Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

By Kia Wakefield

Most employers don’t want to retain a worker that uses illegal substances. At work, substance abuse pose a major concern for everyone on the job. Every employee is affected by the problem because it increases the risk of mistakes and accidents.

Substance abuse in the workplace can also hamper productivity. It was president Ronald Reagan who made drug and alcohol testing in the workplace legal. The former president is famous for his war against drugs and substance abuse. During his presidency, Reagan instituted an anti-drug program with the slogan “Just Say No.”

More companies are beginning to say “no” to the hiring and employment of workers who use drugs. Thousands of companies have instituted drug and alcohol policies that attempt to remove substance abuse from the workplace. One of the main ways this is done is through a drug and alcohol screening process.

Random Testing

For many companies, the process of screening for drugs is random. Random drug testing is in the best interest of employers who want to know for certain that an employee is abusing substances. Random drug testing is not allowed in every state.

Professions that involve machinery or operating equipment (such as a car) are especially likely to have drug and alcohol screening policies. People who work in these particular professions have the capacity to endanger others, and employers want to ensure that their workers are sober at all times. By conducting random drug testing, a company can shield itself from any potential liability if a drug-impaired employee causes damage.

Companies have a professional reputation to maintain. This reputation can be threatened by individuals who misuse substances in the workplace. Financial damage can also ensue when a company employee misuses or damages property because they are not sober.

Legal Considerations

Companies must make sure that their drug screening policies are in compliance with United States law and do not infringe on the legal rights of their employees. When employers are not fully compliant with the law, the result is often litigation. Many lawsuits are often in favor of the employee rather than the employer.

Disciplinary Action

When individuals fail a drug test in the workplace, the employer has the right to take some type of disciplinary action. The action could be a refusal of hiring, probation or outright termination. If an employer doesn’t want to fire an employee, they can reassign the person to another position that poses less risk to others.

If a person is caught red-handed with drugs in the workplace, the problem can go beyond employment and fall into criminal liability. Companies have the right to call the police, which could result in an arrest. If the employee is fired and arrested, the consequences for that individual are normally dire.

People who are fired because of drug and substance abuse are denied the opportunity to get employment benefits. In addition to a lack of employee benefits, it may also be difficult for the individual to find new work in the future. Most employers want to stay informed about a potential employees’ past. Revealing a past termination because of a substance abuse problem could cost an individual a job or opportunity.

When considering drug and alcohol screening in the workplace, employers and employees should work together to solve the complex issue of substance abuse. The drug problem is not going away in the near future, and employees and employers must protect themselves and their work ethic from substance abuse.

It’s important to remember that random drug testing doesn’t solve the root issue of a substance abuse problem. Workplaces that conduct random drug and alcohol testing are encouraged to provide programs for employees who have an addiction problem. If the company is unable to offer this type of support, they can allow the employee the chance to seek help elsewhere, such as a residential treatment center or outpatient drug rehab. This is beneficial to the company and the employee, and being flexible can help companies support affected employees instead of punishing them.