Drug Testing Best Practices: Should Workers Returning to the Office be Screened?

Drug Testing Best Practices: Should Workers Returning to the Office be Screened?

By Tricia O'Connor

Studies vary wildly on how many workers will return to the office and when that will happen. We’ve read reports indicating anywhere between 11 – 40% of the current remote workforce will be called back into the office eventually. Meanwhile, some Fortune 100 companies like Apple, Amazon, and Walmart have already announced their recall plans

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. Studies show substance abuse increases dramatically during a national crisis and remains at elevated levels for months afterward. Recent statistics estimate that 14.8 million Americans use illegal drugs, and 70 percent of them are employed. 

There has also been a slew of changes to marijuana laws at the state level this year. Both Virginia and New Mexico legalized recreational use of the drug, and the City Council in Philadelphia just approved a bill that would make it illegal to do pre-employment marijuana tests on job applicants.

This unpredictable environment is causing employers to re-evaluate their drug testing policies and programs. At the core is this question: Do workers returning to the office need to be drug tested?

The short answer is yes. But here are some best practices to follow. 

Dangerous High

The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that employees who suffer from drug or alcohol dependency are nearly three times more likely to either cause or personally experience an injury-related absence from work.

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

Because the lines of acceptable behavior may have become blurred while working from home, employers might want to consider revising their drug testing policy to include screening remote workers who are returning to the office. If you’re looking for tips to update your policy, download this On Demand Webinar, How to Prepare Now for a Drug-Free Post-Pandemic Workplace, presented by EBI and Current Consulting Group and sponsored by OraSure Technologies. 

Build Safe Workplaces

Simply put, a drug test is one of the most effective tools you can use to maintain a safe and compliant workforce. Studies show workplaces with drug testing programs have better morale, less turnover, higher productivity, fewer accidents, and healthier employees. Some drug-free organizations can also qualify for some state incentives or discounts on their workers compensation premiums.

Let’s examine some of the negative effects drug abuse has caused in three popular industries: 


  • 1 in 10 retail employees abuse illicit drugs
  • 80% of drug abused steal from their workplace
  • Employee theft accounts for more than $15 billion in retail shrinkage annually


  • The second highest rate of substance abuse in the workplace
  • 1 in 9 construction employees abuse illicit drugs
  • The highest rate of accidental deaths in any industry – 51.8%


  • Over 1.1 million manufacturing employees abuse drugs
  • 1 in 11 manufacturing workers abuse drugs
  • Drug- and alcohol-abusing employees are 3.6 times more like to be in a workplace accident

Despite the staggering statistics, progress is being made in these industries to curb workplace drug use.

When drug-testing programs were successfully introduced, implemented, and tracked, each of these industries experienced a 51% reduction in incident rates within the first two years

Determining the Best Test 

There are several popular drug testing options in the marketplace today. If you are interested in testing your employees while they are working remotely, check out this post: Drug Testing 101: Remote Collection Best Practices. There, we discuss which method is the best fit for conducting drug tests virtually. 

There are two main types of drug tests – instant or rapid tests and lab-based tests. 

An instant test provides you with results in minutes at the point of collection. Instant tests typically use urine or oral fluid (saliva). Rapid tests don’t have as many regulations attached to them but can deliver a “negative” or “non-negative” result quickly. If speed is the name of the game in your drug testing efforts, and you’re not regulated by any government bodies, then this may be a good fit for you. It is also less expensive than lab-based tests. 

Lab-based tests occur when a specimen (urine, hair, oral fluid) is sent to a lab for processing, or the specimen is collected at a lab. Results are usually available after 2-3 days. Lab-based tests are still considered the standard in drug testing, especially among safety-sensitive positions, and are required in Federal and Department of Transportation (DOT) testing. These tests are more expensive than rapid tests. 

The types of tests you choose may depend on the needs of your organization, what federal regulations you must adhere to, and what your state laws are. In some cases, you may be able to use a combination of tests to meet your needs. Partnering with an internationally accredited screening agency like EBI can help you navigate this decision. 

Employers may also need to make drug testing considerations based on COVID-19. Employers need to follow whatever regulations they are governed by, especially if they are regulated by the DOT. And employers may need to take extra precautions to protect the health and wellness of their employees, especially those with pre-existing health conditions or who are considered at high risk for contracting COVID-19. 

Here to Help

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. 

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. 

Still have questions about drug testing? EBI experts are here to help. Contact our team and we’ll get right back to you. 

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.

Learn More About Sterling