7 Myths Associated with Pre-Employment Drug Screening

Drug and substance abuse is a major problem in the United States. In 2014 for example, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), up to 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and above had a substance abuse problem. A majority of these were battling with alcohol use disorder.

In addition to that, 7 million Americans were also suffering from a drug use disorder. The high prevalence of drug and substance abuse in the nation comes at a huge cost particularly regarding healthcare costs as well as criminal justice and legal costs.

Drug and substance abuse are especially common among young American adults with the NSDUH estimating that at least 1 out of every 6 Americans aged between 18 and 25 suffered from drug addiction in 2014.

Among those aged over 26, the NSDUH estimates that at least 14.5 million abuse drugs and substances. It is important to note that people who fall in the age bracket of 18-25 also account for the majority of new workers in the American workforce.

Research also shows that up to 9.5% of full-time workers in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol on an annual basis. Drug abuse among workers is especially rampant in the mining, construction and accommodation industries. This is a cause of concern for employers as new employees occasionally come from full-time positions in other companies/firms.

(Source:Medical Disposables)

The rate of drug and substance abuse is even higher among the unemployed; perhaps because of the added pressure of not having a job. Some studies have estimated that at least 17% of unemployed workers struggle with drug and substance abuse. These statistics show the extent to which drug and substance abuse is a pressing concern for employers.

Commonly abused drugs include marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs (especially psychotherapeutic drugs such as pain killers) and hardcore drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Drug and substance abuse affects the workplace in some different ways. These include;

  • Lost productivity
  • Increased risk and occurrence of workplace accidents and injuries
  • Increased absenteeism in the office
  • Decreased work morale
  • Increased costs regarding healthcare especially because drug and substance abuse may increase the risk of sickness.

It is important for management to take some steps to mitigate the problem, considering these negative effects of drug and substance abuse in the workplace. One of these measures is to introduce a substance abuse policy in the workplace. This policy could include pre-employment drug screening.

The purpose of pre-employment screening is to help employers protect themselves from the negative effects of employing workers who are drug and substance abusers. It is therefore conducted after a firm/company makes a conditional offer of employment.

Drug and Substance Abuse

Pre-employment drug screening is growing in popularity, and it is estimated that up to 98% of the companies on the Fortune 200 have some form of pre-employment drug testing. It is also a mandatory step in the recruitment processes of federally regulated jobs such as those in the transport industry.

As more companies adopt pre-employment drug screening in their recruitment processes, more and more people are falling prone to misconceptions and myths regarding drug screening for employment.

Ultimately, this has created a fear of pre-employment drug testing among both drug and substance users as well as people who do not even use recreational drugs on a regular basis. Some of the more common myths regarding pre-employment drug testing include:

Myth 1- Pre-employment Drug Screening is Not Lawful

This myth originates from the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking potential employees about past drug use. The basis of this law is that drug testing involves privacy rights and the Federal government should, therefore, establish limits within which employers can implement pre-employment drug screening.

Pre-employment Drug Screening

The truth is that while employers cannot force potential employees to take pre-employment drug tests, they do have the right to include pre-employment drug tests as a prerequisite for employment. In this sense, the final recruitment of the employee depends on the employee passing the drug test.

However, it is important to note that different States have different laws and regulations regarding workplace drug testing programs. Similarly, different industries have different rules and regulations in regards to pre-employment testing.

Like noted earlier, federally regulated employers (such as those in aviation, health and human services and transport) are mandated to keep a drug-free workplace through the 1988 Drug-Free Work Place Act.

Myth 2- Pre-employment Drug-Screening Should not Cover Medical and Recreational Marijuana

In the recent past, some States including Nevada, Colorado, California, Alaska, and Oregon have moved to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Even more States (23 and the District of Columbia) have set laws decriminalizing medical marijuana.

Despite the relaxed State laws regarding the use of medical and recreational marijuana, federal laws regarding marijuana are still quite strict. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug and is therefore considered illegal under Federal regulations. Some workers may think that relaxed medical and recreational marijuana laws translate to more relaxed pre-employment drug screening methods especially in regards to marijuana.

When it comes to the conflict between Federal and State laws, however, the Supremacy Clause (in Article VI, clause 2 of the Constitution) clearly states that Federal laws prevail over State laws. For employers, this clause means that they can still require potential employees to undergo marijuana screening regardless of whether it is medical marijuana.

Furthermore, the fact that marijuana is an illegal drug means that employers have a legal obligation to ensure that they do not encourage its use by employing marijuana users.

Nonetheless, employers operating within States that allow medical or recreational marijuana use may opt to ignore the medical use of marijuana when the job in question is low risk.

Myth 3- Pre-Employment Drug Screening is Just a Reason not to Hire

This is one of the most common myths regarding pre-employment drug tests. Some people may feel that what they do in their own private time should not matter to the employer. In this regard, the popular notion is that drug use outside the workplace will not impact the workplace in any way.

On the contrary, numerous studies have shown that drug use, even outside the workplace, can have adverse effects on the workplace. Some studies have shown that even casual drug use can negatively affect an individual’s judgment and even slow down their reaction times.

Pre-employment Drug Tests

Researchers have established that drug use contributes immensely to increased risks and hazards in the work environment. For example, the National Safety Council estimates that 80% of the individuals injured in drug-related accidents are innocent co-workers. In addition to that, employees who constantly abuse drugs and substances are more likely to cause accidents.

Drug and substance abuse affects more than the safety of the workplace, especially regarding productivity.

Some of the other negative costs associated with drug and substance users in the workplace could include;

  • Lack of concentration at work
  • Increased risk of inter-employee conflicts as well as employer-employee conflicts.
  • Increased employee turnover
  • Absenteeism and lost workdays. One study suggests that alcoholism costs employers at least 500 million working days every year. Another study suggests that employees who test positive in their pre-employment drug screen are more than 60% likely to report absenteeism than those who test negative.
  • Increased expenses regarding litigation and lawsuit cost especially in regards to negligent hiring.

In total, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence employers lose $81 billion every year as a direct result of drug abuse. A pre-employment drug screening policy is therefore not a trick that employers use to reject applicants but rather a smart technique of saving time, saving costs and potentially saving lives.

Myth 4- Confidentiality of Pre-employment Drug Test Results is not Guaranteed

Some applicants may also worry about much more than the company not hiring them for the job. One common worry is that future potential employers may find out about positive drug test results. Another common concern is that other people will get access to the drug test results.

Pre-employment drug screening results are considered health records and are therefore governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

This Act explicitly provides for data privacy and also some key security provisions meant to safeguard medical information. This means that applicants who fall victim to the careless release of drug test results can rightly sue the responsible employers.

In fact, some employers may require job applicants to sign a consent form allowing the testing agency to release the results to the employer. However, employers may on some special occasions release the results to a court of law or a government agency particularly in situations involving law enforcement or judicial proceedings.

Future employers in the private industry can therefore not see past drug screening results in a background check. The exception to this is a situation where drug test results end up in a criminal conviction or where they cause the cancellation of probation or parole. In such situations, future employers may learn about the positive drug results when doing background checks.

Regulations in the Department of Transportation (DOT) do not allow employers who fall under the department’s regulation to hire anyone who tests positive in a pre-employment drug screen. To add on that any job applicants applying for a DOT regulated position are required to disclose any past positive drug screening results to a potential employer. Potential employers under the DOT can also request for drug and alcohol results from past employers.

Myth 5- Employers only Require Drug Screening in Safety-Sensitive Positions and for Blue-Collar Workers

While it is true that drug screening is necessary for positions that are highly safety-sensitive, they are not limited to these positions. Employers may require pre-employment drug tests even for “safer” administrative positions.

Furthermore, employers cannot limit pre-employment drug screening to specific individuals as this may qualify as discrimination. However, they can make pre-employment drug screening mandatory for all applicants within a certain position.

Drug Screening

Myth 6- Pre-employment Drug Tests are not Accurate

This is yet another myth associated with pre-employment drug screening. Some applicants may fear that drug tests will result in false positives and subsequently, a lost opportunity for employment.

This is a major concern particularly among people who encounter second-hand marijuana smoke, people who regularly eat poppy seeds or even people on prescribed medication.

However, for one to test positive for opioids after eating poppy seeds, they would have to eat a lot of them. Passive smoke, on the other hand, cannot cause a false positive result for marijuana use.

While there is a small possibility of drug screening resulting in false positives, this risk is mostly present in the initial drug screening tests otherwise known as immunoassays. However, drug testing agencies have adopted industry best practices that are meant to validate results.

For example, medical review officers must review positive results with the individual, and if there is a legitimate explanation for the positive result, the company is normally given a negative result.

Moreover, accredited drug testing labs and administrators use Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry confirmation tests to validate any positive drug screening results. This confirmatory test eliminates the risk of false positives arising to almost zero.

Myth 7- Pre-employment Drug Screening only Utilizes Urine Drug Tests

It is true that urine tests are the most popular drug screening test. Employers prefer them because they are cheaper than other tests and also quite accurate. Indeed, agencies can use urine drug tests to test for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, opiates, nicotine, alcohol, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Urine drug tests are also quite useful for employers seeking to identify any drug use within the last 24 to 72 hours.

Urine tests are not the only types of drug tests used in pre-employment drug screening. Other methods include saliva testing (less accurate than urine testing), hair follicle testing and even blood drug testing.

Hair follicle testing can go back as far as 90 days or even more depend on the length of the hair sample tested. Hair follicle drug testing is more accurate than urine drug testing when testing for drug and substance abuse over an extended period.

Employers can also use blood and saliva tests to determine whether job applicants are actively under the influence of drugs or substances such as alcohol.

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