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Random Drug Testing
What is random drug testing, and how can your company effectively manage it? Let's look at the pros, cons, and best practices of random drug testing.

What Is Random Drug Testing?

Random drug testing is a program to test for substances as outlined in a drug-free workplace policy. It is carried out by randomly selecting an employee or employees to be tested. The purpose is to protect employees who could put themselves and others at risk. Random drug testing can be managed internally or by a third party, although companies tend to select the third-party option in order to remain unbiased.

Should Companies Do Random Drug Testing?

Companies that choose to participate in random drug testing do so to uphold a drug-free workplace policy and promote a safe work environment. If you’re unsure whether or not your company should perform random drug testing, you could consult with an employment attorney. Be sure to start with your employee handbook to review whether or not a current process is already in place.

Pros of Random Drug Testing

  • Mitigates risk. Companies who participate in random drug testing do so in order to protect their employees and reduce risk. Having fewer impaired workers can prevent accidents and increase productivity. There can be serious consequences for employees who use drugs at work while operating machinery, which is why random drug testing should be considered.
  • Keeps your workforce accountable. When a random drug testing process is enforced, employees are likely to have increased accountability when it comes to abstaining from drugs and alcohol.The ideal outcome is that your employees understand that the decision to work under the influence of drugs affects both themselves and others around them.
  • Promotes wellness. Drugs can cause a lack of concentration that reduces productivity and can hurt your business. Focussing on wellness and keeping your employees healthy can affect your bottom line.

Cons of Random Drug Testing

  • Multistate management. Managing a random drug testing policy on a multistate level can be complicated since there are several states that prohibit it or allow it under narrow circumstances. With so many variations, it’s important to be familiar and conservative when it comes to the laws at the different locations you operate in.
  • Perceived as invasive. Employees may perceive random drug testing as invasive, which can have a negative impact on morale and possibly productivity. Although this may not be a reality for most companies, it is still something that employers should be mindful of.
  • Cost. If a drug test costs between $35-$100, performing them randomly with no business need can wind up being an empty business expense.

Types of Random Drug Testing

The type of random drug testing your company chooses may depend on the industry in which you operate. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires specific testing. However, if your company isn’t covered under DOT, you might select a non-DOT random drug testing process.

Type 1: Department of Transportation (DOT)

If you are an employer that is regulated by the Department of Transportation, you are required to consistently conduct DOT-compliant drug tests. There are also specific DOT drug-testing standards, such as annual testing rates, that your company must comply with in order to avoid fines and penalties. The DOT drug test is a standard five-panel urine drug screen that checks for opioids, cocaine, phencyclidine, amphetamines, and marijuana.

Type 2: Non-Department of Transportation (Non-DOT)

Non-DOT testing means that the drug screens are not regulated by the Department of Transportation. A non-DOT drug test could be a urine test like the DOT drug screen, or could include oral fluid collection, a breath alcohol test, or a hair follicle test.

Best Practices for Random Drug Testing Employees

There are several best practices your company should follow to ensure that your drug-testing program runs efficiently. These practices include creating an unpredictable pattern, making sure you don’t give employees advance notice, and knowing what to do if an employee isn’t available for the drug screen. You can also rely on this random drug testing policy while creating your own.

Don’t Give Advance Notice

In order to maintain reliability and integrity, your procedure should ensure that employees don't know when a drug test is coming up. Provide only enough notice to supervisors so they can plan accordingly while maintaining confidentiality.

Create an Unpredictable Pattern

Whether you choose to manage your process yourself or have a third party do it for you, it’s important to make sure that the pattern of dates you choose are unpredictable. Frequency is also up to you; you may create a pattern for annual, quarterly, or monthly testing. Tests should also be performed right before employees are about to perform a safety-sensitive task.

What If the Employee Isn’t Available?

If an employee who is randomly selected is ill or is on an extended absence, you can document that and make another selection. If you’ve selected an employee and it is their day off, you can simply test them when they return for their next shift.

How to Perform Random Drug Tests at Your Company

If your company doesn’t already have a random drug testing policy in place, you must first create one in order to inform management and employees of correct and consistent expectations. The steps below apply if you are running your program in-house. If you contract with a third-party vendor, your company will be billed for the drug tests you perform. The price is typically negotiated and documented in a service agreement along with the schedule of how often you can expect names to be chosen. When the employee names are delivered to you, you can schedule the drug screen based on location, hours of operation, and other factors. It’s also important that the list of employees you provide to the vendor is up to date and accurate.

Step 1: Random Selection

Using a computer-based random-generator, choose an employee or employees at random who will report immediately for a random drug screen. Unprofessional random selection methods to stay away from, as described by the Department of Transportation, include “selecting numbers from a hat, rolling dice, throwing darts, picking cards, or selecting ping-pong balls.”

Step 2: Notify and Send to a Collection Site

Once the names have been randomly selected, you should notify the employee's manager, who will communicate with the employee. It’s possible that an employee could be selected each time your company performs random drug tests, although this is not likely. If an employee is selected after recently being tested and has a concern about this, you need to be able to explain that the employee was selected again only due to probability. Even if an employee is selected again, they must carry out the drug screen. Once an employee has been selected, it is suggested that they complete their testing within 24 hours. If you operate on a national level, it will be helpful for you to have predetermined locations close to work sites so tests can be completed in a timely manner.

Step 3: Determine the Results

If an employee tests positive, you will take action according to your policy, which can typically be found in the employee handbook. Some companies have policies that require disciplinary action up to and including discharge. A factor that helps to support this decision is the employee’s accident record. If your company has a zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy, a positive test result could result in termination. Although all employees have the right to discuss their test results with the clinic and with your company, these conversations must be kept confidential due to HIPAA.
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James Barrett

James Barrett

James has worked in the HR field going on 5+ years and has held various positions of leadership. His areas of expertise are in benefits, recruiting, onboarding, HR analytics, engagement, employee relations, and workforce development. He has earned a masters degree in HR, along with a nationally recognized SHRM-SCP certification.
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