D rug testing may help you ranted by a compelling goal

How to start a drug
testing program
By Chris Santilli
Drug testing may help you
save money by identifying
abusers early on so they can
receive treatment. It’s usually
less costly to treat employees
than replace them.
Before testing, ask if there
are other ways to detect or
deter drug use in the workplace. Most firms test
employees only when drug
use is strongly suspected.
Safety is the reason most
often given for testing, followed by a desire to improve
productivity and help affected employees.
Urinalysis is the most
common method used for
drug testing in the workplace.
Urine tests for alcohol abuse,
the most abused drug, however, are not effective. Blood or
breath tests give better results
for alcohol.
Preemployment drug testing
accounts for 4 million tests annually versus 1 million for current
employees, according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1989.
On average, 12% of preemployment tests are positive, versus
9% of tests on current
Before starting a drug testing
program you must decide:
Who will be tested and when
How to educate employees,
maintain reasonable privacy,
and provide assistance
What laboratory to use and
what drugs and the level to test
To ensure valid results that
can withstand legal challenge
you need a well-designed, quality-controlled program.
ranted by a compelling goal
with neutral selection criteria
used. Limit random testing to
situations where it’s essential
that an employee be entirely
free of any effects of drugs.
Whether a drug testing program is legal depends foremost
on the goal it serves. Public
and co-worker safety are the
most cited goals. But consider
the likelihood and severity of
the safety breach. Without
these two goals at risk, it’s hard
to defend a drug testing program. But by not testing,
employers could face increased
liability if a drug abuser injures
a co-worker or member of the
Is urine testing defensible?
Requiring employees to submit to urine testing is legally
defensible. But there must be
reasonable suspicion based on
facts and rational inferences
drawn from those facts to conclude that employees are abusing drugs.
Testing may be appropriate
as part of a routine, periodic
physical examination. It may be
warranted for employees who
p e rf o rm tasks directly affecting
public or co-worker safety and
for employees in sensitive security positions. Testing is also
after accidents that indicate
impaired perf o rm a n c e .
To limit supervisory discretion, clearly define qualifying
incidents in advance. Written
goals are required to limit the
imposition on people.
Random testing is seldom
found acceptable unless war-
Maintaining privacy
However well intentioned
management may be, employee
morale will be strained by starting a drug testing program.
Adverse employee reaction to
drug testing may be because of
lack of information. Educating
employees is critical.
Before testing, discuss with
employees the need for the program and how it will be administered. Help employees understand how the program will benefit them. Then gradually start
the testing program.
Managers should take
employee resistance seriously
because the personal dignity
issue is heavily laden with emotion. Fourth Amendment privacy
rights also are at stake.
Some privacy issues relate to
observing sample collection.
The laboratory can take measures to sharply reduce tampering and substitution so that
direct observation isn’t needed.
The Fourth Amendment protects a person’s privacy with
respect to body fluids. But Sch merber v. California (1966) says
it doesn’t prohibit all intrusions,
only those not justified by the
circumstances or made in an
unreasonable manner.
You can ill-afford to alienate
the nonusers at the outset of a
drug testing program. A successful program depends largely on
the peer pressure that the
nonabusing employees exert on
the real targets: the users.
Testing employees
Use a state-of-the-art laboratory to obtain accurate, confidential results. Some laboratories take better quality control
measures than others. Because
people’s careers are affected by
the results, look beyond cost
when choosing a testing lab.
Screening costs vary from a
few dollars to $20 or more per
specimen. The cost depends on
method used, number of specimens submitted, required turnaround time, and the amount of
documentation required. Gas
chromatography/mass spectrometry provides the best level
of confidence, but its cost
ranges from $25 to more than
$100 for each drug in each urine
Laboratories must ensure
these safeguards:
Strictly control sample collection, identification, and handling.
Confirm a positive screening
by a method specific to the substance detected. For example, a
person who ate poppy seeds
may test positive for morphine.
When testing for opiates, such
as morphine, the test must be
more specific to rule out poppy
Give the employee a copy of
the laboratory re p o rt .
Retain samples for a decent
interval for possible retesting.
Positive results should not
become part of the employee’s
personnel file. And don’t give
the results to anyone, including
the police, without the employee’s written consent, except as
required by law or by established company policy in connection with the adjudication of
that employee’s rights.
If an employee refuses rehabilitation after positive drug
screening, management may
take action, including probation,
suspension, or dismissal. If an
employee volunteers a problem
and asks for help, all of management should not be notified;
maintain medical confidentiality.
If a drug is found during preemployment testing, the applicant is
rarely hired. Companies should
inform the applicant of the positive
results of the drug screen and
Copyright © 1991, The Aberdeen Group
All rights reserved
should provide information regarding the risks of drug abuse.
Positive tests should always
be confirmed by a second test
using another methodology
before taking action. Although
urine screening determines
prior drug use, positive results
do not prove impairment.
A medical professional should
interpret the tests and differentiate drug-use impairment from
other types of impairment. Drugs
may appear in urine for several
days, even weeks, without apparent impairment. For example, marijuana can be detected weeks after
its use.
Because of the inherent problems with judging impairment on
the job, urinalysis is best used to
deter drug use rather than demonstrate impairment. Drug testing is
not the solution to drug problems. It only supplies some of the
information needed to make intelligent decisions.
For more information on starting a drug testing program, write
to the National Institue on Drug
Abuse (NIDA), 5600 Fishers Lane,
Rockville, MD 20857 to order
Strategies for Workplace Drug
Abuse Program, DHHS Pub.
#(ADM) 87-1538, 1987.
Editor’s note
Parts one and two of this series tell
how pervasive substance abuse is
in the workplace and suggest ways
employers can fight it.