Lab technician wearing gloves and holding a plastic specimen cup while writing notes.
There are many important factors to consider when drug testing employees, from the reasoning behind requiring the testing to deciding when and how to do it. — Getty Images/Charday Penn

Drug testing involves testing prospective and current employees for drug use, and it’s a fairly common practice. One study found that over half of responding companies had some type of drug testing policy in place. Here are five things you should consider before drug testing employees.

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When to test

One of the first things you need to consider is when you plan to drug test your employees. Will it be used primarily as a prescreening measure for new employees, or do you plan to perform random drug tests on employees after they’ve been hired?

It’s easier to drug test job candidates since you haven’t hired them yet. But it’s harder to cut ties with an employee who has already worked for you for months or years. Typically, companies that perform random drug screenings have employees that work in dangerous job settings.

Why you’re performing the test

To follow up on the previous point, you’ll want to consider why you’re testing your job applicants or employees. Many employers require drug testing due to on-the-job safety hazards.

For instance, if you have employees working at a construction site or operating heavy equipment, drug testing could be a way to keep all of your employees safe. In comparison, it’s harder to make the same case if your employees work in an office environment.

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The type of test

In the U.S., employers conduct drug screenings in one of four ways — a urine, hair, saliva, or blood test. Here is an overview of each type of test:

  • Urine test: Urine tests are the most common type of drug test performed in the U.S. But there are limitations with this type of test — they have a shorter detection window and can only detect substances taken within the last five to 10 days.
  • Hair test: During a hair test, the lab technician will cut 100 strands of the individual’s hair as close to their scalp as possible. A hair test is much more accurate and can detect drug use within the last three months, but it won’t show alcohol use.
  • Saliva test: Saliva tests are sometimes used because they’re less invasive, and it’s harder to alter the results since you can observe the applicant taking the test. However, the detection window is only seven to 21 hours.
  • Blood test: Blood tests are very accurate, but they’re the most invasive type of drug test. They’re also expensive to conduct, which is why most employers don’t use them.

There’s no federal law prohibiting drug testing, but you should check the laws in your state to ensure your business complies.

Check the laws in your state

There’s no federal law prohibiting drug testing, but you should check the laws in your state to ensure your business complies. Most states allow employers to drug test job applicants, but there may be specific procedures in place.

For instance, you may be required to inform potential employees that the job is contingent on them passing a drug test. And you may need to ensure that the tests are completed in a state-run laboratory.

There may be more legal constraints on drug testing current employees. Some states only allow you to test current employees if you reasonably suspect an employee is under the influence. To learn more, you should contact an attorney who can advise you on the laws in your state.

[Read more: This Week on Entrepreneur: How to Effectively Hire and Retain Employees]

The risks vs. rewards

Finally, you should consider how your potential employees will feel about drug testing policies. Are you prepared to possibly lose qualified candidates because they aren’t willing to go through a pre-employment drug test?

Opponents of drug testing argue that the practice is invasive and violates privacy. Before implementing this type of policy, you should weigh the risks and the rewards. Will drug testing contribute to a safer and more productive work environment? Ensure that the answer is yes before proceeding with a drug testing policy.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 28, 2022