When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
When it comes to employers conducting drug and alcohol tests on their employees, the specific requirements between states and provinces and between public and private sector organizations can vary. It is up to the individual to consult with a lawyer or with their workplace representatives to be completely sure.
When Can Employees Be Tested?
In general, employers are allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees:
- when they have a reasonable suspicion of drug/alcohol use,
- when the employee’s job demands extreme levels of safety, like airline pilots and operators of heavy machinery
- when the employee’s job involves national security or law enforcement
- when an employee has been involved in an accident where the use of drugs is suspected or where the circumstances of the accident give rise to suspicion of drug/alcohol use
Privacy and Discrimination Considerations
A balance must be struck between maintaining a safe work space and respecting an individual’s privacy (read more in Distraction, Fatigue and Impairment: What Any Safety Professional Can Do). In many jurisdictions, addiction to drugs or alcohol is considered a disability, which raises issues of discrimination when testing is introduced. In this case, employers must prove that testing is a legitimate requirement of the job.
Testing must be used to measure impairment, and cannot be employed as a deterrent, a drug prevention program or a morality issue.
In general, pre-employment drug testing can be performed as a condition of employment without necessary suspicion, but it must be applied to all applicants for a position. Individuals cannot be singled out for testing. Applicants must be informed about the testing, and the tests must be administered by a state-certified laboratory.
Testing During Employment
During employment, testing can only occur if there is a suspicion of drug use, there has been an accident, the employee's job poses a significant safety risk to others, or the employee is currently involved in a rehabilitation program (learn more in The Hangover: What You Should Know About Work and Alcohol). In addition, certain state and federal regulations mandate testing for employees in high-risk professions.
Many federal employees in the U.S. fall under mandatory testing guidelines put forth in the Workplace Act of 1988. In some states, random testing in private companies is allowed without reasonable suspicion, so long as advance notice is given.
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