Navigating Workplace Drug Testing Post Pandemic
As some semblance of order is returning — we face another challenge: how to handle workplace drug testing.
(This article originally appeared on the Forbes.com)
By Clarissa Windham-Bradstock, Forbes Councils Member
To say the Covid-19 pandemic shook things up would be an understatement. Shutdowns, layoffs, unemployment and a plummeting economy created chaos and upended anything we may have considered routine. As some semblance of order is returning — and employees are heading back to work — we face another challenge: how to handle workplace drug testing.
There are many layers to this issue. The first to consider is why these drug tests are needed and whether they are random or regulated. Secondly, why might workers be concerned about completing these tests? Lastly, we’ll look at the solutions. There are viable options for employers to keep the workplace safe and provide feasible testing for workers, albeit with some adjustments.
The Purpose Of Drug Testing
Plain and simple, drug testing in the workplace is essential for safety. According to data from Quest Diagnostics, drug use in the American workforce is on the rise. In fact, in 2020, it was the highest it’s been in 16 years. That in and of itself is interesting since fewer workers were in the workplace due to the pandemic, whether due to unemployment or virtual work. According to the CDC, the stress of the pandemic contributed to increased use of illicit drugs and abuse of alcohol.
This is indeed a concern for employers as substance abuse is problematic. Many employers will find that regulated or random drug testing is vital to a thriving business. Employees need to know they are safe working with their co-workers. Furthermore, because some accidents in the workplace can be traced to substance abuse, drug testing provides peace of mind knowing the people you are working alongside are not impaired doing their job and are pulling their weight. Trust among team members is a high priority.
For a business, substance abuse can be costly. Those costs may be attributed to workers’ comp claims, absenteeism or health care costs.
Why Is Testing A Concern Now?
While testing may be vital to your business, the pandemic has created obstacles. How you manage your drug testing for the workplace presents new challenges. Whether you conduct regulated or random testing, workers are increasingly concerned about their well-being while being screened.
During the height of the pandemic, employers were understandably hesitant to send employees to drug testing facilities that might also be Covid-19 testing sites. Current and potential employees may have even refused to get tested because of legitimate fears of exposure to the virus. There was a potential risk through surface contact and shared instruments that could have been contaminated with the virus.
Even though Covid-19 numbers are declining presently, the virus is not gone. There is an uneasiness about how well vaccines will hold up against new variants and their sustainability. This suggests that on-site and off-site drug testing will continue to be troublesome.
As with just about everything regarding the pandemic, the solution means making adjustments. Forego traditional testing methods for alternative, safe methods that still adhere to state and federal testing guidelines. Industry standards for workplace testing have typically been urine, hair and saliva samples. Keeping safe and sanitary protocols in place to reduce risk, there are still efficient and effective applications that will adhere to requirements. Keep in mind, lab facilities are better equipped now with cleaning protocols in place and contactless or minimized contact practices that provide maximum safety to decrease the spread of Covid.
In my experience, oral collection is perhaps the most secure option and can take place anywhere. Self-collection is another possibility. This option is employee-driven with no touch from collectors, which reduces exposure. It can include hair and saliva collections and be monitored via Zoom or online apps to eliminate concern for tampering.
While there are no specific guidelines from the CDC regarding drug testing during the pandemic, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) does provide drug testing guidance. Be sure to consider the following when designing your drug testing protocol:
1. Review directives and create a plan.
As workers are returning to the workplace, you must ensure their health and safety. That includes posting rules and regulations for drug testing and possibly Covid testing, depending on your company policies.
2. Follow the law.
Your workplace mandates must include any state and federal regulations. Educate yourself and your employees concerning statutes. For example, DOT has provided compliance information that must be adhered to.
3. Make rules crystal clear.
It is vital to provide clear, understandable rules regarding company drug testing requirements providing safe alternatives like off-site Covid-safe labs or self-collection with virtual capability to monitor correct self-collection.
4. Be specific.
Do not leave any opportunity for someone to second-guess the policy. Be specific about what your substance abuse prevention plan includes. For example, monitoring illegal drug use often includes pre-employment screening and random safety testing like post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing. Don’t forget that recreational marijuana use is now legal in 19 states. Your company must have a plan as to how you will handle the use of marijuana outside the workplace.
No doubt, there are many layers regarding drug testing in the workplace during a pandemic. With more workers returning to work, it’s better not to put your guard down. Creating a post-pandemic plan protects the employer and employees. It’s all about playing it safe.
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About Clarissa Windham-Bradstock: Clarissa Windham-Bradstock is CEO/Chief People Officer of Any Lab Test Now, a leading national retail healthcare and lab testing franchise.