The Importance of Drug Testing in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

Drug testing involves exposing biological samples to chemical analysis. Results can detect substance abuse from hours, days or even weeks before the test and reveal signs such as distorted senses, euphoria, drowsiness, and lack of balance coordination and agility. Despite the widespread acceptance of drug testing among job applicants and workers, little is known about its efficacy.


Drug testing in the workplace can benefit a company by reducing costs, such as lost productivity, accidents, injuries, workers’ compensation claims, theft, and low employee morale. Many states and localities have laws that require employers to test workers for drugs if there is reasonable suspicion of their use. However, some employees resent workplace drug tests and may refuse to participate in them. Companies should review their policies to comply with state and local laws in such cases. Employers should also be aware of the details about drug testing, particularly regarding federal law. While most workplace drug testing programs are legal, companies should be careful not to single out specific groups of employees for drug screening, and their policies should be written to ensure that they do not violate the Occupational Safety and Health Act or the Family Medical Leave Act. Employers should understand recreational drug use’s short- and long-term effects, including distorted senses, judgment, euphoria, slowed reactions, drowsiness/relaxation, elevated heart rate, and addiction. They should be aware that most standard pre-employment urine tests detect the use of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, and certain prescription medications. Some employers also conduct more comprehensive drug tests that include other substances or screen for a wider range of drugs.

Reasonable Suspicion

Employers can conduct drug testing regularly or when they have reasonable suspicion that an employee may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This type of testing is usually performed by a supervisor or other trained person who observes the appearance, behavior, speech and smell commonly associated with drug and alcohol use. These observations must be specific and not just a hunch or guess. In addition, the word must occur just before or during work hours.

The results of a reasonable suspicion test are generally not used to determine whether or not an employee is allowed to keep their job. This type of testing aims to identify and remove drug users from safety-sensitive positions so they do not endanger others. Studies have shown that pre-employment drug tests effectively select workers who will perform well on the job. However, it is important to consider the overall impact of a drug-testing program on the company and its employees before making changes to the process. If the program is relaxed, it may slow down the hiring process and make it easier to bring in skilled workers promptly. Also, if the program uses a set of critical selection parameters that are not necessarily related to job performance, it could lead to undesirable outcomes.


Most employers conduct pre-employment drug screenings to prevent hiring people who might use drugs or alcohol. This type of testing typically includes a urine sample that undergoes an initial screen and, if necessary, a confirmation screen to identify the presence of illegal substances. Employers can test for methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, or other drugs as they see fit. Although some workers welcome the need for drug testing, others feel it is insulting and an invasion of privacy. Many high school seniors who participated in follow-up surveys reported that they strongly approved of drug tests to get a job but only slightly approved them as conditions for keeping a job. Some workers subject to federal regulations or working in industries with safety risks also require pre-employment drug tests. Drug testing critics argue that the utility of drug-testing programs is undermined by the possibility that a positive test result could be the basis for discrimination, retaliation, and termination of a well-liked worker.


Drug testing of employees is a common practice for many employers, especially those in safety-sensitive industries. These tests detect substances like methamphetamines, THC, cocaine, opiates, and phencyclidine. Typically, these tests are conducted by a professional laboratory, using immunoassay and gas chromatography to ensure high accuracy. Pre-employment drug screening is the most common form of workplace drug testing. It is done before a job candidate signs an employment contract or starts work to reduce accidents absenteeism, and improve productivity. Additionally, some companies implement this test in compliance with government regulations and directives or industry-specific standards.

Employees who have positive results are not guaranteed a position in the company. Still, they are often offered a temporary contract with the opportunity to prove they are clean before they can be considered for a permanent role. This can be an effective deterrent against drug use, particularly for those who are not already abstinent from drugs or alcohol in their personal life. Periodic drug screening is conducted on a regular schedule that employees can anticipate, such as quarterly or during required annual physical examinations. This type of testing is generally permissible under federal laws, but local rules can vary. For example, some states prohibit this type of testing unless it is based on reasonable suspicion.


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