The Advantages and Disadvantages of Workplace Drug Testing

The practice of workplace drug testing has been in existence for many years now, but it remains a controversial issue for many businesses.

For an employer it is an obvious fact they want to know about their staff members. On the other hand, employees often claim that workplace drug testing is a violation of their right to privacy.

Using an employer’s point of view, here are the most significant pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace.

Advantages of workplace drug testing

It promotes a safer working environment

Perhaps the single biggest advantage of workplace drug testing is the fact that it promotes workplace health and safety.

After all, it is undeniable that employees who use or abuse drugs pose a safety risk in the workplace.

This is especially true for safety-sensitive jobs involving handling hazardous chemicals, operating heavy machinery, or driving vehicles for your company. If any of them work while impaired by their drug of choice, whether it’s ice or alcohol, the risks of a workplace accident are significantly increased.

However, regardless of the industry, any workplace accident can lead to significant losses, injuries and even deaths. When that happens, it’s going to expose your company to a whole array of liabilities and public relations issues.

Reduce potential legal liability

When workplace accidents occur, employers potentially face legal liability. Especially if the accident occurred because of failure on the part of the employer to maintain a safe working environment. Without drug testing at work, there is no way for an employer to positively identify workers who pose a risk to everyone in the workplace with their drug use or abuse.

A workplace drug testing program therefore partly represents an employer’s effort to keep the environment at work safe for everyone. Drug testing in the workplace can help minimise workplace accidents, which in turn reduces the potential legal liability of employers themselves.

Workplace drug testing helps employees with drug problems

While it’s true that there are companies that immediately sack—often in accordance with their own drug and alcohol policy—an employee who fails a drug test, there are many thoughtful employers who actually give such workers a second chance. In companies with established drug and alcohol testing policies, workers with drug problems can benefit from drug tests, especially if they work for employers who are dedicated to helping them in any way they can.

Many employers help workers who test positive for drugs by helping them get into recovery or rehabilitation programs at their expense. This way, employees get a chance to get clean and be free from drug abuse, and the employers can still keep the experienced worker after completing the program without the hassle of having to hire and train a new employee for the job.

Less invasive than many believe

Workplace drug testing does not typically involve any form of blood sampling.

Oral saliva swabs or urine samples are what most companies use. These are quick to administer and provide reliable results in a very timely fashion.

As with all types of drug tests, any positive drug testing results must be verified for accuracy by an accredited drug testing laboratory.

Increased safety leads to better productivity

Drug testing leads to reduced accidents, which is a pretty good indicator that a workplace has indeed a safe working environment. That can only motivate employees to become more productive, knowing that their employers are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe while at work.

Companies with a comprehensive workplace drug testing program have consistently reported an overall improvement in job performance as well as employee morale.

Accident rates drop when there’s a drug testing program in place. We have observed the same for absenteeism, tardiness, employee theft and behavioural problems.

Pre-employment drug testing can screen drug users before hiring them

Some employers see pre-employment drug testing as an unnecessary cost on their part. However, when considering the potential cost of dealing with a drug user among your staff, you quickly see the value.

At what point would you find out that a person in your company is using illicit drugs?

Less employee turnover and reduced recruitment costs

Workers who abuse drugs are more likely to change jobs often. According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a drug-abusing employee can change jobs as often as three times annually.

But the real problem is that most of the time your best workers will leave first. You know this to be true. The best performing employees are the ones who are most in demand in your industry.

So if your workplace is impacted by low-performing staff and morale is low – why would your star performers stay?

Which high employee turnover, you will be forced to spend more on recruiting new workers to replace them.

A drug testing program, however, can impact employee turnover in a good way. A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) revealed that 16 per cent of organisations saw their employee turnover rates drop after they had implemented a drug testing program.

Improves staff morale

Drug abuse in the workplace is often synonymous to trouble for everyone in it. When employees see that a drug testing program is being strictly implemented, it impresses upon them how committed their employer is to providing a safe working environment for everyone. That raises morale among staff, which is always a good thing for any organisation.

It helps families of drug-using employees

Many organisations implementing drug testing programs also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in place. As its name suggests, an EAP aims to extend help to a troubled employee. This includes those who have tested positive for drugs. Assistance may come in the form of counselling or education programs. Some EAPs even have counselling services for family members of the employee in question.

Reduces potential workplace conflict/violence

Drug abusers tend to behave a little more aggressively, particularly those who are hooked on stimulant drugs such as ice or cocaine. With the implementation of a drug testing program, the organisation will be able to pinpoint and deal with drug abusing employees before any incidents of conflict and violence ever take place.

It helps educate workers about the dangers of drugs

Most drug testing programs often form part of a comprehensive company drug and alcohol policy which aims to increase awareness about the dangers of drugs. This is usually achieved through information campaigns, seminars, training, drug forums and the like.

Deters workers from using/abusing drugs

While there is no guarantee that a drug testing program will make drug users in the workforce drop their habit altogether, the possibility of getting tested randomly is clearly a deterrent. Many people will think twice before turning to drugs or alcohol if they care about their jobs or careers.

It creates a healthier workplace

Drug abuse carries with a number of health risks. The deterrent effect of drug testing at work, combined with the education of employees on these health risks, can significantly contribute to make the workplace a healthier one.

Boosts the reputation of your organisation

A drug testing program does more than just identify drug users in the workplace. It also shows how committed an employer is to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. That elevates an employer’s reputation not only in the eyes of his workforce, but of other organisations and the general public as well.

Reduce employee theft/fraud

Drug abusers are in constant need of money to fund their drug habit. Some resort to borrowing money from friends and family, but others turn to stealing. Some would actually steal directly from co-workers, while others commit fraud to the detriment of the employer. A drug testing program will be able to identify these drug abusers and deal with them appropriately, which can effectively reduce employee theft or fraud.

Reduce health insurance costs

As previously stated, drug abuse typically brings about a lot of health issues. Naturally, employees who abuse drugs incur higher medical costs than those who don’t. This means more frequent health insurance claims, which of course translates to higher premiums. A drug testing program can help the employer take appropriate action on drug abusers in the workforce, and that should help reduce insurance costs.

You can identify problem workers early

Workers who abuse drugs are more prone to absenteeism, tardiness and huge drops in work performance. While some employers can afford to put up with some absenteeism more easily than others, workers in their organisation, other employers could not. They will need drug testing to identify these drug abusers and problem workers, and take appropriate action.

Reduce exposure to workers’ compensation claims

When an employee suffers a work-related injury or illness, they will probably claim workers’ compensation. So you may have to cover medical costs, plus the days of work they miss because of that illness or injury. However, employees who test positively for drugs after an accident are unlikely to be able to claim workers’ compensation..

Disadvantages of workplace drug testing

Unfair dismissal suits

Workplace drug testing is also often at the centre of unfair dismissal suits.

Employees who test positive for illegal drugs and are subsequently sacked often file suit, saying they have been wrongfully terminated.

Even if the plaintiff loses the case, the company still stands to lose money. After all, lawsuits of any kind are costly and take away time and focus from staff involved in the case.

A solid, well-communicated drugs and alcohol policy is essential to prevent a lot of these headaches.

Workplace Drug Testing is an additional expense

For employers, the most obvious disadvantage of workplace drug testing is the cost of running such a program.

Contracting drug testing companies for the program does not come cheap, after all. Depending on the drug test method used, an employer may spend between $28 to $40 per person.

There also can be a significant time delay between an initial positive test result and the confirmation test that needs to be done by a certified lab. During this time your employee cannot work. This is one of the reasons you want to engage a drug testing company that has a network of labs. In this way they can confirm your positive test results much more quickly.

Accusations of violation of privacy

There’s also the general sense of opposition to workplace drug testing, and much of that opposition revolves around the idea that it violates employees’ right to privacy, and they can cite specific state laws that guarantee that right. When a business insists on workplace drug testing, it can sow the seeds of resentment among employees, and employee resentment often leads to reduced productivity and, therefore, lesser revenue for the business.

Workplace Drug testing is essential – no matter which industry

In summary, a workplace drug testing regime remains essential for companies. This is especially so in today’s world of easy-to-obtain drugs and alcohol.

For employers in the transport, construction, engineering and mining industries, drug screening has long been an obvious requirement. However, the need for drug testing extends across all industries. It is an unfortunate reality that white collar are in no way exempt from drug and alcohol abuse problems.

You always want to start with a solid drug and alcohol policy. This creates the framework not just for drug testing, but also for what happens if and when an employee tests positive. Without a legally solid and complete policy your drug testing program cannot keep your company safe.

Learn More

If you would like further information, please contact us today for a completely confidential discussion.

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