Company policy on substance abuse

Revised 10/31/2018 for clarity and completeness

Workplace Drug Testing must be based on a formal company policy.

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.

Policy development is a continuing process.

Your drug testing 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 nonetheless 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.

Specify every aspect of the drug testing process

It is important to be comprehensive and detailed regarding all issues involved with drug testing. These include trigger events for testing, methods of specimen collection, what drugs are tested, what constitues a positive result, and how results get reported.

Reasons for drug testing and/or alcohol tests

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. The extent to which each of these may be useful or whether legally allowed, depends on your goals and legal jurisdiction.

Drug testing methods must be described clearly and completely.

Policies 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 to respond. For example, suspicious behavior during a urine collection may trigger an observed collection.

Medical Review of Test Results

Results of tests from the laboratory must be interpreted in a medically sound fashion, ideally by a physician, and with no unnecessary compromise of the privacy of tested employees. Federally mandated testing requires a specifically trained and certified physician, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) receive all test results. The MRO contacts the employee to discuss any  results “confirmed positive” by the laboratory, 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. Only then is the result considered a “verified positive” and reported to the employer.

“On-site” rapid testing is preliminary at best

Many companies utilize “rapid” or “onsite” testing, where a result is obtained immediately and usually by persons with little or no training. If such a test shows a negative result, and if it is correct, hiring might proceed immediately. If the “rapid” test is “not negative”, it must be submitted to the laboratory before personnel decisions are made. Such decisions should be deferred until a laboratory confirms (or contradicts) the positive and a Medical Review Officer verifies there is no medically legitimate alternative explanation for the findings.

What is a positive test result? What are the consequences?

Company policy must specify what constitutes a positive result. Then, it must be clear what consequences will follow a confirmed positive test.

Create or update your company drug and alcohol policy now.

Companies testing for illegal use of drugs and alcohol without a formal policy in place risk ineffective testing and damaging 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.