Pros and Cons of Drug Testing in the Workplace

Have you ever had to undergo substance testing at your workplace? Even though this concept has been around for quite some time now, it has remained a controversial issue. On one hand, employees say that getting tested for drug use at a workplace is a violation of one’s rights, and on the other, the employers insist that they can and will employ only those workers who are not prone to narcotics use.

By these arguments, which support both sides of this controversial debate, one can discern that there are both benefits and disadvantages that come with this issue. Is workplace drug testing really necessary? Why is it important? Is it legal? Who can access its results? In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a closer look at this type of examination and try to find answers to these and other questions. Read on!

Pre-employment Tests

This would be one of the most common types of substance testing that involves employment at a certain company. As the name suggests, a candidate is required to undergo a test after a conditional offer of employment.

Many applicants decide to step back once they realize that the company they would like to work in requires candidates to get tested for narcotics. Some consider drug testing as an absolute invasion of their privacy and decide to continue with their search for a firm that won’t require them to undergo any medical examination.

By using this type of examination, many companies keep their workplaces free of narcotics users and lower the risks of finding one (or several) narcotics users only after they have been employed.

Random Tests

The purpose of this type of testing is to prevent narcotics abuse at a workplace. Many experts consider random illicit substance examination as one of the most effective preventive measures when it comes to deterring employees from using narcotics. The reason is simple – people are scared of losing their jobs in case they get caught.

As you can already guess, this kind of examination discourages narcotics abuse during employment, and not just before a certain person is hired. The main benefit here is that random testing doesn’t only increase the productivity of the employees, but it can also assist them in adopting a lifestyle that’s better and healthier. However, it can also lead to some quite “nasty” scenes – surprised employees refuse to undergo the examination and threaten with immediate resignation.

Types of Workplace Drug Testing

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

“I would like to test one of my employees for drug use”. This typically means that an employer is suspecting that a particular worker is using a prohibited substance and he’d like to have him undergo a test. Some employers cover this up as a random narcotics test, even though it’s not random at all.

It can be quite challenging for an employer to conduct this kind of a test, for an array of reasons. There’s the fear of retaliation, of being wrong, and there are also cases in which an employer has a personal relationship with his employee that he wouldn’t like to ruin. For these reasons, many employers categorize the examination as “random”, even though it actually isn’t.

Post-Accident Drug Testing

Once a workplace accident has occurred, an employer has to use a post-accident examination to find out if the narcotics have played a role in the accident’s occurrence. One important thing to note here is that a positive result doesn’t always prove that the substance use was the primary cause of the accident.

After an accident, an employer tries to understand the cause and therefore tries to find a way to prevent similar occurrences in the future. A post-accident drug test is just one of the resources that he can use to analyze the accident and prevent future accidents.

Return to Duty Drug Testing

One part of EAP (Employee Assistance Program) would be referring to a particular worker who has been determined to be positive for narcotics use to a certain medical institution. After weeks of assessment and treatment and if the medicinal professionals say that the worker is finally fit to get back to work, the employer can ask for RTD testing to make sure that his employee is completely clean from narcotics.

As expected, a positive result can lead to termination from the company.

Follow-Up Drug Testing

This testing, on the other hand, is done with workers who have already been determined to be positive for illicit substance use. Typically, it is performed in conjunction with RTD testing and usually takes place after the initial RTD test.

Regulations govern the follow-up examination. An employee becomes a subject of six follow-up tests (which are unannounced) in the first year after returning to his position. In combination with other tests, it plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy workplace.

Reasons for Drug Testing in the Workplace

First of all, the main reason because of which a company owner would want to perform drug tests on his workers is to maintain a drug-free working space. As you can already guess, this leads to higher productivity and therefore bigger profits.

However, the testing also protects the employees themselves, as it eliminates the chances of fatal accidents and allows them to work efficiently and effectively. It can assist the workers in adopting a healthy lifestyle – knowing that a random test could leave him without a job, a worker never engages with narcotics and stays healthy, both physically and mentally.

Furthermore, the examination can also boost the reputation of the entire company. An increase in productivity often leads to an increase in the quality of the company’s products or services. This can also uplift the spirits of all workers whereby reflecting the firm’s reputation as a whole.

Should Drug Testing Be Mandatory in the Workplace?

The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors. First of all, the workers with positive results shouldn’t be marginalized and have their access to social welfare and employment cut off. Instead, they should be treated with respect and dignity, and shouldn’t be shamed but supported.

In an ideal kind of situation, this kind of testing should be used only to enhance the safety and health of the company’s workers, as well as of those buying their products or receiving their services.

Why is Drug Testing in the Workplace Important

Who Is Allowed Access to the Results of a Drug Test?

The results of one’s testing for substance use might be considered one’s personal information. For that matter, there may be some restrictions on whether the information of this kind can be shared with others. This is precisely why workers who are to be tested for illicit substances have to sign a release so that their employers can read the results.

Refusing to do so will prevent the employer from receiving the worker’s results, but also puts the worker at risk of losing his job. Refusing to allow the employer to read the results implies that the person in question is probably an addict.

Is Drug Testing Legal?

There have been many discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of drug testing in the workplace that have tried to determine its legality and value. Attempts to out rule workplace testing to narcotics as something that violates the privacy of employees have not been successful. However, even though the examination doesn’t actually violate the rights of an individual, the manner in which it is sometimes performed can cross the line.

For example, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled out that the positive results of a test cannot be used in criminal cases if the employee hasn’t agreed to it. Furthermore, a drug test might be confronted on constitutional grounds in case its results have been divulged indiscriminately, if the examination has been conducted inappropriately or excessively, or if it has been performed in a way in which it disrespects one’s privacy rights.

Moreover, many states have introduced laws whose purpose is to limit the conditions under which a company owner may require drug testing of his workers.

Pros and Cons of Workplace Drug Testing

Many people consider workplace testing as unethical and think that it violates their privacy. They say that workplace testing to illegal substances often leads to unfair dismissal suits and that it costs too much. It is also worth mentioning that these tests are not always accurate – a small margin of error can have dire consequences for a large number of workers.

As you can see, there are both pros and cons to workplace drug testing. Let’s take a broader approach to this matter and find out which side is right:


It leads to a safer working environment

The fact that drug testing at a workplace promotes safety and health is probably its most significant advantage. As we said, workers who use or abuse narcotics pose a safety risk, especially if they’re driving company’s vehicles, operating heavy machinery, or handle hazardous chemicals. If any of them do their jobs while under the influence of an illicit substance, then the risk of an accident increases, and this can lead to severe injuries and death.

It assists workers with drug problems

Even though many companies immediately fire employees who fail the test, there are still many thoughtful employers who help workers with their drug problems. They give them a second chance and help them get into rehabilitation or recovery programs at their own expense. In this way, the drug-using workers get a chance to become free from narcotics abuse and get back to work once they’re clean.

This also allows employers to keep their experienced employees once they have completed their rehabilitation and prevents them from going through the hassle of hiring and training new workers.

It increases the productivity

Workplace drug testing often leads to fewer accidents, and that’s always a good indicator of a working environment that’s safe and healthy. Such conditions help the workers to become productive since they’re fully aware that the company owners are doing everything in their power to keep everybody safe while they’re working.

Cons of Workplace Drug Testing

Reduces potential violence and conflict

Drug abusers hooked on stimulants like cocaine tend to be aggressive, which leads to conflicts, violence, and injuries. Once the testing program is successfully implemented, the company can pinpoint and take care of addicts before violence even takes place.

Reduced recruitment costs and less employee turnover

Studies have shown that the workers who use narcotics tend to change their jobs as often as three times per year. An increased worker turnover rate forces the employers to spend a lot of money on recruiting new employees who will replace the ones that left. A successfully implemented substance testing program can cause a drop in the employee turnover rates.


Violation of privacy

When it comes to workplace narcotics testing, one of the first arguments used by those who oppose it is that it violates one’s privacy. Most of the opposition revolves around this idea – people even know to cite the laws of a particular state that guarantee them the right to privacy.

When a particular company decides to insist on testing, there’s a high chance that its workers will become restless and bitter. And, as you can already guess, this usually leads to decreased productivity and smaller revenue for the company.

High costs

For employers, one of the most apparent disadvantages that come with this method is the amount of money required to keep the program running. Contracting a company that can arrive at your workplace and conducts the tests is not cheap. Depending on the sorts of tests that will be performed, an employer will have to spend around $30 to $40 per employee.

These costs can become even higher if the employer decides to conduct pre-employment tests as well. It’s also worth mentioning that, by doing this an employer will be spending a substantial amount of money on candidates whose hiring is uncertain before the test results come back.

Unfair dismissal suits

The method of workplace narcotics testing is often at the core of unfair dismissal suits that come from former workers. Employees who have failed the test and are subsequently fired from their jobs sometimes file suit, claiming that they have been wrongfully sacked. Even if this person loses the case, the business will still lose some money – lawsuits of any kind come with high costs, especially when we consider the downtime needed to support the claim in the court and the attorney’s fees.

This is precisely why a well-communicated and robust drug policy framework is crucial when it comes to preventing these types of issues.

The objectives of drug testing

One cannot deny that this kind of testing offers a generally accurate and objective way of establishing if a particular employee is a drug user. The most persuasive argument for a workplace narcotics testing to be carried out is the fact that the employer is responsible for the safety and productivity of his workers.

However, if this kind of testing is to be conducted, some basic ethical principles should be followed so that the rights of the employees are not violated. Some of these principles are confidentiality, informed consent, provision of rehab and addiction counseling, repeat tests, and others.

It is of paramount importance to treat people who fail the test with respect and dignity – supporting them rather than shaming them is the only right way. Misusing the workplace drug testing is guaranteed to help with further development of an underclass of substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and poverty.

Workplace Drug Testing


Can you refuse to take a drug test at work?

The legality of the workplace substance testing largely depends on the state law. In case the state law allows one’s employer to conduct the test, then it also allows him to fire the worker if he refuses to take it. Even though he can’t force the employee to undergo the test, the employer can use it as a condition of employment. In simple terms, those who want to keep their jobs will have to take the test.

Do companies have to tell you about a drug test?

This depends on the kind of a drug test that is about to be performed. In case we’re talking about the pre-employment test, then yes – the company has to tell you that you will get the position only if you pass the test. Random tests are a completely different matter since they allow the employer to perform them without any notice.

However, some companies have a common practice to inform their workers about the test.

Why is drug testing important in the workplace?

There are a plethora of reasons because of which one might consider this process essential. Not only does it promote a safer working environment, but it also reduces the potential legal liability of employees and helps them with their narcotics problems.

The increased safety caused by such tests leads to better productivity, improves staff morale and company reputation, and educates employees about the dangers of illicit substances. It also decreases health insurance costs and reduces potential violence and conflict.

Can I be tested and fired for marijuana in a state where it is legal?

Brandon Coats, who worked in Dish Network’s customer service, got fired for failing a random drug test. He lost his job despite the fact that marijuana has been legal in his state (Colorado) for almost 20 years, and even though he has been using only medical weed (Brandon is quadriplegic). The court has ruled out that it’s perfectly legal for the company to fire someone for off-duty behavior.

This leads us to the answer that yes you can be fired, even if weed is legal in your state.


A workplace drug testing program is among the essential tools for companies that want to keep their workers safe, productive, and healthy. This is particularly important in today’s world in which it is so easy to get alcohol and narcotics.

For employers in engineering, mining, construction, and transport industries, drug policy which allows workplace examination is of paramount importance, as it involves the safety of personnel and equipment. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not essential for office jobs – employees impaired by illicit substances will always be susceptible to committing mistakes, no matter what their job is.

Based on all the facts presented, we can safely conclude that there’s no place for the unsafe use of illegal substances, especially if we’re talking about job position. Workplace testing for illicit substances is something inevitable and unavoidable – it’s the only way in which companies can keep their workplaces free of addicts.