Your drug screening program is an invaluable tool for helping you operate a safe and productive workplace. But as states continue to legalize marijuana, now is a good time to review your drug testing policies and practices. Not only do you need to keep pace with changing legislation, but you also need to consider how new advances in technology and best practices can help you to enhance your screening program for greater efficiency.

Though the parameters of your drug screening program will depend on your industry and your organization’s background screening goals and policies, it’s critical to understand all of your options. Here’s what you need to know to build the right drug testing program for your organization.

The Current Drug Screening Landscape

Though not every organization conducts drug screening, it is a regular practice for many organizations. According to the 2020 Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) survey, 44 percent of organizations conduct drug and alcohol screenings of all candidates, and another 23 percent screen some candidates.

These days, it’s hard to ignore the news of states that have legalized some form of marijuana and other drugs. For example, in June 2021, Connecticut became the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana, not long after New York, Virginia, and others did earlier in the year. So far, only a handful of states have yet to pass laws legalizing some form of marijuana, and one—Oregon—has decriminalized almost all street drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

As legalization becomes more common, it’s natural to wonder how your screening policies should change to remain in compliance. For example, you may decide to keep or remove specific drugs from your screening program, or you may limit testing to certain job categories. Before you decide, make sure you understand your options for when, where, and how to test candidates and employees for banned substances.

When to Drug Screen Candidates and Employees

There are several times before and after employment when it may make sense for employees to undergo drug screening. For instance, if the perceived risk is low, you may decide to screen employees during the hiring process only. But if there is a higher risk, for example, with employees operating heavy equipment or hazardous chemicals, you may choose to test more often. 

The key to having effective and compliant drug screening practices is consistency. You should develop clear policies outlining when you will conduct drug-testing and for which job groups, and then consistently apply those policies across your workforce. A lack of consistency could amount to a violation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules regarding the use of drug tests in hiring and employment.

Here are the different screening scenarios you may choose to include in your screening policy:

  • During preemployment: The hiring process is an ideal time to conduct drug screening because the testing can be carried out concurrently with other preemployment screening, such as a criminal background check and employment references. By completing these screening activities in tandem, you can get a more complete view of a candidate’s overall fitness for a particular role.
  • After an accident: Drug testing immediately following a workplace accident may reveal if prohibited substances played a role.
  • Upon return from extended leave or furlough: Employees who have been away from the workplace for an extended time may need to be retested before returning to on-site work.
  • On a random basis: Random screening can be an effective way of maintaining a drug-free workplace. However, to avoid screening bias, you should have a mechanism in place to make sure screening is truly random and doesn’t target specific individuals or groups more than others.
  • Upon reasonable suspicion: Employee behavior at work may lead you to suspect illegal substance use. If so, you can require an employee to undergo drug screening. 

Is your background screening program set up to help you conduct remote hiring  for favorable results? Take this interactive assessment to find out >>

Where Drug Screening Makes Sense

In some industries, incorporating drug screening into your hiring and talent management processes is a matter of choice, but it is a legal requirement in others. For example, employers in the transportation industry must follow strict guidelines for drug testing candidates and employees. Other regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services, may also determine drug screening is necessary for certain positions.

Even if your organization is exempt from a legal requirement to operate a drug screening program, there are many reasons why it may still make sense. For example, drug testing can help you achieve the following goals:

Which Drugs to Include in Your Screening Program

There are many options to choose from when deciding which substances to include in your drug screening program. For example, alcohol is legal, but you may still test for it in cases of reasonable suspicion of an employee’s impairment in the workplace. And though marijuana is legal in specific states but not others, it is still a federally banned substance. Therefore, you may choose to include it in your screening program in specific circumstances, along with other classes of drugs, such as opioids, methamphetamines, and others.

Given the varying levels of legality ascribed to each drug, you’ll need to consider which to screen for, and particularly in the case of marijuana, which locations. Moreover, you can also choose among several testing methods, including urine, hair, blood, saliva, and breath testing, each with a distinct efficacy, detection level, and ideal time frame for testing.

How to Build an Effective Drug Screening Program

The pace of legislative change affecting employer drug screening programs is swift and sometimes complicated, making it challenging to tailor a policy that fits all the geographies where you hire. Therefore, to craft a program that aligns with your goals and applicable law, it’s important to work with a knowledgeable background screening provider. 

A reputable and experienced background screening provider can help you by offering the following drug screening products and services:

  • An efficient drug testing process that seamlessly aligns with your overall background screening program and is vetted by a medical review officer
  • Best practices and guidance on laws affecting your industry and organization
  • Updates about marijuana laws affecting the design of your screening policies and activities
  • Paperless drug screening technology to help you deliver a positive candidate experience
  • Access to a network of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-certified collection facilities, including 24-hour testing locations

Improve Your Drug Screening Program

In many ways, employment drug screening isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. The tide has turned toward further legalization of marijuana, and as a result, you may need to continually update your policies to reflect new developments. Moreover, as your organization hires employees across a more diverse set of geographies, your drug screening practices need to be flexible enough to help you protect the workplace while complying with local law.

Though there are many factors to consider when updating your drug testing policy and practices, you can get game-changing support and guidance from your background screening provider. With a trusted partner to offer screening services and insights from best practices, you can navigate the legislative landscape confidently and continue to operate your drug screening program successfully.

To get more ideas for improving your drug and employment background screening program, take a moment to complete our interactive assessment.

Take the Assessment