Testing for Drugs and Alcohol

Most employers in the U.S. are not required to drug test employees, and testing is not required under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 (unless you are operating under certain federal contract rules). However, most private employers have the right to test for a variety of substances. Implementing a drug-free workplace policy, including testing, may help you:
  • Cut down on accidents and insurance claims
  • Gain some protection from potential negligence lawsuits
  • Identify and assist employees whose productivity may be suffering due to substance abuse
  • Show employees you care about maintaining a healthy and efficient work environment

Testing Job Applicants

Generally, states allow employers to test job applicants for drugs. However, you must follow your state's specific rules and procedures intended to prevent discrimination and inaccurate samples. For example, a number of states allow applicant testing only if:
  • The applicant is informed that testing will be part of the screening process for new employees
  • The applicant has been offered the job, contingent on passing a drug test
  • All applicants for the same job are tested similarly
  • The tests are administered by a state-certified laboratory.

Testing Current Employees

There are some legal constraints on drug-testing current employees, and again, rules vary by state. Some states do not allow blanket drug tests of all employees or random drug tests. You may be required to focus testing on an individual based on some form of probable cause, such as repeated inappropriate or dangerous behavior, or because the person is in a high-risk job that could be dangerous if performed by someone who is under the influence.

If You Decide to Test…

Before designing a drug-testing program, you should familiarize yourself with the various state and Federal regulations that may apply to your organization.
While private employers are not required to follow the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guidelines – such as testing only for certain drugs and using certified laboratories – doing so will help you stay on safer legal ground. Also, if state laws allow testing, administer it evenly across your entire workforce to avoid anti-discrimination claims.

Game Plan

  • For drug laws specific to your state, scroll down to the bottom of this page and select your state from the list. Many states have their own Drug-Free Workplace programs. If you follow the rules and requirements outlined in these programs, you may get certain protections under the law.
  • A comprehensive, drug-free workplace program should include a written policy shared with all employees, supervisor or management training for implementing and enforcing the program, employee education and assistance, and specific drug-testing protocols. For help in setting up a drug-free workplace program, visit Working Partners.
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