Say no to drugs, yes to tests

May 2, 2006
In the past 15 years, drug testing in the U.S. workplace has gone from ground zero to widespread employer acceptance. In 1983, less than 1 percent of employees were subject to drug testing. Today, about 49 percent of full-time workers are subject to some form of workplace drug testing, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Overall, restaurant employees constitute the second-highest group of illicit drug users in the United States. Years of testing by Costa Mesa, Calif.-based OHS Health & Safety Services has found that random testing in restaurants result in over twice as many positive results than those at department stores or office jobs.
Comments like, "I can't institute a drug-free policy because I'll lose all my employees are mythical statements," said Joseph Reilly, chairman of the board for the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association. "They might lose about 5-10 percent of their employees, but those were the ones that they needed to lose anyway."

start quoteImplement a drug screening program now. A year from now, you'll be glad you did. end quote

-- Wayne Hovland

Drug testing occurs at the time of incident at any of the 45 Double Dave's Pizzaworks throughout Texas.
"Our employees sign a release that says they will consent to drug testing if there is an incident," said Chuck Thorpe, CEO of Austin -based Double Dave's. "It works perfect for us. We're fortunate in that we attract quality employees. But we still had to do something to hold people accountable if there was a problem."
"The fact that you're a drug-free workplace works well in any recruitment ads," said Mel Kleiman, principal at Houston-based Humetrics, a human resources consultant group. "When you run the ads, you'll get less people responding to it. But they'll be less likely to be drug users."
The high cost of employing such workers can be enough to close a business.
"Drug users need to support their habits," said Wayne Hovland, vice president of drug screening at Aurico Inc., a national background and drug screening firm based in Arlington Heights, Il. "Some resort to theft, both against companies and other employees."
Other costs are harder to put a pencil to.

How to implement a drug-testing program

1. Define your drug prevention policy. You can't implement a policy until it's defined. For starters, visit to help create a customized drug-free workplace policy.

2. Create drug screening parameters. Some states have laws regulating drug screening, so check for compliance. There are three scenarios for implementation: pre-employment testing, random testing, and post-incident testing.

3. Choose a testing method. Currently, there are three methods for testing: urine testing, oral fluid testing, and hair testing.

4. Provide drug-use recognition training. A "train the trainer" program that gives managers tools for recognizing signs of drug use.

5. Raise awareness among employees. This takes implementation a step further, teaching employees the signs and dangers of abuse on the job. According to a recent Gallup poll, 96 percent of employees favor drug screening in at least some circumstances.

"Absenteeism skyrockets, productivity plummets, and team morale suffers when drugs enter the workplace," Hovland said.
There's also increased workers' comp costs due to inebriated employees. The state of Texas, for example, requires all restaurants with 15 or more employees who carry workers' compensation to have a written drug policy in place.
Reluctance in restaurants
Despite the evidence that employee drug use creates risks and costs, some employers elect not to test. According to a 2004 Society of Human Resource Management white paper, organizations in the service industry, including restaurants, have the lowest rate of testing. The paper revealed that only 41 percent of these organizations conduct regular testing. Additionally, the smaller the company—regardless of industry—the less likely testing is to occur. Only 29 percent of employers with 25 or fewer employees conduct testing.
Common arguments against testing include not wanting to invade employees' privacy by poking into personal time or by collecting specimens of bodily fluid, or concerns that testing breaks the trust between employees and employer and reduces productivity. Also, implementation costs cannot be overlooked. Typical testing can cost between $15-$100 per employee, depending upon whether the specimen is collected by the employer, what substances are tested for, the company's location and the technology used.
Additional costs include time away from work for the employee and time spent by the employer's representative in filling out paperwork and record keeping.
Anti-testing voices also raise concerns about validity.
"In the case of marijuana, a positive test absolutely does not mean the person was intoxicated at the time of the test," said Bruce Mirkin, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "Detectable traces of THC or its metabolites are sometimes found in urine days or even weeks after any psychoactive effects have worn off."
Some civil rights groups have declared rights violations. But, according to Reilly, drug testing is legal in every U.S. state. Rights can only be violated when policies are lax or inconsistently administered.
"The most important thing is to have a policy in place and to follow that policy consistently," Reilly said. "That keeps the business owner out of court."
One option that is becoming increasingly popular is for employers to "reserve" the right to test. Under this circumstance, an employer does not have to incur the cost of testing applicants or conducting random checks, but reserves the right to test under certain situations such as reasonable suspicion or post-accident.
"Programs should be comprehensive, including a policy that outlines what a company will do as far as screening, as well as additional testing for existing employees," Reilly said.
For companies setting out to initiate a new program, Reilly recommends three primary resources: one are companies to as third-party administrators. Secondary resources can be found online, such as the U.S. Department of Labor's "working partners" Web site (, with an interactive policy maker, a quick-and-dirty program that allows visitors to create their own drug-free workplace policy.
"Finally," Reilly said, "there are attorneys and consultants that help people make policy and get procedures together."
"Regardless of your company's size, industry and location, you're not immune from the problems of drug abuse," Hovland said. "Implement a drug screening program now. A year from now, you'll be glad you did."

Topics: Operations Management

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