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HR's Guide to Workplace Drug Testing [+ Free Template]

Everything you need to consider about workplace-mandated drug testing

Nikhil Bendre

by Nikhil Bendre - February 16th, 2022


The ethicality of drug testing in the workplace can be a pretty controversial topic. On one hand, you could argue that it’s simply a precautionary measure to ensure the reliability of employees. On the other hand, you could also make the argument that drug testing is a breach of privacy and that recreational drug use should be none of the employer’s concern.

Download The Free Drug Policy Template

That’s why we’re just here to provide a hub of information on drug testing best practices as well as the potential advantages and disadvantages of implementing a drug testing program. Additionally, we’ll provide a template for a drug testing policy, should you need it. Read our HR Compliance Guide to learn more.

The Pros of Drug Testing

Trust and Accountability

Drug testing in the workplace has obvious benefits for the employer, including the ability to hold their employees accountable in terms of drug usage. Obviously, in some cases, drug use can start to impact job performance, which ultimately becomes a detriment to the company. Drug testing allows the company to get to the bottom of cases dealing with slipping performance rather quickly, therefore leading to a quick solution.

Risk Mitigation for the Company

One of the biggest arguments in support of drug testing is that it serves as an extra layer of protection for the company. This pertains particularly to pre-employment testing, as the results of a candidate’s drug test could play a factor in their hiring decision. 

Identifies Employees Who May Need Help

Drug use and addiction is an extremely difficult topic to address. Oftentimes, victims of addiction may desperately need help and external intervention. Unfortunately, too many people are met with judgment instead of support. If you decide to implement drug testing into your business practices, please remember to approach the topic with your employees’ best interests at heart. Should you discover that a team member is using, handle the situation with care and focus on getting them the help they need. Remember - addiction is a disease, so no judgment at all, whatsoever.

The Cons of Drug Testing

Tarnished Candidate Experience

Requiring drug tests during the onboarding process can leave a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth. Considering the argument of drug testing being invasive, people may not appreciate being asked to urinate in a cup or give a hair sample for a company that has just brought them on. The primary concern here is that the employee may feel a lack of trust, which can be especially detrimental at the start of a professional relationship.

Potential Bias

A popular sentiment among those who stand against workplace drug testing is that it serves no tangible purpose, as drug use may not necessarily correlate with work performance. It’s also important to consider the differing rates of drug use/addiction in various racial and socioeconomic groups. Therefore, mandatory drug tests may inhibit perfectly qualified minority and/or low income candidates from getting fair employment opportunities. There is an argument to be made for drug testing due to reasonable suspicion but against drug testing simply for the sake of mandating it.

Employee Resentment

This con is likely to present itself within a company that practices random or routine drug tests. If employees constantly feel weighed down by the imminent threat of a drug test, they may feel as though their company doesn’t trust them and that their employer is being overbearing. This can grow into something quite dangerous, as unaddressed resentment festers, resulting in an extremely toxic work environment.

Times for Drug Testing


Pre-employment drug testing takes place prior to a candidate’s final hiring decision being delivered. Some companies mandate a clean drug screen as a prerequisite to join the team. However, employers are legally required to ensure that all candidates know that drug testing is a part of the process to join the organization, all applicants for the same position must be administered the same type of test, and that the tests have to be performed at a state-certified laboratory.


Random testing is pretty self-explanatory - it happens randomly! This is for organizations that choose to test their current employees but want to employ the element of surprise to minimize the chances of falsified results. In some states/cities (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado), random drug testing is limited or strictly prohibited by law. Plus, there is no law mandating that adults are required to submit to random drug testing by their employer.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion can stem from the noticing of physical, behavioral, or psychological signs. These signs may include, but are not limited to, slurred speech, sudden shifts in attitude or general personality, and the emergence of attendance issues. Remember to handle this situation as delicately as possible and to document everything accordingly. Once the initial flag has been raised, do not jump to conclusions. Take the appropriate time to observe the employee and determine if the claim is valid or not. Notable observations of suspicious behavior should be documented, including details on each incident, as well as the time and place in which they occurred. A meeting with the employee in question will be required if the observations support the initial claims. This meeting should not be antagonizing in the slightest - simply a reminder of the company’s drug and alcohol policies and a chance to share your observations with the employee. The next step would be to have that employee get tested. Depending on the test results, you may decide on the best course of action from there. Should the employee refuse to get tested, again, you can decide what’s in the best interest of everyone involved. Unfortunately, this may mean writing a policy saying that refusal to test in a case of reasonable suspicion results in termination. However, you may decide to reach an agreement instead, contingent on the employee getting the help they need.

Remember that confidentiality is key, as it is both legally required and necessary to preserve professional relationships.

Types of Drug Testing


Drug testing using oral fluid involves swabbing the mouth to collect a sample. There are a couple of pros to consider with this approach, such as the low cost in comparison to other methods as well as the ease of administration. A simple swipe of the inner cheek will do! Another characteristic of saliva testing is that its specialty is in picking up extremely recent drug use. Methods such as urine testing can’t pick up very recent usage since the substance would need some time to metabolize in the body, but oral testing can detect it in a matter of minutes to hours.


Urine testing is the most common type of drug test. You can expect to find these used quite popularly as part of pre-employment screening or even after candidates have joined the team. Since this is the least physically invasive type of testing, its popularity makes sense, in addition to the fact that this is the only federally-mandated method. Urine testing can pick up drug residue well after the immediate effects of the drug have worn off, so it’s important to note that candidates very well may not be under the influence at the time of testing even if their test returns positive.


The hair test is widely regarded as the most accurate method of testing due to the wide window of detectability that it provides. If an employer is interested to know the timeline of potential drug use, hair testing can be used to form comparative tests to see when and for how long a particular drug may have been in use. Like urine testing, hair testing is also a rather popular option for pre-employment screening. The abundance of information that it provides and the fact that it’s impossible to cheat and is relatively less invasive make it an extremely viable option for companies that implement drug testing.

Free Drug Policy Template

The following is a general template for policies regarding new hires as well as current employees, should you decide to implement drug testing into your workplace practices:

[Company] strictly prohibits the use of recreational drugs during work hours. Employees may be subjected to disciplinary action or termination if found to be in violation of [Company]’s policies.

All prospective team members of [Company] must agree to submit to a drug test following the extension of a conditional offer and an acceptance from the employee. The candidate’s hiring will be contingent upon the results of their drug test.

[Company] aims to remain fully compliant and cooperative with state laws concerning workplace drug testing and to prioritize the safety and privacy of our employees.

Prospective employees will be provided with a notice detailing testing requirements and will be prompted to sign, stating their consent to submit to testing as well as their full cognizance of the company policies and their own rights.

All tests for the purposes of employment at [Company] will be performed by a state-licensed facility. Tests will come at no cost to the employee.

Following a positive test result, the candidate will be given an opportunity to explain. Following actions will be up to the discretion of the company. The sample can be retested as well, should the candidate request it.

If an employee is discovered to be actively using while on the job, they will be subject to immediate suspension [with/without] pay and following consequent action.

[Company] understands that confidentiality is key. All test results will be kept completely private and employees will need to sign to give permission for the release of their test results. Following the granting of permission, these results may be used as an aspect of potential cases or treatment facility evaluations.

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