Drug-Free Policies and Drug Testing: Having a
Drug-free Policy Doesn't Mean Mandatory Drug Testing

As an employer, you have an obligation to provide a non-hostile and, as much as possible, safe workplace for your employees. Predictive, professional employee behavior is a reasonable expectation and a drug-free workplace policy is an important step in setting that expectation.

A drug-free policy makes clear to all employees that no drugs are allowed on site. Furthermore, it clarifies exactly how a company will react if an employee is found using drugs, discipline the employee, institute legal action, and/or provide access to a rehab program. This policy can be spelled out in employee communications and new hire orientations.

There are instances in which you must institute a drug-free policy:

  • According to the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, if you are an employer doing $100,000 per year or more business with the federal government for the procurement of property or services, you must have a drug-free workplace policy in place.
  • If you receive a federal grant in any amount, you must have a drug-free workplace policy in place.
  • Job-related reasons may exist to have such a policy. For example, companies with employees who work around sophisticated equipment, such as, fiber optics or lasers, may want a drug-free policy.

A drug-free policy and a drug-testing policy aren't the same thing. The former simply outlines the official company position regarding drug use, while the latter deals with the logistics of going about it.

Having a Drug Testing Policy

If you think having a drug testing policy is a good choice for your company, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

The Wrong Way: You decide to institute drug testing because one of your employees is a confirmed or rumored drug user. That won't fly: it could be a violation of constitutional rights.

The Right Way: Make drug-testing part of a regular background screening used for all new hires. You'll not only confirm that your employee is drug-free, but you'll also get the scoop on criminal records, previous employment, and even verify former job titles and salaries.

There's a very narrow window for testing a new employee for drug use. It needs to be done before the first day of work as part of an overall employee screening process. That way you can protect your company - as well as your investment in your new hire.

Yet this scenario only covers the new hire process. What if you are concerned about an existing employee who might be using drugs? There are circumstances under which you can send an existing employee for a drug test. The wording of your drug-free workplace policy will be a place to start. In addition, if you harbor such suspicions, you'll need to contact your Human Resources counsel, whether that person is on your staff or in an outsourced capacity.

The Bottom Line

A comprehensive background screening procedure, conducted before a new hire begins working at your company, is the best way to handle the drug-testing question. But, even when drug testing isn't the way for your organization to go, don't overlook the importance of communicating a drug-free workplace policy to ensure your employees understand your workplace limits — to avoid conflicts with the law!