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Published on November 16, 2023

How Pre-Employment Drug Testing Contributes to a Healthier and More Productive Workforce

A drug test is essential for workplace safety for employees in safety-sensitive positions. The cost of replacing an employee is high and can include lost productivity. A standard 5-panel drug screening detects marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). More extensive panel tests also screen for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and ethanol. Pre-employment testing can be done with urine or hair samples.

Reduced Risk of Accidents

Drug tests can identify the presence of various illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, heroin, and more. These tests can be done through saliva, urine (the most common), hair, and blood. Depending on the type of test, employers can select specific substances to screen for or focus on a range of drug categories. Most employers deem drug abuse as a sign of unreliability and lack of professionalism. They are, therefore, within their rights to refuse a job applicant who has tested positive for drugs.

Pre-employment drug tests are a powerful deterrent to potential drug users and help employers avoid hiring employees who may pose a safety risk to others. Employers can also conduct random and blanket testing on an ongoing basis based on company policy. For instance, employers can implement an announcement on the company website that all new hires will be subject to a routine drug test as part of the hiring process. This can effectively lower turnover rates and workers’ compensation incidence rates. If desired, companies can schedule annual, quarterly, or monthly tests for all existing employees.

Reduced Absenteeism

For companies that value risk mitigation, drug screenings can help reduce accidents, health issues, workers’ compensation claims, and lost productivity. The test usually involves a sample of saliva or urine and can detect common substances like marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, and cocaine. Employers may also require drug screenings for current employees for various reasons. These include probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or after a workplace accident. A company can also implement blanket testing, a periodic test for everyone in a department or company.

Pre-employment drug testing is a good predictor of alcohol and drug abuse problems, and it can also be a strong deterrent to those who are considering using drugs in the work environment. Researchers found that job applicants who tested positive on a pre-employment drug test were four times as likely to be dismissed for alcohol or drug-related problems than those who tested negative. Consequently, employers spend an estimated $276 billion annually on direct medical costs, lost productivity, workers’ compensation claims, and increased insurance premiums due to substance abuse in the workplace.

Reduced Insurance Costs

The use of drug testing programs is every day in many workplaces today. This has been fueled by the substantial publicity surrounding tragic accidents, favorable government directives and regulations, and a growing number of court rulings. More empirical research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-employment drug testing as a selection tool. The few studies that have been conducted generally show that predictive ability depends critically on a few critical selection parameters and how these are evaluated.

Most commonly, employers require a urine sample from all applicants as a condition of being hired. Urine tests can screen for a wide range of substances, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, opiates, and PCP. Employers may also choose to test for benzodiazepine prescription drugs such as Valium or Xanax. While the majority of job applicants support testing policies, there is a small but growing concern that such programs have social costs. Specifically, some have argued that business drug intervention programs may aggravate society’s drug problem by making people who do not pass a test unemployable.

Increased Productivity

Drug testing can improve company morale and productivity while decreasing accidents, injuries, downtime, theft, and absenteeism. Employees who refuse to participate in pre-employment or periodic random, reasonable suspicion, or follow-up drug testing may have their job offer withdrawn or be subject to discipline. Drug screenings use biological samples – urine, saliva, sweat, or hair – that are exposed to chemical analysis to detect the presence of certain drugs. Most tests look for illegal substances like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, PCP, and heroin, although they can also screen for some prescription drugs.

Several studies suggest that, on average, employers can select more productive workers if they consider drug test results during hiring decisions. However, the predictive validity of these findings depends on critical selection parameters. For example, some researchers have found that attitudes toward drug testing can bias applicants’ choices of jobs – with more qualified applicants less likely to accept employment in companies that test employees. Other concerns about the utility of drug-testing programs include the possibility of false positive classification errors and the impact these programs may have on society by making people who are not drug users unemployable.

Reduced Turnover

Drug tests can detect several different drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and benzodiazepine prescription drugs such as Valium or Xanax. They can also detect some other common drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and alcohol. Pre-employment drug testing helps to protect employees and employers from harm caused by a worker under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A well-managed program can significantly reduce accidents, absenteeism, health issues and costs, insurance claims, litigation, and productivity problems.

Some research has questioned the validity of pre-employment testing as a selection device. However, many of these studies used analytical drug-testing procedures that do not conform to NIDA guidelines and introduce sources of error into the prediction equation. The best way to minimize the risk of errors is to use a comprehensive test that includes hair, saliva (oral fluid), sweat samples, and urine. This is a much more accurate method for predicting an employee’s drug-free status than simple urine screening, which is not very effective at detecting recent substance abuse.


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