Drug Testing and Alcohol Testing of Employees
Perhaps the largest legal, social, and economic issue in the workplace is the use of drugs and alcohol. The public policy of favoring alcohol and drug-free workplaces has been viewed by some as the most intrusive invasion of employee privacy rights to date. However, the reality for employers is that drug and alcohol use can affect employees’ health and productivity and may impact safety in the workplace.
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In addition to pure monetary loss, employees with drug and alcohol problems often have higher absenteeism, are less productive, have higher medical costs, and have more accidents and injuries. The cost of drug abuse to employers has been estimated to be as high as $100 billion a year. During the late 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court approved employer drug and alcohol testing for applicants and employees under special circumstances.
Additionally, federal legislation, including the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, requires a majority of federal contractors and grantees to develop policies to maintain a drug-free workplace. Testing regulations are now mandatory for the transportation industry. Several federal agencies also have employee drug testing programs. The Department of Defense tests all employees in security-sensitive jobs while the Department of Transportation requires workers in safety-sensitive positions such as truck drivers, airline crews, train crews, and pipeline employees to undergo testing.
Statistics on drug and alcohol use by workers
According to a report released in 2007 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- the prevalence of past month illicit drug use among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 was estimated to be 8.2 percent in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Nearly one out of five (19.0 percent) workers aged 18 to 25 used illicit drugs during the past month. This was a higher percentage than among the 26-to-34 (10.3 percent), 35-to-49 (7.0 percent), and 50-to-64 (2.6 percent) age groups.
- An estimated 8.8 percent, or 10.1 million, of full-time workers reported past month heavy alcohol use. Among younger workers (18 to 25 years old), 16.3 percent reported past month heavy alcohol use compared with 10.4 percent of 26- to 34-year-olds, 8.1 percent of 35- to 49-year-olds, and 4.7 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds.
- Of the major occupational groups, food service workers (17.4 percent) and construction workers (15.1 percent) exhibited a higher prevalence of past month illicit drug use than other occupational groups. Those working in education, training, and library occupations (4.1 percent), community and social services occupations (4.0 percent), and protective service occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest prevalence of past month illicit drug use among the major occupational groups.
The study, from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, uncovers an important finding for businesses, showing that current drug users were more likely to work for employers that did not conduct workplace drug or alcohol testing programs. In addition, nearly a third of current illicit drug users said they would be less likely to work for employers that conducted random drug testing.
Because drug use can affect employees’ health and productivity, it’s important for businesses to periodically review their drug-testing policies. By implementing workplace drug-testing policies, an employer may be able to help prevent drug use before it starts, identify employees who need drug treatment, and reduce work-related accidents due to illegal drug use.
Basic Training for Supervisors, easy-to-read guides for managers on employment law, including a guide on substance abuse
State laws regarding workplace drug testing
A number of states have enacted legislation regulating alcohol and drug testing in the private sector and a few govern the public sector. Other states provide workers’ compensation discounts or immunity from liability for testing to employers who comply with statutory drug testing procedures. A handful of states require employers to establish drug-free workplaces in order to be awarded contracts or grants from state agencies. Additionally, many employers have implemented substance abuse testing programs whether or not required to do so by law.
State by state comparison of 50 laws in 50 states, including workplace drug testing
Comprehensive laws and regulations on alcohol and drug testing cover many issues. These include an employers’ right to test, the creation and communication of policies, the collection and custody of samples, laboratory licensing and procedures, the consequences of positive results, confidentiality of results, and the enforcement of rights and obligations.