AccuSource Blog

Best Practices to Support a Drug-free Workplace

As the opioid epidemic sweeps the nation and illicit drug use in the United States and beyond continues to increase, it is more important than ever for employers to ensure their organization's policies and practices foster a safe, drug-free workplace. Employee drug abuse costs companies millions of dollars each year in lost time, accidents, legal claims, and health care costs. It is estimated up to 70% of Americans who use illegal drugs are employed, costing businesses in excess of $81 billion annuallyCreating and enforcing a consistent, compliant corporate drug testing program can help mitigate potential losses, and encourage safe and healthy lifestyles among employees. 

Some best practices for implementing a Drug-free Workplace Program in non-regulated industries include: 


Put Expectations in Writing 

Establishing a clear, documented drug screening policy applicable to every employee in your company, from part-time workers to the CEO, is the first step in promoting a drug-free workplace. It is imperative to communicate your drug screening policy clearly and concisely to all members of your organization, emphasizing consequence for violations and options to obtain addiction help. Every employee handbook should include a section devoted to documenting the organization's drug free workplace policy. If your company supports an intranet, it is a good idea to include a statement regarding workplace drug use on it as well. Additionally, posters and signs in employee common areas like breakrooms and lounges can serve as a reminder your organization takes drug abuse seriously. During the new hire onboarding process, include a review of workplace policies and consequences to help ensure staff members have appropriate expectations. Finally, require all employees to specifically acknowledge and execute the drug-free workplace statement section of the employee handbook to indicate they understand and will abide by the organization’s stated policies.  

Some questions to consider during the creation of your drug-free workplace statement include: 

  1. What is the purpose/goal of your policy? 
  2. Who is covered by your policy? 
  3. When does your policy apply? 
  4. What behavior is prohibited? 
  5. Will employees be required to notify you of drug-related convictions? 
  6. Does your policy include searches? 
  7. What are the consequences for violating the policy? 
  8. Are there Return-to-Work Agreements? 
  9. What type of assistance is available? 
  10. How is employee confidentiality protected? 
  11. Who is responsible for enforcing your policy? 

Engage the Services of a Professional MRO  

A Medical Review Officer (MRO) is a licensed physician, responsible for receiving and reviewing laboratory results for specimens collected as part of an employment drug testing program. Ultimately, they act as an independent and impartial "gatekeeper" and advocate for the accuracy and integrity of the drug testing process. They provide a quality assurance review of the drug testing process for the specimens under their purview, determine if there is a legitimate medical explanation for laboratory confirmed positive, adulterated, substituted and invalid drug test results, ensure the timely flow of test results, and other information to employers and protect the confidentiality of the drug testing information.  

Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require all drug tests to be reviewed by MRO but it is generally best practice to have all non-negative results reviewed, whether they are DOT regulated drug screens or non-DOT tests. This ensures accuracy and confidentiality, while ensuring your organization only receives actionable results.  


Set A Deadline 

Urine drug testing continues to be the most widely used and accepted method of drug screening utilized by employers throughout the US. When utilizing a urine drug testing program, it is best practice to enforce a policy requiring applicants and employees to test within 48 hours of notification. In specific employment environments, saliva or hair follicle testing may be more appropriate due to collection options, minimized risk of adulteration and/or increased testing windows. Below is a table outlining some of the most popular drug testing methods with their average detection windows and common pros and cons for each: 

Drug Testing Methods Overview 
Test Method Average Detection Window Pros  Cons 
Lab-based Urine  24 – 72 hours, Habitual THC – up to 30 days 
  • Widely-accepted method of testing 
  • Most cost-effective lab-based 
  • DOT-compliant
  • Collection facility visit required  
  • Easiest method to mask or “cheat” test 
Instant Urine  24 – 72 hours, Habitual/Chronic THC – up to 30 days 
  • Cost-effective  
  • Rapid results  
  • Widely-accepted method of testing 
  • Easiest method to mask or “cheat” test 
  • Requires controlled restroom facilities 
  • May require same sex collector 
Lab-based Oral Fluid  24 – 36 hours 
  • Non-invasive 
  • No special facilities required for collection 
  • Difficult to “cheat” result when administered correctly 
  • Shorter detection window, especially for THC 
  • Some states may limit/prohibit use in pre-employment screening 
Instant Oral Fluid  24 – 36 hours 
  • Non-invasive 
  • No special facilities required for collection 
  • Rapid results 
  • Difficult to “cheat” result when administered correctly 
  • Shorter detection window, especially for THC 
  • Some states may limit/prohibit use in pre-employment screening 
Lab-based Hair  1-3 Months 
  • Longest detection window 
  • No need for same-sex collector 
  • May be collected onsite 
  • Expensive 
  • Lack of easy specimen availability (bald donor) 
Lab-based Blood  1-72 hours 
  • Detects very recent use 
  • Best for post-accident  
  • Expensive 
  • Invasive 
  • Requires clinic collection of specimen  

 We have also created a helpful infographic covering the most popular drug testing methods, including detection windows and pros and cons of each. Click here to download the infographic.

Download Infographic


Randomize It 

Employing a policy of random drug testing is a powerful method of deterring drug and alcohol use in the workplace. The main factor is the element of surprise: if employees know they might be randomly selected for drug testing at any time, they are less likely to use illicit drugs or alcohol in their workplace. When implementing a random drug testing program, it is important to support short collection windows; best practice is to test within 2 to 3 hours of notification. Both urine drug testing and oral saliva testing methodologies are suitable for a random drug test as they will both successfully detect the intake of drugs within the recent past (saliva test windows are generally 12-48 hours for most substances and urine test windows 24-72 hours for most substances with up to 30-day detection possible for THC, depending upon level of abuse.) Test windows are similar for both instant and lab-based testing.  

A few questions to consider when designing a random drug testing policy include: 

  1. Who should be included in random testing? 
  2. How are employees selected for testing?  
  3. How often should random pulls take place?  
  4. How are employees notified to report for a test?  
  5. What happens if a selected employee is not available for testing?  
  6. What must employees do when notified of a random test? 

Note: Some states and municipalities limit random drug and alcohol testing to specific employee classes, may prohibit random screening of non-regulated employees entirely or may restrict test methods or processes. AccuSource assists employers in developing random screening programs to meet specific organizational needs. 


Legalized Marijuana and Compassionate Use Statutes 

As the wave of marijuana legalization, both medical and recreational, continues to sweep across the nation, many employers are rethinking their organization’s stance on testing for cannabis use during an employment drug screen. Generally, employers can still screen for marijuana use even in states with legalized recreational or medical use as marijuana use for any reason is still prohibited under federal law. However, there have been some recent State Superior Court rulings which should be considered when making the decision to screen for marijuana use among current employees and employment applicants. In July 2017, the Massachusetts Superior Justice Court ruled an employer was liable for discrimination for terminating an employee with Crohn’s disease after testing positive for marijuana citing protection under a compassionate use statute. 

Employees should be clearly advised in substance abuse policies whether employers will test for marijuana pre-hire, post-accident, or reasonable suspicion – disclosure is a deterrent. 

In our recent blog post “The Green Rush: Medical & Recreational Marijuana Legislation In The US”, we take a deep dive into current and pending legislation regarding medical and recreational marijuana use on the state level. 


This information is not intended to be legal advice.  It is recommended that you speak with your Legal Counsel to ensure compliance with applicable law. 


Luke Runnells

Luke Runnells

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