Many employers use drug screens to weed out potential workplace headaches. Drug use can lead to absenteeism, workplace accidents, employee turnover, theft, low productivity and violence. In many cases, employers require employees to take only a pre-employment drug test or a a pre-employment test plus a periodic test administered annually or every two years. Some employers, though, require more frequent testing. If your employer requires you to take multiple drug tests each year, it could mean that special circumstances apply or that you are being unfairly targeted. Understanding when to tolerate required drug tests and when to take action may help you keep your job and stay in the good graces of your employer.
Some employers use random testing to screen for drug use by employees. Random tests are unannounced and unpredictable. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this method involves placing all employees' identifying information into a testing pool. Employees are selected at random for testing. This arbitrary process is much like drawing names from a hat, but the selection is usually computer generated. Each employee has an equal chance of being selected, and an employee can be selected for random testing multiple times per year if an employer opts to make selections from the pool more than once during the year. If an employer selects you for random testing at a much higher rate than other employees, something might be amiss. The employer might be lying about the randomness of its testing method. According to the legal website NOLO.com, many states have laws or regulations that provide you with recourse if you believe your employer is unfairly targeting you. According to the nonprofit group Workplace Fairness, many states do not allow random drug testing.
Following a workplace accident, your employer may require you to take a drug test if drug or alcohol use may have caused or contributed to the accident. Drug tests can help the employer pinpoint the problem by determining whether drug or alcohol use may have been a factor. There is no yearly limit to the number of mandatory drug tests resulting from accidents. Your employer may require drug testing for each qualifying accident that you have. Be wary, though, of being singled out for drug testing based on minor mistakes such as misspelling a word or being a few minutes late in returning from lunch. This may indicate discrimination on behalf of the employer.
While many states do not allow random testing, all allow an employer to require drug testing when reasonable suspicion exists. Reasonable suspicion means your employer has a legitimate reason to believe you are using drugs on the job. A supervisor must document reasonable suspicion in writing. Documentation must explain the signs and symptoms that led to the belief that you might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the workplace. There is no annual limit to the number of times that your employer can require drug testing based on reasonable suspicion. However, each instance must be legitimate. If you feel that an employer has claimed reasonable suspicion without warrant, you have the option of seeking recourse through the legal system or, in some states, through a state-administered program or department.
Your employer may conduct periodic, announced tests that are administered uniformly to all employees. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some employers use periodic testing on an annual basis, but there is no limit to the frequency of periodic drug tests. Your employer may require several periodic tests during the year. However, your employer should have written company policy explaining why frequent testing is warranted. For example, testing once every three months might be warranted if your job is dangerous and dozens of lives may be at risk if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If testing is not warranted, you might be able to claim such testing is harassment. For example, frequent periodic testing might be considered harassment if an employer starts to require employees to take a monthly drug test because a worker's union has threatened to strike.
Employees have the right to refuse a workplace drug test, but employers also reserve the right to fire employees who fail a test. According to the legal website NOLO.com, you may not have the right to draw unemployment benefits if you are fired for refusing to submit to a drug test. However, if you can prove you were unfairly targeted or harassed, suspicion was not reasonable or testing was discriminatory, you may be able to win back your job. This may require the involvement of a state or federal workers rights agency or a private attorney. To avoid such hassles, you should appeal to your supervisor or a company executive, ideally the director of human resources, if you suspect that are you being unduly singled out for drug testing.
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