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 employees. 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 public. 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 appropriate 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 specimen. 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 seeds. 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 PUBLICATION #J911024 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.
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