“For too long, we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice. The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem, and not a criminal problem.”
~ President Barack Obama, speaking at the 2016 National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit
Research has shown, time and again, that addiction is a mental health issue rather than a flaw in character or personality. With this in mind, drug addiction should be treated as a health problem, rather than a criminal, personal, or employment issue. In fact, treatment for substance abuse disorders is one of the ten elements of essential health benefits outlined in the Affordable Care Act.
Despite this refocus of national attention on the treatment and prevention of drug addiction, companies continue to conduct random and post-accident drug testing among their employees and sanction them for drug use. As many as 40 percent workers in the United States are subjected to drug tests during the hiring process. What is the purpose of these tests, and what should employees known about drug testing?
Why Companies Conduct Random Drug Testing and Post-Accident Drug Testing
From the perspective of hiring companies, the reasoning behind drug testing is clear – they want to ensure that their employees are not using or abusing illegal substances. The legal code does not mandate this practice, though both federal and state law allows employers to implement their own set of policies for drug testing.
But what are the specific reasons and perceived benefits behind drug testing for private companies? While there may be many different reasons for drug testing policies, the most common justifications include:
- Workplace safety
- Maintenance of health care costs
- Deterrence of drug use
- Maintenance of productivity in the workplace
Reason #1: Workplace Safety
The most commonly cited reason for drug testing employees in the workplace safety. This is relatively intuitive – if employees are using illegal mind-altering substances, and are under the influence of these drugs while at work, this creates a much less safe working environment. The safety issue is particularly salient for employees that drive company vehicles, operate heavy machinery, work directly with consumers or work in manual labor.
This reasoning behind drug testing in the workplace is confirmed by research, which has shown that there is a significantly higher prevalence for positive post-accident urine opiate tests than for random drug tests. In other words, those involved in workplace accidents are more likely to test positive for drug use than average employees.
Reason #2: Maintenance of Health Care Costs
Another reason companies routinely conduct random or post-accident drug testing is for the maintenance of their healthcare costs. This reasoning can be broken into two parts. First and foremost, since drug users are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents they are also more likely to incur significantly higher medical expenses than typical employees. Employers are understandably interested in minimizing these healthcare costs incurred by drug users, which is where random drug tests find their basis.
The second part of this reasoning is the fact that, in many states, the law disqualifies employees from the workers’ compensation and health benefits normally received after an accident if they have been found to be using or abusing drugs. This is true in at least thirty states around the country, and represents a significant source of savings for employers. Just as random drug testing can me preventative, post-accident drug testing can give employers the full picture and the ability to know whether or not drugs were involved in an accident or injury.
Reason #3: Productivity & Drug Deterrence
Companies also conduct drug testing and implement drug policies as a means of deterring drug use overall and to maintain productivity in the workplace. Employees are generally less productive when under the influence of drugs, which can represent a significant cost for employers. More than that, both random drug testing and post-accident drug testing ostensibly deter drug use altogether. If an employee knows that a company has a drug-free policy, they are certainly more likely to abstain from using illegal substances altogether.
Random & Post-Accident Drug Testing: What Employees Should Know
While the underlying reasoning for drug tests may be clear, given the discussion above, you may be left asking what all of this means for you as an employee. According to Workplace Fairness, there are few main aspects of drug testing policies that every employee should know:
“Most of the time after being hired an employer requires reasonable suspicion before having an employee take a drug test. Even with the recent legalization of marijuana in some states, employees in those states can still be punished for testing positive. The punishments for a failed drug test can include rehabilitation, termination, and losing unemployment benefits.”
The three main takeaway points regarding drug testing, that every employee should know, can be outlined as follows:
- There should usually be reasonable suspicion of drug use before being required to take a drug test (with the exception of random drug tests)
- The use of marijuana is still a punishable offense, even in states where it is otherwise legal
- Punishment for a failed drug test are not limited to termination; in some cases, the employer may instead require rehabilitation for the employee
Regardless of why employers conduct random or post-accident drug tests, or whether they are effective, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is never a good idea to use illegal substances. Even casual use can lead to abuse or addiction, which in turn affects your job performance and puts your relationship with your employer at risk.