Do I Need to Drug Test Workers Returning to the Office?

Do I Need to Drug Test Workers Returning to the Office?

By Tricia O'Connor

Employers and employees are facing a slew of new challenges developing practical, safe, and economical return to work policies, procedures, and protocols.

One question about drug testing is certainly a stumper: Do employees who’ve been working from home need to be drug tested before returning to the office?

We know drug screening helps employers provide the safest possible work environment for employees, visitors, and customers. We also know working from home during this pandemic has been stressful for a lot of people and, in some cases, exacerbated pre-existing mental health issues. Self-coping, particularly with substances, is common during a crisis.

Here, we explore the necessity for drug testing, examine laws that protect employers’ rights to drug test, and weigh other issues that may impact your decision to drug test workers returning to the office.

Getting High at Home

As employers discuss their return to work procedures for the end of COVID-19, there is one practice that should not be compromised – drug testing.

Studies show substance abuse increases dramatically during a national crisis and remains at elevated levels for months afterwards. Drug overdoses have risen in some areas during the pandemic. People are using marijuana for comfort.

The reason, experts say, is the link between coinciding mental health issues, an infectious disease outbreak, acute stress and loneliness and boredom, plus the relative flexibility employees have to fill their days at home as they wish (as long as their output remains steady).

Getting high at home is one thing. Continuing that behavior once you’re back in the workplace is dangerous, for you and everyone around you.

Here are some of the effects drug use can have on returning workers:

  • Greater risk of a workplace accident
  • Lower productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Higher medical costs

Employers need a policy against the use of drugs while working or at the workplace – now, and when the pandemic is over.

Grow Your Message

Because the lines of acceptable behavior may have become blurred while working from home, employees might need a gentle reminder. Consider reminding employees about your drug and alcohol policies in return-to-office communications.

If you’re continuing remote work for some employees in conjunction with recalling some workers to the office, you may want to draft or include information prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol while working from home. That should clear up any confusion and set an expectation for all employees, regardless of where they perform their duties.

One important aspect of your drug-screening policy you’ll want to address is test refusal. If an employee returning to the office refuses to take a drug test because of COVID-19 (and there are legitimate health and safety reasons why they may decline that have nothing to do with substance use), what allowances will you provide that employee? You might consider a clause that states the employee agrees you have the right to randomly test them after the pandemic is over. This tactic should also protect you from anyone claiming they were unfairly singled out.

Of course, employers held to governmental regulations, like the DOT, have other guidelines and procedures they need to follow.

Spot a Cheat

Unfortunately, there may be a few people who become a little too comfortable with the freedoms of working from home and have a hard time transitioning back to the rules. They may be tempted to cheat a drug test.  

There are three main ways people cheat on urine-based drug tests:

  • They ingest something
  • They add something
  • They sneak something into the testing site

The first step to preventing drug test cheating is to have tight control over the process. This can mean several things:

  • Don’t give the applicant or employee too much notice of the testing. If you are doing random testing of current employees, don’t schedule the tests for the same day and time.
  • Monitor check-in times at the lab. If you send someone for a test, be sure to check how long it takes them to show up. Did they go right away or show up hours later? A long delay could show they are buying time to metabolize a drug, or they were setting up a way to cheat.
  • Check your policy and state laws to see if you can use alternative testing methods, such as oral fluid or hair. Different tests are good for different situations.

As part of your return to work procedures, you might even consider setting up an on-site collection in addition to your other new health screening measures.

EBI Advocates for You

To secure a truly safe and drug-free workplace in the coming months as the pandemic ends will require quick, efficient, and cost-effective pre-employment drug testing, background checks, and even COVID-19 testing. The future of workplace drug testing will be less about impairment and more about ensuring a clean workplace, a healthy workforce, and drug-free working conditions. 

If you’re interested in learning more, please join us today at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT for a webinar “How to Prepare for a Drug-Free Post-Pandemic Workplace” presented by EBI & Current Consulting Group and sponsored by OraSure Technologies. Can’t make it? Register anyway, and we’ll email you the recording and slide deck after the live presentation.

As always, we’re here to help. Don’t hesitate to get to know EBI and reach out if you have a question. Email us or chat with us on our LinkedIn page.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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