Staffing Management

How Do We Test Employees for Intoxication?

By Staff Report

Jun. 16, 2015

Dear Sidestepping,

There are numerous methods to test an employee for the presence of either drugs or alcohol if you suspect an employee is impaired on the job. The most common testing includes breath, urine, blood or hair.

You specifically inquired as to the difference between breath tests and blood tests.

A breath-alcohol test is the most common test for finding out how much alcohol is currently in the blood. The person being tested blows into a breath-alcohol device, and the results are given as a number, known as the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), which in turn tells you the degree of the employee's impairment. For positions regulated by the Department of Transportation, for example, a BAC of 0.02 is enough to justify stopping someone from performing a safety-sensitive task and a BAC reading of 0.04 or higher is considered a positive test and requires immediate removal from safety-sensitive functions.  

A blood test, on the other hand, measures the actual amount of alcohol or other drugs in the blood at the time of the test. With blood tests, there is a very short detection period, as most drugs are quickly cleared from the blood and deposited into the urine. Thus, if you are searching for the presence of drugs, a urine specimen is more reliable than a blood test.

As to the specific question of breath vs. blood for suspected intoxication: Although a blood test potentially is more accurate, it is not sufficient to justify, in most cases, the added burden and expense of a blood draw vs. a breath test.

A blood test is the only way to determine legal intoxication (think a serious injury or death), with scientific certainty. Thus, in most instances, a breath test will provide sufficient evidence of intoxication for employment purposes.

SOURCE: Jon Hyman, Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, Cleveland, Ohio, June 4, 2015.

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