Employment drug screening is an essential component of the pre-employment hiring and screening process. It can help you manage hiring risk and potentially keep some accidents and injuries from happening. 

Employers across a range of industries include drug screening for some or all employees. According to a recent Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) survey, 44 percent of organizations conduct drug and alcohol screening on all candidates, and another 23 percent screen some candidates. But drug screening doesn’t have to stop at the hiring process. When conducted at various points throughout an individual’s employment, drug screening can help you protect all stakeholders across your workplace.

The Value of Post-Hire Drug Screening

Like other components of background screening, a drug test captures candidate information at one moment in time. It can tell you if candidates have evidence of banned substances in their urine, blood, or saliva at the time of the test. However, candidates who test negative during a pre-employment drug test can begin drug use immediately after screening. They can also be impaired by drugs in the workplace, and you won’t know unless you test again.

By drug screening employees after hire, you’re taking additional steps to protect the workplace from the actions of drug-impaired employees. Post-hire drug screening can deliver the following benefits.

Opportunities to Refer Employees to Healthcare Professionals

When you conduct workforce drug testing, you may identify individuals who have an ongoing substance abuse problem. Instead of having those employees go undetected, you can refer them to substance abuse and addiction professionals who can help. 

During the pandemic, you may have more employees with substance abuse problems than ever before. According to the CDC, 13 percent of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress related to COVID-19. In addition, one study found drug testing positivity has increased during the pandemic—a 35 percent increase for non-prescription fentanyl and a 44 percent increase for heroin.

Fewer Accidents 

Workplace accidents can lead to employee absences, not to mention the risk of life-threatening injury to employees, patients, and others. By testing individuals who may be impaired by drugs but go unnoticed without testing, you can potentially avoid accidents resulting in injury or loss of life.

Lower Absenteeism

You can also potentially limit absenteeism by testing and identifying individuals who use banned substances. According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance (NDWA), drug and alcohol impairment results in higher absenteeism—as many as 29 missed workdays per year.

Lower Insurance Premiums

Many insurers recognize the importance of keeping drugs out of the workplace and its positive effect on accidents and injuries. As a result, when you take action to create a drug-free workplace, you may be eligible to take advantage of workers’ compensation premium discounts. 

Quickly see if the states you’re hiring in have legalized marijuana and how it  could affect your background checks in this guide. >>

Tips for Drug Screening During Employment

Before you make the decision to incorporate drug screening into your talent management strategy, you should understand what’s involved to begin testing your workforce and which actions can help screen employees successfully. 

A drug-testing program without a clear policy and screening process can damage employee morale and put your organization at risk for regulatory non-compliance penalties. To avoid those negative outcomes and get started, follow these tips.

1. Determine when you will test.

Drug screening the workforce is a requirement for regulated industries such as healthcare and transportation. If you choose to test voluntarily, you should standardize your drug screening program and decide when you will test employees. The following scenarios are common in some organizations:

  • After an accident: Testing employees involved in a workplace accident can reveal the role drugs may have played in their actions. 
  • After an extended leave or furlough: Employees in roles where drug testing is required may need to be retested before they return to work from a leave or furlough.
  • On a random basis: Random screening alerts employees to the possibility of a drug test at any time, making it an effective tool in maintaining a drug-free workplace.
  • Upon reasonable suspicion: You may want to test employees who exhibit behaviors suggesting drug intoxication or impairment.

2. Determine who you will test.

If your goal is to build a drug-free workplace, then it will likely make sense to drug screen all employees at various points throughout their employment. However, if you want to focus mainly on high-risk occupations in your organization (for example, those handling hazardous materials or operating heavy machinery), then you may choose to limit drug screening to certain job categories. When deciding which occupations require drug screening, you will need to apply your testing policy equitably to all individuals in the chosen job categories, so you can avoid discriminatory screening practices.

3. Communicate processes to employees.

Whether you screen only during the pre-employment hiring process or extend screening to your workforce, it’s critical to create and communicate a detailed policy describing your drug screening strategy and practices. Communicating who and when you test, and for which substances, will be critical in helping employees understand their rights and when they may need to undergo drug testing.

4. Consider the impact of legislation on your drug screening process.

Given ever-changing marijuana laws across the country, any drug screening program must address whether to test for the substance. Depending on the state(s) where you hire and your goals for testing, you will need to carefully consider if you want to include marijuana in your drug screening program.

You will also need to consider state laws prohibiting or limiting specific kinds of employment drug testing. For example, in Connecticut, random drug testing is limited to specific high-risk occupations or where it is required by federal law. Under New Jersey’s recent marijuana law, employers are not prohibited from conducting employment drug testing, but if they do test, they must also use “an individual with the necessary certification” to conduct a physical evaluation of an employee’s impairment 

5. Work with a reputable background screening provider.

A screening provider with deep experience in drug screening can offer a range of services and expert guidance to help you screen your workforce efficiently and in compliance with federal and state laws. 

Your screening partner can offer the following:

  • An efficient drug screening process that seamlessly aligns with your overall background screening program
  • Best practices and guidance on the laws affecting your industry and organization
  • Updates about marijuana legalization laws in your location which will affect the design of your screening policies and activities
  • Integrated technology to help you deliver a positive candidate and employee experience, for example, with paperless drug screening

Maximize the Lifetime Value of Drug Screening

Drug screening can be a critical part of your background screening program, and it’s not just for the pre-hire process. Whether you test randomly, after accidents, or for other reasons, incorporating drug testing into your talent management program can deliver a wealth of benefits for the protection of your workplace and employees.

No conversation about drug screening would be complete without addressing your approach to marijuana testing. To understand how the latest marijuana laws affect hiring and employment in your organization, read our Human Resources Guide to Marijuana Legislation.

How can marijuana legalization affect your background screening process? [View the Guide]