Reasons Behind Employee Drug Tests

Drug use and abuse are increasing by the day.  In fact, according to research done by, hair drug tests are becoming more common in the US. Perhaps that’s because the USA consumes at least 60% of all illegal drugs in the world?

Surprisingly, the same research suggests that at least 77% of all drug abusers in the USA are employed; either partly or wholly. No surprise, then, that employee drug tests are conducted in many areas of employment.

Considering the effects that illegal drug use and abuse can have in the workplace, employee drug tests are critical.

Although drug tests are not mandatory by law for all employers (except those heavily controlled by the federal government e.g. the military, transportation, and nuclear energy), different states and localities have different rules and regulations regarding the issue of testing employees for drugs.

It would be important to note that both non-union companies and union companies are allowed to carry out drug tests. Nevertheless, union companies are required to negotiate and agree upon how these drug testing programs will be implemented.

Federal agencies, on the other hand, are required to follow standard testing procedures that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) body lays down.

Samples and Drugs Tested

Different specimens can be used for drug testing purposes. Urine is the most commonly used to test for illicit drugs, while breath samples are mostly used to test for alcohol. However, blood, sweat, hair, and even oral fluids can be utilized for drug testing.


According to SAMHSA, employee drug tests should check for five main types of drugs;

  1. Cocaine (i.e. coke or crack)
  2. THC (found in marijuana)
  3. Opiates (e.g. heroin, opium, codeine, and morphine)
  4. Amphetamines (e.g. meth, ecstasy)
  5. Phencyclidine (commonly known as angel dust)

Other drugs that employers could test for include alcohols, benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Librium, and Xanax), hallucinogens (e.g. LSD, mushrooms, and peyote), and even anabolic steroids such as those used for muscle building.

When To Conduct Drug Tests?

Employers can require drug tests for their employees based on some reasons. These include but are not limited to;

  1. After an employee has been involved in an accident and particularly when the accident has caused fatalities, caused physical damage of beyond a certain monetary amount, or even when the police have cited the accident. In this case, drug testing is done to determine whether or not drugs were a factor.
  2. When there is reasonable suspicion that an employee or employees are engaged in the use of illegal/illicit drugs. Reasonable suspicion can be evoked in situations such as;
    • when an employee has been seen using a drug or showing symptoms of drug use,
    • an employee engages in abnormal behavior while at work, and particularly when it leads to a reduction in productivity.
    • when an employee has tampered with drug tests.
    • when an employee has possessed, sold, solicited, or even transferred drugs at the workplace.


  3. Employee drug tests can also be random and unpredictable.
  4. When the tests are periodic and regularly scheduled.
  5. Before hiring employees.

    Why Are Employee Drug Tests Necessary?

    The primary objective of carrying out drug tests is to prevent employees from abusing drugs (especially illegal ones) in the workplace. Indeed, according to the annual Drug Testing Index report, regular drug testing among employees has significantly reduced the number of employees who test positive for drugs. In fact, by 2013, the report asserts that only 3.7% of all employees tested for drugs were active; down from 13.6% in 1988.

Other reasons for carrying out drug tests include;

  1. Pre-employment drug testing is critical in ensuring that the agency/company does not hire anyone who uses illicit drugs.
  2. To make sure that employee who has drug abuse problems are identified early and appropriate action is taken soon.
  3. To keep track that the workplace is safe not only for employees but also for other stakeholders such as customers.
  4. Employee drug tests also ensure that the organization stays within safe, legal grounds especially in regards to illegal drugs.
  5. As a way of protecting the public as a whole and in so doing, boost consumer confidence levels in the company.

Drug tests are a good way of bringing about cost-saving and incentives. These savings can come about from reduced medical expenses, reduced loss from accidents as well as absenteeism, and even Workers’ Compensation premium discount programs.

In the long term, organizations can also benefit from increased productivity which subsequently increases the organization’s profitability. Drug testing allows employers to identify and weed out any employees who are unproductive as a result of drug abuse hence having a positive impact on productivity.

Pre-employment drug testing can also have the effect of reducing employee turnover costs and the resulting costs of hiring and training replacements.

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