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A Definitive Guide On Employee Drug Testing

5 min read
Last Updated on 12 August, 2022

There are increased chances of corporate risks and fraud when hiring employees in this time of globalized corporate culture. It is important to screen them to judge their compatibility with the organization.

For example, in India, about 3 million people are dependant on drugs. Such stats make it unavoidable for Indian employers not to hire people who use drugs.

The reasons for such a high rate of drug use in India are many and hard to tackle. However, employers can avoid this problem with a straightforward method, i.e., employee drug testing.

Drug testing is an employer's measure to check if their employees are using drugs or not. By testing employees for drugs, employers can identify recent drug or alcohol use.

Wherever state laws permit it, employers have full freedom to test their employees for drug or alcohol use. But in some states, there are certain limits on conducting drug tests, and employers must follow guidelines and regulations.

Employers may conduct pre-employment drug testing for new applicants. Or, they can test their employees post-employment under specific circumstances.

Many companies conduct workplace drug testing. For example, transportation companies usually do screenings for their employees as they are required to operate vehicles with passengers or cargo. Such companies have to take such precautions.

Why do employers conduct drug tests?

Drug and alcohol use has many effects on the health of employees. It affects the morale and productivity of the employees. It can also create additional costs in terms of health care.

Here are some reasons why employers conduct employee drug testing -

  • To dissuade employees from using and abusing drugs and alcohol
  • To identify if employees use drugs or alcohol
  • To be able to guide employees who have drug or alcohol problems
  • To create a safe work environment and a drug-free workplace
  • To prevent hiring applicants who are drug or alcohol users
  • To follow state laws

What do drug tests detect?

Employers may conduct drug Testing or employment screening to detect the presence of the following substances -

  • Opiates (opium, morphine, heroin, codeine)
  • Cocaine/Crack
  • THC (cannabis, legalized marijuana, hash)
  • Amphetamines (meth, crank, speed, ecstasy)
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, magic mushrooms, peyote)
  • Inhalants (glue, paint)
  • Barbiturates
  • Methadone
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Prescription drugs (Vicodin, Oxycodone)

When do employers conduct drug tests?

There are many situations when an employer may conduct a drug test. The most common are -

Before employment - Drug testing before hiring applicants is done to prevent hiring people who use drugs. It takes place after the applicant receives the employment letter. If the applicants fail the test, they are not hired.

As applicants can anticipate drug tests, they can stop the usage of drugs several days before. As a result, employers may conduct their tests on an unannounced basis.

Reasonable suspicion - If drug abuse signs and symptoms are observed in an employee, employers may conduct drug testing to determine if they are on drugs. It is imperative to have a clear definition of which behaviors justify testing for drugs or alcohol.

Employees suspected of using drugs are advised not to come to work until the results have arrived.

After a workplace accident - To determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the occurrence of a workplace accident, a drug test may be conducted. It is essential to have some criteria set to determine if a test will be conducted and how and who will evaluate them.

Some examples of such criteria are deaths, acute injuries, and property damage.

Even though a post-accident drug test will determine drug or alcohol use, it cannot prove that drug or alcohol use caused the accident.

Periodic Testing - Testing may be done periodically or annually, especially if physical work is needed for the job. This type of testing is usually scheduled on an earlier date, and thus, employees can prepare beforehand by stopping drug use.

Random Testing - Employers may conduct a test on an unannounced basis on randomly selected individuals. The selection is made by computers so that every employee has an equal chance of testing.

Testing after return-to-duty - If an employee has tested positive in the past and has finished the treatment for drug use, and is ready to return to work, a return-to-duty test may be conducted. Employers may also use this type of testing to test employees who have been absent for a long time.

How is employee drug testing conducted?

There are many drug and alcohol testing methods, such as urine tests, blood tests, and breath tests. Testing happens in the presence of a medical review officer, and samples are taken to a certified laboratory, where the check takes place. The accuracy of such tests is generally high.

Urine Test or Urinalysis - It is the most common type of drug testing. It can be done at a doctor’s office or even at the workplace. A sample is taken from an employee or applicant and sent for testing.

A urine test result shows if there are any drug residues in a person’s urine. The residues or metabolites remain in the body even after the effects of a drug have subsided.

Urine tests do not help detect alcohol use as alcohol passes very quickly from the body. They are mostly used to find traces of illicit drugs and prescription drugs in a person's body.

Breath test - Breath tests are the most common method of detecting alcohol in the blood. A person blows into a breath-alcohol device, and the results show the level of blood alcohol present in that period.

It is a convenient and very accurate method of finding how much alcohol is in the blood.

Blood test - Blood tests measure the actual amount of drugs or alcohol present in the blood. There is a short detection period, as most drugs quickly move from the blood to the urine. But, they are reasonably accurate and provide measures of the drugs or alcohol present in a person.

In cases of accidental injuries or death, blood tests are the only way to detect the usage of intoxicating substances.

Hair Analysis - Similar to urine tests, hair tests do not provide current usage evidence. They only show if a drug has been used in the past. It has a more extended detection period as the usage of drugs can be traced back to 90 days.

Also, hair testing cannot detect alcohol use. Moreover, it is the least invasive form of drug testing, so there are no privacy issues.

Saliva test - Saliva tests can detect drug or alcohol use. It is easy to collect and difficult to adulterate. Saliva tests are useful in determining current usage as drugs do not stay in oral fluids for long.

What if an employee tests positive for drug abuse?

In India, the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, states that drug sale, possession, and consumption of any amount are criminal offenses. The punishments vary according to the amount of contravention.

Employees found to be using drugs or alcohol are punished accordingly. Until the employer discloses the results of the tests, suspected employees are usually not allowed to come to work. If someone is proven guilty, they are fired or have to go through rehabilitation programs to be assessed as fit to return to work.


Drug testing is just one step in creating a successful drug-free workplace program.
A drug-free workplace program eliminates the health and safety hazards associated with substance abuse. Employers should educate employees about the risks of drug and alcohol abuse. They should also try to avoid hiring drug users at all costs.

Implementing a drug-free workplace policy promotes a healthy workforce and creates a professional image of the company. It prevents the loss of productivity in the workplace.

Employers can only implement a drug-free workplace policy if it complies with the laws of the state. It must be assisted by a written set of guidelines that can be understood and followed easily.

Lastly, by creating a drug-free workplace, employers can promote safer and healthier communities.

Besides working as a content marketer at Vantage Circle, Shah Alif Ahmed is also an internationally certified nutrition specialist, competitive bodybuilder and a musician. For any queries reach out to

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