Health care employers are more frequently requiring a drug test as a condition of an employment offer to a potential candidate. However, failure to follow state and federal guidelines in this area can subject an employer to potential litigation.
Drug testing in the work place
There are currently no federal laws that specifically prohibit testing, but there is a fair amount of controversy challenging the legality of drug testing. If an organization is a federal contractor with contracts of $100,000 or more, or a recipient of any grants from the federal government, the organization must comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act. It is imperative that employers establish a clear organizational drug policy which outlines: the policy’s purpose and scope; guidelines concerning pre-employment testing; voluntary testing; testing for reasonable cause; random or periodic testing; rules regarding the possession, distribution, sale or consumption of drugs; disciplinary procedures; and job rights.
The most common reasons for testing are discussed below:
- Pre-employment drug testing may be done by employers to determine current illegal use of alcohol or drugs. It is imperative that this type of testing is consistently administered as a conditional offer of employment. Again, full disclosure must be in the application and the applicant must sign the disclosure granting permission for testing.
- Testing due to reasonable suspicion or cause may be conducted if an employee shows signs of not being fit for work, or is showing a documented pattern of unsafe or negligent behavior.
- Testing after an accident or unsafe practice to ascertain if alcohol or drug use was a factor.
- Testing after an employee comes back to work following rehabilitation if the employee’s work was interrupted. This can only be done if the employee is involved in a treatment program of which the employer is aware. Employees are not mandated to inform their employer if they are in a drug or alcohol treatment program.
- Testing administered randomly for security or safety reasons.
- Testing administered periodically, such as in the case of an annual medical examination that is required for employment. Example: an annual Department of Transportation physical required for certain drivers.
Following these basic guidelines will allow employers to protect their organizations from issues leading to litigation.