Drug Testing in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

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In our current business environment, employers require potential employees to go through drug testing as part of the employment condition. If prospective employees fail the pre-employment drug screening exercise, they are likely not to be hired. Additionally, most employers are now conducting on-the-job screening to prevent drug abuse from happening in or out of the workplace. Positions that are sensitive to safety are the ones that tend to require drug testing.

What is drug testing? 

This is a process that is used to identify prescription and illegal drugs in an employee’s system. Some companies perform drug tests on their potential employees pre-employment, and they also conduct routine screenings. This is especially common in industries where drugs can compromise the safety and performance of the business.

Drug testing is also used for legal reasons. For example, during car accidents, drug testing is done to determine where the fault lies. It can also be used in the cases of child custody to help determine if a child is fit to be raised by a certain parent.

Rules governing drug testing by an employer

For private employers, they can conduct pre-employment drug tests together with random testing on a needs-basis without government regulation. However, there are states that have laws regarding alcohol and drug testing. So, if you want to be more familiar with the laws in your state, ask an attorney.

Many agencies of the government require pre-employment testing and a random drug and alcohol screening. During the tests, there is a strict follow-up on the strict guidelines governing protocol for evaluating and administering the tests, along with employment treatment programs procedures, and rules for an employee getting back to work after completing a drug abuse treatment program.

The drug tests are done as a safety measure since most employees in industries like in transportation are driving vehicles like automobiles, train, and automobiles. If a driver is intoxicated, they can put the lives of the passengers at risk.

Which substances do drug tests identify?

Let us look at the drugs that fall within the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) guidelines:

  • Cocaine (crack or coke)
  • Alcohol
  • Amphetamines (speed, ecstasy, meth, crank)
  • Opiates (opium, codeine, heroin, morphine)
  • Phencyclidine (angel dust, PCP)
  • THC (hash, marijuana, cannabinoids)

More drug tests can be conducted to identify other types of narcotics. The eight-panel test identifies:

  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes)
  • Barbiturates (butalbital, downers, secobarbital, phenobarbital)
  • Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like Xanax, Librium, Valium)

The ten penal test identifies the drugs listed above with:

  • Propoxyphene (compounds of Darvon)
  • Methadone

Additional drugs may be included in your employer’s drug testing program.

Prescription drug testing 

In the panels, you will realize that there are legal prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs. Most of the employees who use these prescription drugs are protected by ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
But in some positions that take safety very highly, the employer can argue on the risk that these prescription drugs present to the job.

If you take a prescription drug and you are asked for a drug test by your employer, then you need to have the necessary paperwork that includes: a letter from the doctor who prescribed it, the prescription, and any other supporting documentation. If you do not want to present these documents, you are also entitled to the protection of privacy.

You can discuss your options with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2007, a car manufacturer was sued by the EEOC for suspending several employees who tested positive for prescription drugs. The employees had valid prescriptions, and the company lost the case. The car manufacturer had to pay $750,000 as the settlement.

Industries that conduct drug testing

The industries that are more common to conduct drug testing because employees safety is their major concern include:

  • Sports
  • Construction
  • Oilfield
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation

Can you refuse a drug test?
You can openly refuse to take a drug test at work, but you will lose your job. Drug tests are legal, and you will not have much to do legally if a company terminated or denied you a job because you refused to submit a drug test. There are various reasons as to why you can refuse to take a drug test, but be careful to weigh how your decision will affect your employment.


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