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Employee Alcohol and Drug Testing – All You Need to Know
Written by
Emily Wilson
February 2020
Written by
Emily Wilson
February 2020

Though alcohol and drug testing are very common practices in most working environments, there are some rules and regulations that manage this kind of testing. Taking bodily fluids, hair samples or saliva samples and testing them falls under a person's medical history, and, as such, is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality laws. So, how is it then that employers can and do test their employees for drugs regularly? And what does a drug testing policy involve in the first place?

If you’re looking for answers to those questions, look no further than our little article, in which we’ll tell you all you need to know about alcohol and drug testing in the working environment.

The legality of Alcohol and Drug Testing

No person is allowed to view a drug screening test other than the person tested themselves and their physician, without the person’s consent. It is for this reason that all potential and current employees are obligated to sign a consent form allowing their employer to test them for drugs and alcohol before actually becoming employees as well as after.

With that being said, however, signing a consent form doesn’t allow the employer to test you indiscriminately. The legality of drug and alcohol testing ensures the employers perform drug screenings solely to maintain a safe and healthy working environment and to prevent abuse and discrimination in the workplace by the employer.

As it stands, the employers are also obligated by law to maintain a safe and healthy working environment, so drug testing is actually required by law, especially in high-risk jobs. Jobs involving construction, transportation and operation of heavy machinery are subject to regular drug tests to ensure the employees are safe and to deter drug use. 

Types of Tests

There are several types of drug screenings employed by companies and businesses. The most common type of test is a urinalysis, which involves the person’s urine sample being tested for drug residue. These tests are around 98% accurate, though there are ways to cheat the test. Be that as it may, this test is not as easy to “beat” as one might think, and tampering with the sample is easily detectable. 

Other types of tests are blood, saliva and hair and breathalyzer tests. Each of these is used in specific instances, and each drug test’s accuracy is different and provides different information.

Hair drug test, though not commonly employed, is the best way of discovering repeated and chronic substance abuse. Drugs often leave residue in the body of a person, and this residue often binds to the body's natural keratin, namely hair and nails. A hair drug test may not be reliable at detecting substance abuse within hours of taking in the drug, but it can detect a person's drug use habits several months before the test. 

Blood drug and alcohol tests are also fairly uncommon, but very accurate in determining whether the person is under the influence or not at the moment of testing. Blood tests are used when employees are screened for hard drugs or alcohol, usually after an accident or when an employee has given probable cause to the employer or supervisor to have them tested. 

Breathalyzer test uses a specialised device (the breathalyzer) to test the blood alcohol level of a person at the time the test is taken. Alcohol tests are usually not employed by companies and businesses, as alcohol is legal and most employees imbibe alcohol at one time or another, but a breathalyzer test is usually employed after an accident that caused loss of life, injuries that had to be treated off-site and property damage in the excess of a set amount of money, to determine if the person thought responsible as under the influence at that time. This type of test is also strictly enforced in high-risk professions, such as construction or transportation.

Finally, the saliva test is becoming more and more popular with employers around the world. This test involves taking a swab of the person’s mouth, and the saliva is then tested for drugs and alcohol. The reason behind this test’s increased popularity is that it is not invasive as compared to the other tests, as well as that it can be done on-site, is reasonably accurate, and the results can be produced very quickly.

As for the equipment needed to perform these tests, there are a number of firms and agencies that produce and sell state-approved drug testing kits to companies and businesses at reasonable prices.

Company Drug Testing Policies

Like we said, every company and business is required, by law, to provide a safe and secure working environment. This is why many companies employ a drug screening policy to deter substance abuse, as well as identify and eliminate candidates that actively abuse these substances, as well as make sure that the existing employees are drug-free. 

When it comes to particular policies, companies often require a drug test to be performed prior to employment. Once the offer for a position has been offered to a candidate, they must undergo a test, and the offer is rescinded if the person does not pass the test. 

 As for existing employees, employers often perform randomised tests. Randomised tests serve the purpose of deterring drug use and ensure the testing is fair, and that the employers and supervisors aren’t abusing their power and discriminating against a specific employee. 

Employers might also put in place regular drug tests that cover the entire staff (aka blanket tests). These policies are most commonly employed in professions where the risk of bodily and property harm is relatively high, or when businesses that are looking to boost their productivity. 

Finally, employers also might perform a test on specific individuals, but only when they have a probable cause to have them tested. These are called probable-cause or for-cause tests and are performed only when a supervisor has recognised symptoms of substance abuse in a specific employee, corroborated by another supervisor or the employer.


And that's pretty much it when it comes to all you need to know about drug and alcohol test. For employees, remember that this is done for your safety, especially those working in high-risk jobs, as it is important for you to know you can trust your co-workers. As for employers, while this is your legal obligation and your right, be mindful of your employees' rights and legal restrictions when enforcing your policy. 


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