By Scott Tackett

Drug testing pre-employment candidates and existing employees for alcohol and drugs is currently a hot topic. It is a fact that illegal drug use is rampant in our society, so naturally, this filters over into the hiring process and trying to address the possible drug use of current employees. Recent statistics indicate over 20 million American adults use illegal drugs of one kind or another, and many workplace accidents can be traced not only to street drugs, but also to the abuse of alcohol. Add into the equation that more and more states are coming closer to legalizing marijuana, and drug testing in the workplace is going to become even more of a hot topic.

The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, published annually, reveals insights into patterns of drug use in the American workforce. A 2016 analysis of more than ten million workplace drug test results showed drug use in the American workforce, fueled by illicit drugs, reached the highest positivity rate in 12 years. This study also reported 4.2 percent of U.S. employees failed workplace drug screenings in 2016.

“[These] findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations,” says Barry Sample, PhD, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. “Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce.”

Currently, no federal laws exit that require drug testing in the private sector business world. Many of you may be familiar, however, with the Drug-Free Workplace Act that requires all federal contractors with contracts over $100,000 to certify that they will provide a drug-free workplace. The law doesn’t require alcohol or drug testing, but testing is indirectly authorized as a means to maintain a drug-free environment. Individual states may also have their own laws regarding drug testing.

As is the case with every issue in the workplace, there are pros and cons to drug testing. It is imperative that company leaders and managers are educated so they can make the best decision possible when it comes to this highly emotional topic. Here are some points to consider.

Pros to drug testing

  • Safety. By conducting drug testing, you will be fostering a safer work environment for all employees.
  • Efficiency and productivity. You will be helping employees reach their full potential by ensuring they aren’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Deterrence and prevention. When individuals are aware a company promotes a drug-free workplace through education/awareness training and routine testing as a condition of employment, they may be less apt to engage in illegal drug activity.
  • Social responsibility. Employers who drug test are assisting their communities by protecting them against drug use. When faced with a failed test result, you may be able to help an employee with a drug problem get the professional assistance to overcome their addiction.

Cons to drug testing

  • Expense. There is a direct and steep cost associated with drug testing that cannot be recouped.
  • Anger and resentment. Some employees may become angry and resentful for being tested or see it as an invasion of their privacy.
  • Inaccurate results. Drug tests can provide false positive results, which can have devastating effects on the tested individual. This can also result in liability to the employer, especially if the individual is terminated and it’s later found that the test was flawed.

Whether to establish a drug-testing program in your company is not as cut and dry as it might appear on the surface. It requires a significant amount of thought and contemplation. You and your management team know your business, and you know your employees, so there is no one better to make this choice. But, as with every business decision you make, you must address both the pros and cons of the issue before determining what will work best for you, your employees, and your customers.


Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.