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If you're not testing employees for drugs yet, some of your best excuses are going up in smoke. New testing devices are cheaper and less invasive than urine tests. Example: Products from companies like Avitar and LabOne simply require employees to swab their mouths with a Q-tip-shaped sensing device.

Still, many companies turn a blind eye to drug abuse. About two-thirds of large U.S. employers do testing, but very few small companies do.

Yet more than 10 percent of employees use drugs at small companies (under 25 workers), compared with about 4 percent of employees at midsize firms (100 to 500 workers), according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Have good reasons to test

It's not just off-the-job abuse. Fifteen percent of illicit drug users and 6 percent of heavy alcohol users say they've gone to work high or drunk in the past year. And if you're worried about the cost of drug testing, consider this: Drug users perform at about two-thirds of their capacity, and they cost employers an extra $7,000 a year in health costs, lost productivity and absenteeism.

Consider these questions when weighing the need for a policy:


  • Do workers handle hazardous materials or run complex equipment?



  • How many company vehicles do you have on the road?



  • Who would be harmed, and how seriously, if an employee made a mistake on the job or breached security because of substance abuse?



  • Does your insurance cover substance abuse, related incidents?



  • Are you subject to the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988? If you have federal contracts above $100,000 or any federal grants, you're required to have anti-drug policies in place.




If you decide to test employees, first check your state law. Many states, and a few cities, set limits on when employers can use drug tests.

Think about when you'll do drug testing: The most common time for tests is during pre-employment screening, after a preventable accident and as part of an evaluation of employees with job performance problems.

Courts look more favorably on random drug testing in jobs where there is a safety or security concern. Absent a state law that restricts employee drug testing, employers often argue successfully that their right to terminate employees at will applies when a worker refuses a drug test.

Know the legal issues

Before you start testing, write a specific substance-abuse policy that:


  • Expressly prohibits the use, possession and distribution of drugs or alcohol on the job.



  • Specifies how you'll deal with violators, including suspension or termination.



  • States your policy on drug testing. Cite your company's compelling business reason for the tests. Even workers who don't abuse drugs have privacy concerns, so explain how substance abuse harms workers as well as the business.




You'll also need to train managers in how to recognize signals of substance abuse and when they can require an employee to be tested. Have them focus on and document behavior that impedes job performance, without speculating on the cause.

Have your employees sign and date a consent form before any drug test. Verify any positive results with a second test before you take any disciplinary actions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects former and recovering users of illegal drugs and alcohol. Best bet: Don't test any applicant until you've made a conditional offer of employment. If the person tests positive for illegal drugs, you can withdraw the offer.

Notify your insurer if you start testing; some carriers give a discount. A bonus: In some states you can get a break on your workers' comp premiums if you have a drug-testing program.

Some states specify which labs and testing procedures you can use and how to keep records. Often the state workers' compensation and unemployment compensation laws have drug-testing provisions.

To check the state statutes that apply to you, visit www.notes.dol.gov/said.nsf and click on "State and Territory Laws."


For more information ...

Find answers to common questions about drug testing from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at www.health.org/workplace/fedagencies/

10_most_frequently_asked_questio.htm, phone the group at (800) 967-5752 or e-mail to helpline@samhsa.gov.

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