Workplace drug testing – employer and employee rights

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Individuals who work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can pose a serious safety risk to themselves and their colleagues. In order to curb such behavior in the workplace, more employers nowadays are subjecting their employees to drug tests. Other than assisting in maintaining health and safety at work, workplace drug testing also seeks to prevent employees from engaging in illegal actions that may originate from drug-related activities.

Workplace drug testing is on the rise among private companies and in businesses where safety is critical – for instance in the construction, energy or public transport industries. The common method of testing includes the collection of urine, saliva, hair or blood specimens from employees. These samples are then analyzed in a laboratory for the presence of metabolites from illicit substances such as cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis and opiates.

The most widespread types of drug testing include:

  • Pre-employment testing where job applicants are screened prior to being employed. In this case, information about the drug test should be included in the job application form.
  • Post-incident testing where an employer decides to test workers following a workplace safety violation or accident.
  • Random or periodic testing where a number of employees are selected at random for testing. This method is quite intrusive and should be reserved for employees in safety-sensitive positions.

Employer rights

All employers are legally obligated to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their workers. Establishing a drug-free workplace is a step in the right direction. One way of doing this is through the enactment of a clear, acceptable and reasonable drug testing policy.

Employers should inform workers what drugs they are being tested for and should obtain their consent before a sample is taken. Furthermore, the testing should not be done in a discriminatory manner.

All tests ought to be conducted by an accredited laboratory and only the least intrusive testing methods should be used. A reputable company should provide training to enable selected staff members to carry out tests on their colleagues, making them more comfortable with the whole process.

Depending on the organization, employees who test positive for drugs may be required to undergo mandatory rehabilitation or may have their employment terminated. The action taken is dependent on the company’s written policy.

Employee rights

Employees have a right to be fully informed of their employer’s drug testing policies. This information ought to be included in the employee’s staff handbook.

While a worker cannot be forced to provide samples for drug testing, they may face disciplinary action if their employer has reasonable suspicion or valid grounds for demanding the procedure. Additionally, they can be compelled to take the test if their contracts specifically stipulate that this is one of the conditions of their job.

Before taking the drug test, an employee should detail any over-the-counter medications they have been taking as these might interfere with the test’s results by triggering a false positive. Should this happen, the worker in question has the right to contest the results.

All workers are also entitled to complete privacy when providing specimens for the test, especially when urine samples are required.

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