As an employer, you should be committed to a drug-free and alcohol-free work environment that protects both your employees, your customers and the general public.
Drug testing your employees is an important component of that safety commitment. However, while many employers test before hiring an applicant, nearly two-thirds of employers never conduct a drug or alcohol test on current employees, according to a Society for Human Resources study in 2011.
When employers do test current employees for drugs, employees test positive about 4.2% of the time, according to the latest numbers from the annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index. That number is creeping up and is at its highest level since 2004.
Even if you are a small employer with only 25 employees, that still means that one of your current employees could test positive for drugs right now. What if that one person is the delivery driver, the heavy machinery operator, the EMT, the security guard or any other safety sensitive employee working for you? Are you willing to take a chance with the safety of your other employees and your customers?
That only 4.2% of employees test positive for drugs or alcohol is actually a little low considering how many people are actually addicted to those substances. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2016 estimated that 8% of all Texans have a substance abuse disorder, with three-quarters of those Texans addicted to alcohol. The rest are hooked on marijuana, meth, heroin, cocaine and prescription opioids, in that order.
As a Texas employer, you don’t have to allow employees to be impaired at work. You should have a written policy that informs your current employees that you may drug and/or alcohol test them under at least three circumstances: (1) when the employee is involved in an accident that results in injury or property damage; (2) when you have a reasonable suspicion that the employee is impaired (by observing the employee’s behavior, poor grooming, speech, eyes, absences, etc.); and (3) when you decide to randomly test a group of workers.
You’ll have to arrange with a local testing service ahead of time if you want to have drug or alcohol tests performed. Don’t ever consider doing your own testing because chain of custody and accuracy of the testing should be left to the testing professionals.
When you need to test an employee because an accident has just occurred or you notice suspicious behavior that looks like impairment due to alcohol or drugs, act immediately. Drive the employee to the testing facility (obviously don’t let an impaired employee drive) and stay with the employee until the test is completed.
Don’t assume that the emergency room is going to test an employee who has been in a more serious workplace accident. Often, the employer has to request and sometimes even arrange for that testing to occur.
You have two choices if your employee tests positive for drugs or alcohol: termination or a second chance. If you choose to give the employee a second chance, it should have some strings attached. I often draft a “second chance agreement” that essentially puts that employee on probation and spells out the behavior that is expected of that employee going forward, including frequent testing, improved attendance, and treatment if an addiction is involved.
Even if you lose a “good” employee or two because of drug and alcohol testing, there are still benefits for your company. For example, the 2011 SHRM survey found that on the job injury rates dropped after companies implemented drug testing of current employees. Absenteeism and turnover rates also decreased and productivity increased when testing of current employees began.