The Basic Elements of Random Drug Testing

Drugs & Alcohol
HR Compliance

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Numerous studies, reports and surveys suggest that substance abuse is having a profoundly negative affect on the workplace in terms of decreased productivity and increased accidents, absenteeism, turnover, and medical costs. Even with a drug screening program for applicants, reasonable suspicion testing, and post-accident and post-injury testing, there is still a chance that drug users are not detected.

The answer for some employers may be a random drug-testing program.  Random drug testing may be appropriate in organizations where management has knowledge or strong suspicion of widespread or problematic drug use or where the consequences of drug use could be substantial.  Random drug testing includes all employees—not just those covered by Department of Transportation rules.  This testing is in addition to pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, and post-accident testing.  A formal written substance abuse policy that prohibits use, possession, sale, or exchange of illegal drugs should be developed and communicated to all employees.  Such policies may also offer rehabilitation assistance to those that voluntarily disclose drug problems.

A good random drug testing program will contain the following elements:

  • A “no exception rule”Everyone from the chief executive on down should be in the program.
  • A true random screening process—Tests must be unannounced and occur at predetermined intervals among randomly selected employees.  The process is best maintained and controlled by an outside contractor using a computer program.
  • Full disclosure to employees—The written substance abuse policy should be communicated to every employee.
  • Testing by competent professionals—Many occupational health clinics and other health care providers supply the needed services.
  • Confidentiality—Test results and disciplinary action should be shared only with those that need to know.
  • Supervisory training—All supervisors should be trained in the provisions of the program and in the recognition of the signs of drug use.
  • Help for those in trouble—Often, employers will give a second chance to employees discovered to have drug problems as a result of random testing, provided the employee seeks and provides proof of ongoing professional help.  Employee assistance programs often come into play in providing rehabilitation.  More frequent testing is usually performed during the rehabilitation period.  In many cases, this second chance does not apply to employees that test positive for drugs post-accident or where there is reasonable suspicion.

Employers should use caution in deciding to implement a random drug testing policy.  While the laws in most states do not specifically prevent drug testing, random drug testing may trigger concerns about violation of employee privacy rights and discrimination on the basis of a disability, among others.  The law is rapidly developing in this area.  Any employer considering the implementation of policies relating to drug testing is advised to seek professional counsel before acting.

In appropriate circumstances, the addition of random drug testing may help employers feel more confident that their place of employment is drug free.