Company policy on substance abuse

Many employees are subject to testing for illicit drugs use and alcohol intoxication as a condition of employment. It is important for employers who require such testing to have in place a written policy defining who will be tested, under what circumstances, by what means, and with what response to various possible test results. This policy should be developed with medical advice and legal input, based on the particular goals of the company.

This policy should be developed with medical advice and legal input. It should be based on the particular goals for the company. This is not a policy to be created and then left to rest. Substance abuse and public policy are dynamic, so drugs testing policies must keep pace. There are new drugs of concern over time. Testing methods evolve. Prescription drugs and quasi-legal marijuana are pervasive issues. If an employer is required by federal or other regulations to have drugs testing performed, there may be more or less clearly defined procedures.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies have very specific policies and procedures, which serve as a model for non-mandated testing. These policies generally ignore legally prescribed but none the less potentially problematic substance abuse issues in the workplace. Screening for marijuana use is more heavily weighted compared to others, in large part due to the persistence of THC compounds for longer periods of time than other drugs.

Several points must be addressed in any company policy on drugs testing. These include reasons for testing, methods of testing and handling of results.

The reasons for testing may include pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and return to duty or follow-up testing after a violation or rehabilitation. Whether these are useful or legal, depends on your workplace and legal jurisdiction.

Policies should specify the methods of testing. If a specimen of body fluid or hair is to be collected, the policy should specify by whom and by what means such collection should take place.  When there are problems with collection, like a refusal to provide the specimen, or attempts to substitute or sabotage, a process should be in place.

Results of tests must be interpreted in a medically correct fashion, ideally by a physician, and with minimal compromise of the privacy of tested employees. Federally mandated testing requires a specifically trained physician, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) receive all test results, and discuss any potentially positive results with the test subject, prior to reporting to the employer.  This allows the employee to provide medically legitimate explanations for any positive results. The MRO will advise the employer only if there has been  drugs used illicitly or if there is a safety issue with medication used legally. Many companies utilize “rapid” or “onsite” testing, where a result is obtained immediately and usually by persons with little or no training. It is essential these tests not be considered correct unless it shows a negative result, or if a laboratory confirms the positive and a Medical Review Officer verifies there is no medically legitimate alternative explanationi for the findings.

Companies testing for illegal use of drugs and alcohol without such a policy in place risk ineffective testing and compromised litigation. HR managers and others responsible for such policies may wish to consider periodic consultation with a qualified Medical Review Officer and an attorney, to assure your policy is up to date, legally and medically accurate.