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Unless required, consider dropping drug tests

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For many employers interested in maintaining a safe and productive workplace, it doesn’t make sense to require pre-employment drug and alcohol screening or randomly make current employees provide urine or blood samples.

That was the contrarian advice attorney James P. Reidy offered March 24 at the Society for Human Resource Management Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

“If you are not required to test, my recommendation would be not to test. Rely instead on reasonable suspicion,” Reidy said.

Some employers have no choice. A patchwork of federal and state laws requires most government contractors and employers in the transportation and health care industries to ensure an impairment-free work environment.

But substance abuse testing can be a morale buster. It’s expensive, with a per-test cost of $30 to $50. There are a host of legal issues, especially involving the ADA.

And, Reidy noted, “Of the 8.5 million workplace drug tests conducted last year, 3.7% were positive.” Plus, he said, “Drug testing does not measure degree of impairment.”

If you are not required to test, what should you do instead? Draft a drug and alcohol policy that prohibits use, possession and distribution at work. Forbid employees from being under the influence at work. Spell out the consequences of breaking the rules.

Then, if you reasonably suspect an employee of violating the policy, Reidy said, “Send him home in a cab and then discipline him per your policy. If it’s bad enough, fire him.”

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