How Can Drug Screening Services Help Ensure a Safe and Productive Workplace?

Drug screening is not as simple as it used to be, with more states enacting restrictions on whom you can test and what kinds of tests you may use. Does that mean maintaining a safe work environment is no longer necessary? Learn about why testing remains a pillar of hiring for many good reasons.

Drug screening has long been a significant component of hiring for many positions. It is so ingrained in the process that you can easily find many websites trying to answer questions such as, "Does this major company drug test?" as potential job-seekers evaluate their options. However, shifting social attitudes towards some forms of drug use and changing laws have complicated this process more than in recent decades.

Does a pre-employment drug test positively affect the workforce you cultivate? Are these processes still worth using and paying for in today's environment? These are questions that employers in every sector have begun grappling with more regularly. Some employers are even wondering if they're artificially limiting their hiring pool by enforcing a drug testing policy in industries where testing is not a legal mandate.

Let's dive into these issues and explore what employers need to know about drug tests today, starting with their role in preserving workplace safety.

Does Screening Really Make Workplaces Safer?

Yes, good drug screening procedures can contribute to a safer workplace. Consider the fact that the US Department of Transportation not only requires drug tests for truck drivers but also demands annual tests. In reality, DOT testing even involves an additional element of random testing. It makes sense: trucks can weigh tens of thousands of pounds and travel at high speeds. Impairment behind the wheel could lead to serious accidents and harm.

While the level of risk isn't the same everywhere, safety should be a concern for employers everywhere. If someone is inebriated or impaired while on the job, they are a risk to themselves and other employees. Even when jobs don't involve operating heavy machinery, there are risks present in every position. 

Not all harm can come from physical injuries caused by impairment, either. Lapses in judgment can also lead to problems such as security breaches, fraud, and other issues that can have substantial costs for the business. Ensuring that habitual users of dangerous drugs don't have these opportunities is a far-reaching element of safety.

The Growing Impact of Fair Chance Laws on Drug Testing

While the importance of testing for creating safe workplaces hasn't diminished, some social attitudes—and laws—have changed. Primarily, the growing cannabis legalization movement has driven these changes. In many states, medical marijuana is now legal, and more states continue to look toward full legalization for adult use.

The result has been the development of a patchwork of rules and regulations that can complicate how employers screen employees. In places such as New York and New Jersey, for example, it is no longer legal to test applicants for marijuana or to deny a job based on a positive marijuana result. Some locales have even sought to prevent employers from terminating employees who use cannabis while off-duty. Still, on-duty use remains unprotected.

In the future, it is possible that other drugs—such as psilocybin or ketamine—may also face similar changes as their use for mental health treatment remains under investigation. However, no state stops employers from testing for much more addictive and potentially dangerous drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and other opioid-related drugs. 

Employers can still use tests to keep workplaces safer, but they must understand the cannabis-related limitations they face.

Understanding the Types of Drug Tests Available Today

When learning about the different kinds of drug tests, it's essential to differentiate between the testing method and the type of testing. The method concerns how a lab takes a sample from your applicant—the kind of test concerns what substances it should detect.

The most common types of testing include the 5-panel and the 10-panel test. There are some in-between steps, such as the 7-panel. These numbers refer to the different substances the test detects, ranging from meth, ecstasy, and benzodiazepine to cocaine, heroin, and more. Employers can choose the level of testing that suits their risk appetite and level of safety requirements.

Regarding sample method, there are typically three options popular with employers:

  • Saliva testing because sample collection is simple, and results can show relatively recent drug use.
  • Urine testing has been the typical standard for many years. These tests can more reliably detect extended usage patterns than saliva tests.
  • Hair testing, which is more expensive and time-consuming but can detect usage on a larger scale than the other tests.

Determining the suitable method for your business is about balancing time, cost, and risk.

Embracing Best Practices for Employment Drug Testing

Keeping your workplace safe with drug testing is possible, but you need a procedure that aligns with the law. Otherwise, you could face some serious headaches and legal consequences. We have extensive resources for developing a compliant policy that follows today's best practices. However, let’s briefly cover the essential elements of a functional workplace drug testing policy.

You'll need to do the following to effectively drug test for employment purposes:

  • Create a written policy detailing all the drug testing procedure steps. Your policy should align with state and federal law. It should also specify what types of drug tests you will use, where you will have testing performed, and other vital elements.
  • Test every applicant. Don't make exceptions that can create the appearance of favoritism or bias. If you test one individual, you should test everyone.
  • Keep your results confidential and destroy reports after an appropriate period. 
  • Consider whether you will provide those who test positive a chance to re-apply after some time.

What Can Happen if You Don't Follow Drug Testing Requirements?

Failing to follow the law regarding drug testing is not a situation your business wants to experience. Violating the law regarding testing for forbidden substances, such as cannabis, could expose you to lawsuits over unfair hiring practices from private individuals or enforcement agencies. 

Likewise, failing to perform drug tests when the law requires you to is even more legally perilous. Not only is the potential risk for harm significantly elevated, but you will almost certainly face enforcement action from the government if discovered. These actions could include hefty fines in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the circumstances—not to mention the PR damage to your business and brand.

Drug Screening is Useful, But Requires Care and Planning

Ultimately, drug testing is just one part of an overall approach to fostering a safer, more productive workplace—but it remains essential. Besides regulated industries, preventing on-the-job drug use and potential addiction problems remain important. While employers may need to rethink their attitudes surrounding substances such as cannabis, testing for "hard" drugs of primary concern remains an accepted best practice.

By using drug tests, you can gain several valuable items of information. Compliance with the requirement demonstrates a commitment to seeking the job. A clean test helps you make more well-informed risk assessments. Even a failed test can be an opportunity to give a potentially valuable candidate a "second chance" to sober up and test cleanly. This process can't prevent drug use after hiring, but it does reduce the likelihood of encountering such problems.

Drug screening is a powerful resource that deserves its place alongside the criminal background check in the hiring toolkit. However, employers must observe best practices for adequate testing, good communication, and especially legal compliance. Take this opportunity to review your procedures and consider whether your policy needs an update to remain legal and effective. Find out more about these issues when you explore the subject of drug testing in our Learning Center today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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