Time & Attendance
By Cathy Devine
Jul. 8, 2011
Pre-employment drug testing is a standard practice for organizations concerned about the negative impacts of workplace drug abuse. Statistics continually show that drug and alcohol abusers miss more work, cause more accidents and are generally less productive than their nonabusing colleagues.
A pre-hire program only spots job candidates who are abusing drugs—not current employees. This is where post-hire screening such as random drug and alcohol testing can help.
Unlike pre-hire testing, random testing is performed on an unannounced, unpredictable basis on existing employees. As such, it is a powerful long-term deterrent for curbing on-the-job substance abuse, since it poses a much higher threat of detection than pre-hire testing.
Here’s how it works:
• An employee identifier such as an employee number is placed in a testing “pool,” and a scientifically arbitrary selection is made.
• This selection is usually computer-generated to ensure it is random and that each person in the workforce population has an equal chance of being selected for testing, regardless of whether that person was recently tested or not.
• Once an employee is selected for testing, the individual is notified and must immediately report for a drug test.
While random selections are computerized, the job of documenting and managing the selections is often a manual task involving lots of paperwork. To streamline the process, some third-party administrators now offer an electronic option for documenting and managing random selections.
Instead of faxing and emailing selection requests or sifting through paper files for program audits, employers can inactivate random selections, request alternates and review past selections with a mouse click within their online drug-testing platform. This saves time, boosts audit efficiencies and increases program visibility.
Notification and detection windows
Appropriate employee notification is vital to the success of a random program, since the detection of any drug is subject to the timing and amount of drugs taken. All drugs have detection windows, meaning the period of time after ingestion when they can be recognized by a drug test. If allowed too much time between notification and testing, employees can potentially clear the drugs from their system.
Depending on an organization’s drugs of concern, this directly affects the allowable random notification time frame.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, below are the estimated time frames that drugs remain detectable.
|Drug||Estimated detection window|
|Alcohol (1 ounce)||1.5 hours|
|Barbiturates||2 – 10 days|
|Benzodiazepines||2 – 3 weeks|
|Cocaine||2 – 3 days|
|Heroin metabolite||Less than 1 day|
|Morphine||2 – 3 days|
|Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)||8 hours|
|Marijuana (casual use)||3 – 4 days|
|Marijuana (chronic use)||Several weeks|
|Methamphetamine||2 – 3 days|
|Methadone||2 – 3 days|
|Phencyclidine (PCP)||1 week|
Random testing frequency
Random selections and testing should be performed at least quarterly. Below are guidelines recommended by the U.S. Transportation Department for determining the frequency of random testing.
• Spread testing dates reasonably throughout the year in a nonpredictable pattern.
• Conduct random drug tests anytime employees are on duty, or while performing safety-sensitive duties.
• Conduct random alcohol tests just before, during or after the employee performs a safety-sensitive job.
• Rotate conducting tests at the start, middle or end of each shift to enhance nonpredictability.
Best-practice tips for random testing
• Develop a standard, mandatory drug-screening policy for all employees.
This promotes a fair, consistent and compliant process across an entire organization—a critical issue for larger, decentralized businesses with multiple locations.
• Ensure all drug tests are reviewed by a licensed medical review officer.
The medical review process offers employees the chance to explain any confirmed non-negative results that would otherwise disqualify them from future employment with an organization.
• Implement a urine drug testing and/or instant testing for random testing.
These tests offer near-instant results for negative tests, allowing employees who test negative to quickly return to work after completion with minimal interruption in the work environment and/or productivity.
• Consider using the Transportation Department standard of testing: a split specimen divided into two bottles.
If there is doubt surrounding the confirmation of a positive result, this process allows the remaining split specimen to be tested at a separate laboratory independent from the first one.
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