The Pros and Cons of Drug Screening Employees
According to the most recent statistics published by the U.S. Department of Labor, 6.7 million full-time and 1.6 million part-time workers employed in the United States are drug users.
What does this mean for builders and remodelers? Quite a bit, says Tim Dimoff, president and founder of Akron, Ohio-based SACS Consulting Inc., a national consulting firm specializing in high-risk workplace issues.
“Any type of employer who has public contact with people or in their homes doing any type of business has a greater need to provide security to your business and the people you are serving,” Dimoff says.
While workplace safety remains of utmost importance, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says some forms of drug testing do not necessarily contribute to a safer work place.
“According to the National U.S. Academy of Sciences, the drug most often responsible for on-the-job accidents is alcohol, yet this substance is seldom screened by employee drug testing programs,” Armentano says.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics indicate construction workers report the highest rates of illicit drug use at 15.6 percent. These alarming statistics spark the debate for drug screening in the construction industry.
A recent study conducted by Cornell’s School of Labor Relations also reported that construction companies that screen for drugs reduced injury rates by 51 percent within two years of implementing the program. Compare that to a 14 percent decline in injury rates for the average construction company over the same two-year period.
“With contractors, you also have more liability because of the unique nature of the business,” Dimoff says, adding that a drug screening program can not only reduce injury, but bolster your entire business.
“It’s a good sales and marketing tool for your business,” he says. “You can advertise yourself as a drug-free workplace, which is a positive.”
Plan your next steps
Companies that see the value of implementing a drug screening program must consider how to implement one. Dimoff suggests considering several points, including:
- Put it writing: Have a detailed, written policy in place that explains where such testing will take place as well as procedures to follow regarding positive and negative results. “You want to create a detailed policy that covers all aspects of drug testing for fairness of employees and as an insurance policy for liability issues,” he says.
- Keep continuity: The company has to understand that this type of program applies from the CEO of the company to all part-time workers, without exception.
- Training mode: Train supervisors so they learn how to observe, document and confront drug-related issues in a fair and objective manner. Also have a drug screening education program for the general employees and provide them a forum where they can debate and answer questions.
- When to test: It is common to administer the test pre-employment, after an accident and for probable cause. Random drug testing, however, sparks a larger debate, Dimoff says. “It’s another enforcement tool to keep people in line and make the place a more safe and secure business,” Dimoff says. On the other hand, employees tend to bristle at random testing, but Dimoff says that if an entire company is included in the screening pool, drug-free employees usually have no objections.
Test types and tactics
Contractors have several options when it comes to testing methods. Saliva, urine and hair tests are the most popular, says Don Dressler, safety and human resources consultant for Don Dressler Consulting and past president of a worker’s compensation insurer. Saliva and urine give the employer a one to three-day history of the employee while hair testing—although more expensive—can result in a more comprehensive test.
“A half inch of hair will give the employer a 30-day history of drug use,” Dimoff says.
Armentano believes, however, that drug testing methods that use urine or hair samples can be more problematic than beneficial to the employer.
“Urine testing is not suitable for detecting employees’ impairment or on-the-job drug use because the procedure only screens for inactive drug metabolites, not for the presence of illicit drugs,” he says.
The same science applies to hair tests, which only test for inactive substances. He recommends implementing saliva, blood or even field sobriety tests, which can give the most accurate results of an employee’s current condition to better determine recent drug use and/or on the job impairment.
According to Armentano, field sobriety tests tend to be the most effective, because an employee can be tested with immediate results on his or her current condition. These also test if an employee is drinking alcohol on the job—a substance that would not typically show up during a drug screening.
The location of the test is often equally as important as the method of the test for employers who decide on a program, Dressler says. He suggests using a third-party medical clinic to administer all screenings since they can maintain privacy for the employee.
What to choose?
Dimoff and Dressler agree that testing employees results in a safer and more cost-efficient workplace.
“My observation is, if you are in the remodeling business, you would be more attractive to someone who is seeking a contract if you had more reliable and safer workers,” Dressler says.
While Armentano says he supports providing a safe environment for workers, employers should consider their methods and motivations when it comes to screenings.
“The idea behind testing is to create a safe work place and determine if employees are using on the job,” he says. “Some of the systems, like urinalysis and hair testing, in place don’t do any of those things.”