Drug Testing in the Workplace

With marijuana legalization spreading, employers are starting to rethink about substance abuse polices and testing. According to a survey conducted by Mashable.com, 9.7% of Americans smoke marijuana before going to work. Surprised?

In Iowa, if you’re in the private sector, drug and alcohol testing is optional and an employer can even make it a condition of employment. But, before a boss can randomly ask for a hair specimen, for example, the law sets out when and how employers can test.

Employers must have a written drug testing policy in place, and each employee and prospective employee must be provided with a copy. While Iowa does not require private employers to test, it strictly regulates employers who choose to. Iowa Code Sec. 720.5 requires a testing program to:

  • Have uniform disciplinary procedures in place for confirmed positive test results;
  • Establish an awareness program setting forth specific testing procedures and options for rehab and employee assistance;
  • Test only during or immediately before or after a work period—unannounced testing at work is allowed under certain conditions; and
  • Pay all costs associated with testing.

Weigh all the pros and cons before putting pen to paper

Whether your employees are driving machinery at a construction site or using a bandsaw for a building renovation, most jobs are safer when performed sober. Drug testing can reduce accidents and help deter usage.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), 10 to 20 percent of U.S. employees involved in fatal on-the-job accidents tested positive for drugs and alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that a drug-using employee is 3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident. The downside to drug testing programs is that they can be expensive and employees may resent random drug testing at work and view it as a privacy right violation.

Which businesses struggle most?

Small businesses “bear the greatest burden of substance abusers,” according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), because drug users tend to avoid big companies that they think will have drug-testing policies.

Small businesses often find themselves lacking resources to implement testing, but with no policy in place, they take a chance of being sued if an employee causes an accident under the influence while working. On the flip side, singling out employees can create potential for a discrimination lawsuit, as well.

What’s a boss to do?

Employers should educate themselves on the rights of their workers with regard to drug testing. The ACLU monitors legal challenges to drug testing laws and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides testing guidelines.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

For a written policy, look at the DOL’s Drug Free Workplace Policy Builder for a step by step process to create a drug screening policy that helps ensure that employers are compliant with DOL regulations. The DOL’s Drug-Free Workplace Advisor’s FAQ has details about the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and its coverage, requirements, and penalties.

Amanda James is an Associate Attorney with the Sullivan & Ward Professional Corporation. She can be reached at (515) 247-4712 or ajames@sullivan-ward.com.