5 Questions to Help You Decide if You Should Drug Test Employees

It’s not as easy a choice as you may think.
Before deciding to drug test in the workplace, consider how it may effect company culture. (Photo: one photo/Shutterstock)

Illicit drug use in the United States is costing businesses big time. The Addiction Center estimates the drug epidemic costs American companies $81 billion each year in lost productivity, safety issues and other liability risks.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance-using employees are not only more likely to hop from job to job or be late or absent from work, they’re also more prone to workplace accidents that can harm themselves or others and result in a workers’ compensation claim.

Related: 5 Benefits of Having Employees First-Aid Certified


“It is extremely important for employers to make decisions and establish policies that fit with the needs of their business and the kind of culture they wish to create.” -Tammy Hoyman (Photo: Tammy Hoyman)

“While it is not an employer’s responsibility to manage employees’ substance use problems any more than other medical issues, employers are responsible for ensuring a safe and productive workplace environment for all employees,” said Tammy Hoyman, CEO of the human services non-profit Employee & Family Resources, Inc.

If you’re thinking about implementing a drug-free workplace, here are a few things to consider.

Is it required?

With nearly 10 percent of full-time workers abuse alcohol or drugs annually, it may come as a surprise that very few businesses are required by law to drug test employees.

While federal employees and industries with “safety sensitive transportation employees” — such as aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, etc. — are required by federal law to conduct drug and alcohol testing, most other businesses are free to choose to screen for drug users or not. Keep in mind, drug testing laws vary from state to state, so check with your small business attorney to make sure you’re in compliance.

What does it cost?

Small business attorney Mindy Wolf said the cost of drug testing can sometimes be prohibitive for smaller enterprises. According to the OHS Health & Safety Services website, costs for drug screening employees can vary significantly based on what types of lab analysis you’re running and how often you’re testing.

The vast majority of drug tests are done by urinalysis, which can range from $30 to $50 per test, while blood and hair specimen drug tests can cost upwards of $100. While small business owners would likely only need screening for a handful of employees, which drugs you test for and how frequently you screen will factor into the effect on your bottom line.

How much money could I save?


Certifying your workplace as a drug-free zone can help you land an insurance discount. (Photo: create jobs 51/Shutterstock)

There’s no way to be certain of how much a drug screening policy will save your business, but the National Safety Council does provide a substance use cost calculator for employers that can give you an estimate based on your state, industry and number of employees.

A retail shop in Indiana with seven employees, for instance, could be losing up to $1,300 annually in lost time from employees missing work due to illness and injury due to substance abuse.

An added benefit of drug testing: the possibility of getting an insurance discount. In many states, businesses that achieve state certification as a drug-free workplace can receive discounts on their workers’ compensation insurance premiums of five percent or more.

How will it affect company culture?

“While drug testing can bring safety and security to workplaces, it can also create an environment of mistrust and polarization,” said Hoyman. “It is extremely important for employers to make decisions and establish policies that fit with the needs of their business and the kind of culture they wish to create.”

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

What are the risks of not screening my employees?

While it may not be required by law, forgoing a drug screening policy could put your small business at greater risk from a legal perspective. “Not drug testing employees may increase the risks of incurring liability claims — or increasing the frequency and severity of liability claims,” said Wolf. “You run the risk of increased legal costs for claims of violations of privacy and wrongful termination when you don’t have a clear drug policy in place.”

Drug use reduces workplace productivity, and substance abusers may be responsible for greater amounts of theft, fraud and pilferage, she said. Drug use can also contribute to increased conflict between employees, putting you at greater risk for losing your more productive employees due to a workplace altercation.

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“Drug testing is only part of the picture, as the likelihood of detecting illicit drug use varies depending on the substance used, said Hoyman. Proactively offering mental and physical health assistance for all employees can sometimes be just as effective in minimizing drug use in the workplace as simply screening for illicit drug use.

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