Workplace drug testing…is it a common occurance?
USA Mobile Drug Testing sees it all the time, but read an article from the Institute for Behavior and Health: In recent months, workplace drug testing has filled the news media in the United States as a
controversial issue. In reality, drug testing is common in the workplace as part of drug-free
workplace programs. A September 2011 poll of human resource professionals about company
practices on pre-employment drug tests that was conducted by the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM) and the Drug and Alcohol Testing industry Association (DATIA)1
showed that 57% of these companies required pre-employment drug tests for all job candidates,
10% conducted pre-employment tests only on employees seeking safety-sensitive positions, 4%
conducted these tests only when required by law, and 29% conducted no pre-employment
testing.2 A total of 36% of all companies conducted post-employment drug testing of current
employees. Of the organizations that conducted post-employment testing, over half (51%)
conducted post-accident testing, and nearly half (47%) conducted random drug testing. Other
forms of testing included reasonable suspicion (35%), follow-up (20%), for-cause (19%), site
testing based on a significant drug-abuse problem (8%), baseline testing to determine level of
drug use (6%), and other (4%).
Many federal workers have been subject to workplace drug testing programs for decades, along
with private federal contractors, and anyone working in safety-sensitive jobs. Drug testing has
become increasingly common practice in the workplace, with many corporations and expanding
numbers of small businesses including drug testing as routine. Drug testing state employees has
been less common than drug testing of private sector employees. Recently Florida lawmakers
passed a measure permitting random drug testing of state employees in order to deter drug use.
This initiative, now signed into law, has been criticized by some who claim that random testing
of current employees is unnecessary and that it is an invasion of privacy.3 Florida state agency
managers have been advised to place the implementation of drug testing on hold pending legal
action on a related drug testing issue in the state.4 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
historically has been opposed to workplace drug testing, including both pre-employment and
random testing of workers. (The ACLU also opposes testing for benefits including
unemployment and welfare benefits.5)
While employment is sometimes terminated by a single verified positive random drug test, in
employment and other settings a positive drug test commonly is regarded as a signal to require
an evaluation and treatment when needed. For those seeking public assistance including
unemployment and welfare, a positive drug test often does not eliminate benefits. Instead the
recipient is required to become and stay drug-free as a condition of continuing to receive the
Substance use-related workplace problems include reduced productivity, absenteeism, poor job
performance, and tardiness.7 Studies have shown that substance using individuals incur twice the
cost in health care expenses to employers and are significantly more likely to be involved in a
workplace accident than are other employees.8 It is in the interest of employers to use both pre-employment and random testing of current employees to reduce drug use in the workplace.
Workplace drug testing is also in the interest of employees because the identification of drug use
can lead to confronting and solving a substance use problem.
The SHRM and DATIA poll of companies regarding drug testing demonstrated the efficacy of
implementing these workplace programs. Among companies that conducted drug testing:a
– 9% reported high absenteeism rates before implementing a drug testing program
compared to 4% after program implementation;
– 14% reported high workers’ compensation incidence rates prior to program
implementation compared to 6% after implementation;
– 19% reported experiencing an increase of productivity after program implementation;
– 16% reported seeing a decrease in employee turnover rates after implementation.9
In 2010, 8.4% of full time employed adults and 11.2% of part time employed adults age 18 and
older reported using illicit drugs in the past month. The percentage of persons who tested
positive on workplace drug tests in 2010 was significantly lower than in earlier years. Quest
Diagnostics, a leading national workplace drug test provider, reported a positivity rate of 3.5%
for the combined U.S. working population in 2010.10 This is a dramatic drop from a positivity
rate of 13.6% in 1988 when such programs first were commonly implemented in the US.
It is no surprise that the positivity rates for the general U.S. workforce in 2010 of for-cause
workplace urine tests were much higher (26.9%) than other categories of urine drug tests,
including follow-up (6.5%), periodic (1.3%), post-accident (5.3%), pre-employment (3.6%),
random (5.3%) and returned to duty (5.2%). The positivity rates of for-cause tests of federally
mandated, safety sensitive workforce followed a similar pattern, though the positivity rates were
lower in each category. Each of these types of drug tests provides helpful information regarding
an individual’s recent drug use. Workplace drug testing is a significant, valuable component of
the nation’s drug prevention – “demand reduction” – strategy.
a All of these figures exclude human resource professionals who when polled answered “not sure” when asked about
Employers must provide safe environments. Drug use is a serious threat to worker safety. Drug
use also impacts on the quality of life of non-drug using employees who take up the slack of their
less productive associates. Drug tests make workplaces safer and more productive. Widespread
drug testing in the US results in a more globally competitive American workforce.
The Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. supports workplace drug testing and encourages
employers to follow best practices and appropriate follow-up (including using EAPs, treatment
when needed, and long-term aftercare monitoring) to maximize the benefits of drug testing
For more information on the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. visit http://www.ibhinc.org.
Robert L. DuPont, M.D.
President, Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc.
First Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 1973 to 1978