What Are the Pros and Cons of Employee Drug Testing?

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I worked with people with disabilities for seven years and never once got drug tested. I could have been high as a kite or drunk out of my mind on certain shifts, and the only people who would have known were my one coworker and my clients who couldn’t speak.

You would think in an industry where people’s lives are at stake, where you could kill someone by accidentally giving them the wrong drug or the wrong food, there would be a regular drug testing procedure. Once I made it into a position of moderate influence, I realized the funding wasn’t there. Every dollar went to programs which would directly benefit the clients. And the government clawed what it could from our hands to serve other state programs.

I’m certain that, while 99% of our employees were responsible and sober while at work, there was the 0.5-1% who weren’t. And they were a liability.

I feel strongly about what people should be allowed to do in their free time outside of work. It’s their responsibility to come to work (especially at a job where you’re responsible for people’s lives) sober.

But sometimes you need a way to keep people accountable for this responsibility. Drug testing isn’t always the answer. Here’s why you should or shouldn’t drug test your employees.

What Kinds of Drug Testing Is Out There?

To know whether drug testing is a good idea for your business, you need to understand what kinds of tests exist and what they do. Not all tests are created equal.

Laboratory Testing

Outside of uring testing, most drug test samples get sent to a lab. This lab could be in a hospital or it could be an independent lab.

Major and global sports organizations use their own special labs. In fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency is still investigating missing drug tests done on Russian athletes at an international testing facility.

There are two common methods for laboratory testing. Initial and confirmatory testing.

Labs perform these in conjunction with each other. The initial test is called immunoassay and if it’s negative, the test is negative. But if it’s positive, you need another test to confirm it’s not a false positive.

This second test is a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry test. This can specify the amount in the person’s system and help determine about how long it’s been since ingestion.

Urine Drug Testing

This is the most common drug test out there. It’s the one you see most in popular media. It’s also the only one that doesn’t always require a lab to perform depending on the drug you’re trying to sniff out.

Most urine tests will screen for five to ten drugs. These include commonly abused drugs like amphetamines, barbiturates, benzos, cocaine, and cannabis.

Saliva Drug Testing

The second most common test is saliva testing. You might have heard of this as the mouth swab test. It only tests for recent drug use.

It’s not accurate for long-term drug use. It won’t, for example, be able to tell if someone used cannabis a week ago. But it might be able to tell if they used it yesterday.

You need to avoid eating or drinking anything for at least ten minutes before your test. This should be feasible for most people.

This test is harder to beat than the urine drug test. You can’t easily replace ALL the saliva in your mouth. But there are products, as you can see here, that might be able to replace the saliva for a few moments. You’d just have to be slick and quick to keep anyone from noticing.

Blood Drug Testing

Blood testing is the most accurate for current drug use. It’s the go-to method for law enforcement in states where cannabis is legal.

Blood testing is an invasive method. You need a needle to extract blood from your arm. You need a medical professional to collect the sample. This cuts back on falsification by the employee. The only way to cheat, as we are seeing at WADA, is to bribe someone to swap the samples with clean ones or cook the books.

Hair Drug Testing

Hair is the longest form test out there. Unless you’ve cut your hair off completely, a hair test could detect use up to 90 days.

To cut down on fake samples, labs require the technician cuts 100 grams of your hair down to the scalp.

2. What Are the Pros of Drug Testing Your Employees?

Even if drug abuse doesn’t pose a safety risk at your business, there are other concerns about people who liberally abuse drugs. If your employees come to work constantly intoxicated, they might be disruptive for other employees. They might come off as rude to clients or customers.

These employees might be your personal friends. It’s difficult to watch friends who can’t handle substances and become abusers. But when you can prove they’re abusing, you can legitimately get them help.

Sometimes you can even use company funds to assist them with finding help if they want it. A skilled worker is someone you need to keep around. And they might be an even better worker once they find peace.

If your workplace entails safety hazards, a drug test could dissuade employees from putting themselves and others at risk by coming to work intoxicated. It could also help you identify risky employees before they become a hazard themselves.

3. Cons of Drug Testing Your Employees

Unless you’re going to pay for a blood test, you could be losing valuable employees to weekend shenanigans. Unless an employee is damaging the company reputation or coming to work intoxicated, why should you care what Jimmy is doing on the weekend? As long as he can perform his duties, you’re just being invasive with your program.

Drug tests can be used to discriminate against individuals who need certain medications. Even if such medications are illegal at the moment, this doesn’t mean they don’t treat symptoms of depression or chronic pain.

Drug tests could increase stress in an already stressful environment. If you’re certain your employees are responsible individuals and there are no signs of workplace intoxication, why add stress to your employees’ lives?

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