These programs detect the presence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or certain prescription drugs in the workplace. A comprehensive drug-free workplace policy often includes drug testing as a prevention and deterrent measure. It is possible to have a drug testing supplies program at a federal and non-federal workplace.

It is important to comply with all local, state, and federal laws regarding workplace drug testing.

How to conduct a drug test

To conduct drug tests, federal agencies are required to use certified labs and follow other guidelines. Click here for federal resources on drug-free workplaces.

Consider the following questions before you begin drug testing and how they will affect your program. Make sure your drug-free workplace policy addresses each question.

  • Tests are administered to whom?
  • Is a drug test administered when?
  • Tests are conducted by whom?
  • For what substances are tests performed?
  • Drug testing is paid for by who?
  • How are drug tests ensured to be accurate?
  • In the event of a positive test result, what are the legal rights of employees?

Workers may be sent to a certified laboratory or a trained collector may visit them at work to collect specimens. The specimen must be kept in continuous chain of custody from receipt to disposal to ensure accuracy.

Drug Testing Types

Testing for different types of drugs and collecting different types of specimens vary the nature of drug tests. Various specimens can be used as test specimens, including urine, hair, saliva, or sweat.

Currently, only urine samples are collected by federally regulated programs, but the Department of Health and Human Services has released guidelines for the collection of oral fluid samples.

Five drug categories are commonly tested:

  • Anamphetamines
  • Psychedelics
  • Cannabis
  • Opportunists
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, ethanol (alcohol), hydrocodone, MDMA, methadone, methaqualone, and propoxyphene are examples of additional categories.

Deterrence of illicit drug use is most effective when random tests are conducted. Using a randomized selection process, employers conduct random tests.

The following times or circumstances may also be appropriate for drug testing:

Tests conducted prior to hiring

Employers can require their employees to pass a drug test. All job applicants will undergo drug tests before being hired with this approach.

Physical examinations annually

During an annual physical, you can ask your employees whether they have used alcohol or other drugs. Make sure employees know that drug testing will be part of the examination. In the absence of prior notice, the employee’s constitutional rights are violated.

Reasonable suspicion and for-cause tests

When a worker shows signs of being unfit for duty (for-cause testing), or when a documented pattern of unsafe behavior is evident (reasonable suspicion testing), such tests can help ensure the employee’s safety and the safety of others.

Tests after accidents

Employees involved in workplace accidents or unsafe practices can be tested to determine if alcohol or other drugs played a role in the incident.

Tests performed post-treatment

Employees who return to work after completing a rehabilitation program can be encouraged to stay drug-free by being tested.

Results of tests

Drug-testing results must be accurate. Medical Review Officers (MROs) will interpret test results of specimens before they are tested by HHS-certified laboratories. MROs are licensed physicians who receive laboratory results and are knowledgeable about substance abuse disorders and federal drug-testing regulations.

MROs are trained to interpret and evaluate test results in conjunction with the employee’s medical history and other pertinent information.

Testing negative does not mean that a person has never used alcohol or illicit drugs, or that they will not use them in the future.

Federal employees and workers in safety- and security-sensitive industries regulated by the Department of Defense (DOD) or the Department of Transportation (DOT) who show positive tests results are entitled to have the specimen tested by a second HHS-certified laboratory. The right to a second test should be included in every employer’s drug testing program, even if it is not required. A positive test may lead to employees being referred to an employee assistance program, into treatment, or to disciplinary action, depending on the circumstances

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