Employment Drug Screening

Mary Gormandy White
Sam Ciulla, NAPS
Sam Ciulla, Vice President, NAPS, Inc.

Sam Ciulla, Vice President of National Application Processing and Screening (NAPS), recently shared his expertise about employment drug screening with LoveToKnow Jobs. Whether you're interviewing for a job, employed by a company that conducts random drug testing, or you work in human resources, you can benefit from Ciulla's insights.

What Do You Consider to be the Most Important Reasons Employers Conduct Pre-employment Drug Screenings?

Compared to the cost of even one employee with a substance abuse problem, most firms find eliminating the problem in the first place well worth the time and money involved in a drug-testing program.

The purpose is to lessen the impact from drug abuse in the workplace, including tardiness, absenteeism, turnover, attitude problems, theft, deceased productivity, crime and violence. The US Department of Labor estimates that drug use in the workplace costs employers $75 to $100 billion dollars annually in lost time, accidents, health care and workers compensation costs. Sixty-five percent of all accidents on the job are related to drug or alcohol, and substance abusers utilize 16 times as many health care benefits and are six times more likely to file workers compensation claims than non-abusers.

Pre-employment drug screening is an employer's first line of defense when screening prospective employees. Since pre-employment drug testing is performed on approximately 1/3 of America's job seekers, serious employment prospects should be aware employers will most likely require them to submit to a drug screen and will likely only be hired based upon a negative result.

What Should Job Applicants Expect When an Employer Asks Them to Take a Drug Test?

Most employers will insist that a job applicant submit to a drug test and give the sample within a specific period of time, so that a drug user does not wait until the drugs leave the system. Although each drug and person is different, some drugs will stay in the system for between eight and 10 hours, while most drugs will stay in the system for up to four days. For chronic users of certain drugs, such a marijuana or PCP, results can be detected for up to 14 days, and sometimes much longer. Sedatives, such as Valium, may stay in the system for up to 30 days. When the more expensive hair testing method is used, drugs can be detected for a 90-day period.

Although hair analysis offers a longer window of detection and can reveal a history of use, it is not useful for current events and thus may not be appropriate for post-accident testing. Furthermore, hair analysis is controversial. Privacy advocate groups point out potential privacy issues, including the argument that it discriminates against pregnant women, due to different enzymes produced by the body during pregnancy, and differences between minerals produced in the hair of African-Americans and those produced in the hair of Caucasians. Some also cite cases of alleged false positives because of individuals' hair absorbing drug residue present around them.

If a Candidate Fails an Employment Drug Screen, How Will the Prospective Employer Handle that Information?

Testing labs have extensive procedures to re-confirm a positive test before reporting it. Most drug testing programs utilize the services of an independent physician called a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to review all test results. In the case of a positive result, the MRO will normally contact the subject/applicant to determine if there is a medical explanation for the positive results.

There can also be tests that are "negative' but show an abnormal result, such as a "low creatinine level," which can indicate an applicant may have attempted to dilute the sample by the excessive drinking of water or some other form of alteration. That is also a result that a MRO would examine.

If the positive test is confirmed, the subject should have the right to pay for a retesting of the sample they gave at a laboratory of their choice. Urine tests, which are collected under a split-specimen protocol, can use the second sample for retesting because it is generally retained for this purpose. Merely taking a new test is not helpful since the drugs may have left the system. Reputable and certified laboratories will stand behind their results and provide expert witnesses, although the chances of a false positive for a retest are unlikely.

If a current employee tests positive, then the employer must follow the policies and procedures they have put into place. Some employers will utilize an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can arrange for professional assessment and treatment recommendations. All drug-testing results should be maintained on a confidential basis separate from an employees' personnel file.

Whether or not an employer chooses to alert the authorities of a positive result is strictly a matter of company policy. The advice of legal counsel is highly recommended.

How Do Companies Commonly Handle Random Employment Drug Screening for Employees?

Random testing is a popular choice among employers due to its high deterrent effect. Employers may choose a random selection frequency of monthly or quarterly. True random testing is conducted by pooling a selected amount of numbers determined by the employer from the total number of qualified participants' numbers in the random pool. A computer program written to ensure that each time a selection is made, every employee has an equal chance of being chosen may be used to electronically generate random lists.

Every employee should be discreetly notified according to your company's policy, but random testing must also be conducted in strict confidence with a limited number of people having knowledge of the selection list. Why? Because it helps maintain the element of surprise.

As a best practice suggestion, every employer should have procedures in place to ensure that each employee receives no advanced notice of selection. But, be sure to allow sufficient time for supervisors to schedule for the administration of the test and to ensure that collection sites are available for testing. Remember: Employers must provide appropriate privacy for each employee the fact that he or she is being tested.

Employers are required to maintain testing records in accordance with industry specific regulations. For more information, see Employer Record Keeping Requirements for Drug and Alcohol Testing Information.

What Factors Should Companies Consider When Selecting a Vendor to Handle Drug Screening?

A well thought out employee drug testing policy is an important component of employee screening and can save employers several thousand dollars each year. Before deciding to test, employers need to consider several key policy factors, including who will be tested, consequences of a positive test, what substances will be tested for, when testing will be conducted, cutoff levels, safeguards and confirmation procedures.

A successful employee drug-testing program must be convenient and easy-to-use. Utilizing an outside vendor gives you the ability to have the vendor "zip code" match your company location(s) with the closest collection sites available. Employers should expect their vendors to utilize only Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) / National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) certified and DOT-compliant laboratories and should offer consulting services for implementation of the program.


LoveToKnow Jobs would like to thank background screening expert Sam Ciulla for taking time to explain the process of drug testing. We wish him continued success in his endeavors.

Employment Drug Screening