly trained to handle sensitive matters. When an employee tests positive for drug use, both the worker and the company are in a vulnerable position — it may even be a good idea to have a specially trained staff member or counselor available to deal with those hopefully infrequent scenarios.