How to Implement a Successful Drug Testing Program

By Cholakis, Peter | Risk Management, November 2005 | Go to article overview

How to Implement a Successful Drug Testing Program


Cholakis, Peter, Risk Management


Many organizations do not realize the prevalence of employee drug abuse or they do not believe it is a problem in their companies. But studies have shown that on average, 10% to 12% of the workforce in any given company abuse drugs.

This is especially true of the construction industry, for example, which is a dangerous line of work even under ideal conditions. But the industry also has one of the highest rates of drug use among its workers with approximately 25% of all laborers and supervisors abusing drugs. Studies demonstrate the link between on-the-job accidents and drugs. In fact, more than 50% of job-site accidents are caused by illegal drug use, according to a study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance and Cornell University.

Drug use is not confined to construction, however, and firms that turn a deaf ear to the reality of illicit drug use put themselves at high risk for potentially devastating personal, legal and financial repercussions. While abuse of certain drugs has fallen off in recent years, still others are on the rise. The most recent Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index indicated that amphetamine abuse is rising and will continue to increase as meth labs pop up across the Eastern states. In fact, drug test results showed a 68% increase in methamphetamine use from 2002 to 2003.

The effects of on-the-job accidents resulting from drug abuse go beyond injuries and possible loss of life. Consider the high insurance payouts and costs, increased benefit utilization and workers comp claims caused by drug abusers. These can drive insurance premiums to unmanageable levels. Injured employees are away from work, often for extended periods of time. And high accident rates can damage the company's reputation. All of these factors can severely affect any organization's ability to stay competitive. With this in mind, instituting an employee drug testing program seems to be a natural solution.

Implementing a drug testing program may seem like a daunting task for an organization, but, in fact, the process is relatively straightforward and generally well accepted if approached with the right resources and support. Since drug testing is a strategic corporate issue that affects the safety of employees, the financial bottom line and the overall competitiveness of an organization, the key is getting a commitment from all levels of the enterprise.

When implementing any drug testing program, an organization must consider the following:

Legal ramifications. There is a general lack of awareness and much misinformation in the United States regarding the legal issues surrounding drug testing. Although there are some restrictions employers must keep in mind, employee drug testing is in fact legal. Corporations and employees alike are protected and supported by federal law. in the form of the 1998 Drug Free Workplace Act, which provides employers and employees with the right to work in a drug-free workplace. The majority of federal and state guidelines and statutes support drug policies and drug testing programs. The federal government firmly supports drug testing programs in the workplace.

Drug testing policies and programs must be created fairly, well documented, professionally administrated and effectively communicated to all parties involved. Per the U.S. Department of Justice, employers must be fully cognizant of the legal liabilities associated with drug testing and brought by lawsuits, primarily originated by (1) unhired applicants and employees who refuse to take a drug test or who are discharged or disciplined for positive test results or (2) clients, fellow employees and members of the general public who may be injured or affected by a drug-using employee. It is important to note that settlements in the former category are usually in the low thousands of dollars, while those in the latter are often in the millions according to the U.S. Department of Justice. …

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