Advice for employees: drug testing

Employee rights
If a company has a drug testing policy in place, every employee that signs a contract and agrees to the contents of the employee handbook is providing consent to be tested under those rules. It is therefore vital for employees to familiarise themselves with the employee handbook to understand their rights.

Every employee has the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace. Even if drug testing is a company policy and detailed in the employee handbook, if an employee feels that they are being discriminated against they should consult with an employment solicitor.

Companies are expected to never discriminate against individuals. This is why any drug testing policy should apply to all members of staff with tests being carried out completely randomly, or with all employees being tested in one session.

If a manager has a reasonable suspicion that a particular employee is abusing illegal drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs, the first step should be to communicate with human resources and the employee to discuss any performance issues.  This gives an employee the opportunity to state if he or she is having problems and a means to address the issues can be arrived at. Only if the employee refuses to cooperate should a drug test be requested. A positive test would allow the company to start disciplinary proceedings if thought necessary.

Companies that do not have a zero tolerance policy often offer employees the opportunity to receive counselling and professional help to resolve a drug/substance abuse problem. Employees are generally expected to take their annual leave entitlement during rehabilitation.

Many companies perform drug tests immediately following an accident in the workplace. Usually all employees are tested, regardless of who caused the accident. Employees have to accept the drug test to avoid disciplinary action.

A company cannot force an employee to take a drug test; this is against the employee’s rights and human rights. If a company did enforce a drug test in any way there would be grounds for legal action against the company.

Many companies are now also testing new employees at the interview stage. Individuals have the right to refuse a drug test in these situations; however, they will not be considered for employment. This is not seen as a form of discrimination.
The drug testing process
Urine tests and hair follicle tests are the two types of drug test that are most commonly carried out in the workplace. Urine tests can detect drugs that have been taken in the last five to seven days. These types of tests are used when it is suspected that drug abuse is causing poor employee performance or following a workplace accident.

Hair follicle tests detect drug usage in the last 90 days, but not in the last week. These tests are generally carried out as routine drug tests to ensure that staff members are completely free of illegal drugs.

Some companies will collect samples and send them off for analysis, while others will carry out the urine tests within the workplace. Modern drug test kits can provide accurate results immediately. This saves time and money, as there is no need to contract health professionals to analyse results.
What happens when an employee declines a drug test?
If a company has implemented a drug testing policy and all employees have agreed to changes in their contracts or the employee handbook, then a company has the right to take disciplinary action against an employee who refuses a drug test.