​When counseling a new client, I normally ask if they have a written drug and alcohol testing policy. If the company is fairly large, it normally has such a policy.  I do, however, occasionally receive a response from smaller companies that they do not have such a policy, and some, in fact, will even say that their employees do not drink alcohol or use drugs. Statistics of overall drug and alcohol use by U.S. employees suggest otherwise, and provide a sobering reminder that drug and alcohol use in the workplace causes lost time, injuries and other problems.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that:

  • In 2007, there were 17.4 million illicit drug users age 18 and over,  and 13.1 million (75.3%) were employed.
  • Among 55.3 million adult binge drinkers, 44.0 million (79.4%) were employed.
  • Among 16.4 million persons reporting heavy alcohol use, 13.1 million (79.6%) were employed.
  • Of the 20.4 million adults classified with substance dependence or abuse, 12.3 million (60.4%) were employed full-time.

The National Council and Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. reports that:

  • Workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than workers without drinking problems to have injury-related absences.
  • A hospital emergency department study showed that 35% of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers.
  • Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of emergency room patients injured at work.
  • Analyses of workplace fatalities showed that at least 11% of the victims had been drinking.

Given these statistics, all businesses should consider whether implementing a drug and alcohol testing program is a prudent idea. If such a program is adopted, it should be described in a comprehensive written policy communicated to all employees prior to the commencement of testing. Employers need to decide what type of testing will be done, which could include pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, and post-accident. It is important that the written drug and alcohol testing program comply with state law on the right to test, collection and chain of custody of samples, the testing of the sample, notification to employees, the right to re-test the initial sample that produced a positive result and the potential consequences of a positive result.

A comprehensive written drug and alcohol testing policy can greatly enhance a company’s ability to provide a safe and productive work environment for its employees.  Members of the firm’s employment law section are experienced in drafting, implementing and answering questions about drug and alcohol testing policies

By Steven A. Rowe of Poyner Spruill