Workplace Drug Testing: What You Need To Know

Thanks to Sophia Young for contributing this article.

The proliferation of illegal drug use is a long-standing problem in all societies. While governments and law enforcement struggle to address this problem, employers are faced with a challenge. They need to maintain the workplace free from the hazards posed by workers under the influence of these drugs.

Using illegal drugs is unhealthy and can negatively affect employee productivity and performance. Drugs can cloud judgment, which can lead to accidents in the workplace. According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, 40% of industrial fatalities in the US are caused by employees under the influence of illegal drugs.

To curb this problem, employers use workplace drug testing as a tool. This article will cover:

What is workplace drug testing?

It’s a mitigation tool involving testing prospective employees or present employees for drug use. It helps companies create a safer and more productive workplace while also providing a slew of benefits. Testing is a deterrent to employees considering illicit drug use. Consequently, workplace drug testing can also bring out some problems.

Pros of workplace drug testing

Creates a safer workplace

As mentioned, employees who are under the influence of illegal drugs pose a great risk to workplace safety. They may suffer lapses in judgment that can result in horrible accidents or behave violently and hurt others. Through drug testing, employers can significantly decrease this risk.

Protects from theft and fraud

Aside from accidents and violence, employees under the influence of illegal drugs are more likely to steal from their employers or commit fraud. Drug addiction compels users to commit offenses to obtain money for drugs and companies can very well fall victim to these crimes. Drug testing is an effective tool in protecting companies from such acts.

Reduce potential legal liability

Most private companies aren’t required by law to have a drug-free workplace, but they are compelled to provide a safe work environment, and they may be held liable when accidents take place in the workplace. If an employee causes an accident due to a lapse in judgment resulting from illegal drug use, a company can reduce its liability by conducting drug testing. More importantly, it will help minimize the likelihood of workplace accidents.

Reduces employee turnover

Workers can be fired for using illegal drugs during work hours. For companies, this means having to hire new employees to replace them. This results in increased operational costs as they would need to spend more time recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees. The termination of some employees can disrupt the chain of command and affect employee morale, resulting in reduced productivity.

Helps employees get treatment

Employers have two choices when an employee tests positive for illegal drugs. They can either terminate them or help them get treatment. Companies that choose to do the latter can use workplace drug testing to identify which of their employees need help overcoming their addiction. This requires a company to spend more time and money, but it can lead to stronger employee-employer relationships and a better-performing workforce.

Increases productivity

A drug-free workplace paves the way for increased productivity. Employees abusing illegal drugs are more likely to be absent from work, and when they do show up, they’re usually incapable of concentrating. Illegal drugs can both decrease productivity and the quality of output. By conducting workplace drug testing, employers can build a drug-free work environment.

Cons of workplace drug testing

Increases operational costs

Workplace drug testing is an additional expense. Depending on the size of an organization, it can be expensive. The cost of drug testing per person isn’t high, but it easily adds up, especially if a business has a large workforce. Depending on the frequency of drug testing, this expense can further balloon. It rests on the company to determine whether the cost of drug testing is a good investment.

Violates employee privacy

What makes workplace drug testing a controversial practice is how it may violate employee privacy. A good portion of the workforce feels that drug testing by employers is invasive, thus infringing on their rights. Employees who feel this way can grow resentful of their employer, resulting in lower morale and reduced productivity. Most state laws have provisions where drug testing for workplace safety outweighs concerns for employee privacy.

The legality of workplace drug testing

There are no federal laws that prevent employers from conducting workplace drug tests, but the intricacies may differ from one state to another. Employers should check all state laws for drug testing that may affect their business before implementing a workplace drug testing program.

For instance, a few states have enforced laws that prevent companies from conducting random drug testing of workers. However, there are some exceptions. One such exception is individuals re-entering the labor force after serving jail time. Some ex-convicts are mandated to submit to random drug testing as a part of the conditions of their parole.

Another important thing to discuss is employee privacy. Companies aren’t allowed to disclose the results of a drug test resulting from a background check. However, the situation is different in the presence of a criminal investigation.


While employers aren’t compelled or prohibited by law to conduct workplace drug testing, they have plenty of reasons to do so. Drug testing can help companies improve workplace safety, increase productivity, and even help their bottom line. However, it has risks that can result in undesirable consequences when ignored.

More on workplace drug testing:

Develop A Drug And Alcohol Testing Policy

State Laws For Workplace Drug Testing

Employer Accounts – Drug Testing & Drug Free Workplace Programs

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