Employers are increasingly turning to drug testing to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, clients and visitors. It is not difficult to see why. Intoxication is a serious workplace hazard, with those who drink to excess or take drugs being around four times more likely to have an accident at work. In many countries, including the US and the UK, the law requires employers and employees to take reasonable steps in order to safeguard their own health and safety, and that of others, while they are at work. Drug tests, it is argued, help everybody to ensure that this legal requirement is met.
On the other hand, some claim that drug testing is an invasion of individual liberties and should be controlled or stopped. The fact is, that the extent to which workplace drug testing is legally controlled varies enormously from place to place. In the US, for example, some states have no legislation at all covering workplace screening, while others are very clear about the circumstances in which such screening may or may not be carried out, and the procedures that must be followed. For that reason any employer who wishes to carry out drug testing, and any employee who thinks they may be asked to submit to it, would do well to find out exactly what laws apply in their own area, taking formal legal advice where necessary.
Drug testing for work is usually a two-step process, with an initial test (screen) being made first. This is usually done using an immunoassay. If this proves negative then generally the employee is informed and the process stops there. However, if the initial screen suggests that drugs are present, a second, more specific, test is usually carried out to confirm (or not) the screening. This second test is generally a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test.
Drug testing is usually performed on a urine sample, but occasionally other samples, such as blood or hair, may be used. Results are usually returned within a few days; in some cases they may be available more or less instantly.
The amount of notice given to an employee, before they are required to attend for a drugs test, will vary according to their employer’s policy and/or any local legislation. It is common for 24-hours notice to be given, although in some circumstances, for example where an employee is found to be incapacitated at work or where testing is being carried out immediately after an accident, the requirement for notice may be waived.
In most places an employee does have the right to refuse a drug test, but if they are fired as a result, there may be little recourse open to them. Much may depend upon whether the employer has complied with national or local legislation, or whether they have discriminated by treating that individual in a way that differs from their treatment of other, comparable, cases. Good employers will generally have a written policy, that is accessible to all staff, that explains their own drug testing processes in detail and that also gives details of how employees can access relevant support services and counseling.