When and How to Drug Test Employees

By Haley Bass | 10/15/2018

Employee drug testing is a common practice, especially pre-employment drug testing with urine samples. But screening employees doesn’t need to be limited to this format. There are many circumstances where an employer might drug test their employees, and a variety of samples that can be used. Determining what to use for your company can depend on what regulations are on your industry, the purpose for drug screening, and the detection period you want to focus on.

What Employees Think about Drug Testing in the Workplace

Drug testing helps promote a safer workplace. EHS Today has reported that employees’ attitudes about drug testing in the workplace are more favorable than you might think. This is because employees say substance abuse in their own workplace “greatly” or “somewhat” negatively affects attendance, productivity, morale, health care costs, and safety. These opinions were expressed in a series of 14 state Gallup surveys.

To give you an idea of what drug testing options exist, here’s some basic information on different drug test situations and sample types.

When to Drug Test

There can be many reasons to screen employees for drug and alcohol abuse: to maintain a safe workplace, to comply with regulatory standards, or to determine the cause of an accident.

Here are some potential situations where you could require drug testing:

Pre-employment. Before the contract has been signed or as a hiring contingency, employers can require new/potential hires to undergo drug testing.

Reasonable suspicion/cause. If an employee’s appearance, behavior, speech, smell, etc. causes an employer to suspect drug or alcohol abuse, they can require a drug screen.

Random testing. Random tests help ensure that employees remain drug and alcohol free throughout their employment. The tests must use a random selection process where every employee has the same chance of being selected for screening. Some tests even include small windows of time to complete the drug test.

Post-accident testing. If a workplace accident is possibly the result of drug or alcohol abuse, the employer can require a drug screen. Employers should keep in mind that due to OSHA’s recent post-accident drug testing provisions, drug testing can only be required if there is reasonable suspicion that drugs or alcohol were involved.

How Drug Tests Are Performed

While urine is the most common sample used for employee drug tests, there are other methods labs can use to screen for drugs and alcohol. The four most common sample types – urine, blood, saliva, and hair – mostly differ by detection time, ease of collection, and cost.

Here’s what you should know about each sample:

Urine Drug Testing

Urine samples are relatively simple to collect and noninvasive for the employee. They are usually the least expensive of the drug test methods, and are effective at detecting recent drug use. However, while urine samples can test for the presence of illegal drugs, they don’t indicate the levels of drugs present.

Blood Drug Testing

Blood samples are more expensive and more invasive than other drug test samples, but they also tend to be more accurate. Because of this, blood samples are more likely to be used in medical settings and for legal investigations, instead of for regular employment drug testing.

Saliva Drug Testing

Saliva samples are just a little more expensive than urine samples, and are also relatively noninvasive. Saliva is becoming a more popular drug test sample because it’s easy to collect and is the best for detecting recent use, but it requires a more extensive lab process to ensure accuracy.

Hair Drug Testing

Hair samples are the best choice for detecting long-term drug use, but they do not usually detect use within the past week. Hair testing is a little more expensive and requires a decent chunk of hair, so this can be difficult when testing people with short or no hair. 

Concentra’s drug testing program offers all the drug test options you need, from different scenarios to different sample types. We’ll customize the program you need and ensure that everything complies with federal and state regulations. Talk to a Concentra work health expert to learn more about our drug test offerings.