Last updated: November 27, 2023
Random drug testing uses the element of surprise as a drug deterrent. Your employees know upon hire that the company randomly drug tests. As a result of knowing there is always a chance that they could be required to take a drug test, they are more likely to avoid drugs. Because of this, workplace accidents decline and productivity improves.
There are other benefits to the random employee drug test. No matter the industry, statistics show that drug and alcohol impairment are both contributing factors regarding accidents on the job. Less drug use equals less chance of injuries and accidents in the workplace.
With no way to prepare ahead of time, random testing allows employers to identify those employees that have a problem with substance abuse. Job intervention might be the catalyst that begins rehabilitation.
Of course, if you’re regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT), random drug testing is included in the regulations you follow to remain in compliance. Some employers in the general workforce choose to random drug test their employees as well.
Have your policies in writing
In order to legally perform random drug tests, your drug-free workplace protocol must first contain a written policy of procedure. A written policy protects you from a discriminatory lawsuit filed by a disgruntled employee who popped positive on a random test. By lining out the way to follow the procedure from start to finish, there will be no reason to suspect that acts of favoritism, bias, or prejudice are occurring.
It’s a known fact that workplace accidents increase when employees who have used drugs or alcohol are on-site. For this reason, some states offer employers that have drug free policies and procedures in place reduced rates in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
How does random drug testing work?
After drawing up the required policies and procedures and educating your staff, the next step would be to set up your drug testing pool. All employee names are entered into a database. The preset number for testing will be randomly selected at the time the test is to be conducted. Most employers choose a third-party administrator (TPA) to handle the testing pool.
If you want to start a random drug testing program, we can help. We can explain how the process works and supply you with the information that you need to establish the correct policies and procedures.
If regulated by the DOT, at least 50% of employees must randomly test over the calendar year. It’s important to note that this may not mean half of the staff, however. Some employees may not fall under the DOTs jurisdiction and those that do may have their name come up more than once throughout the year.
The software generates a completely random employee selection list. The employees report to the testing site to conduct their drug tests.
The third-party software selection method is ideal for random testing because there is no way to “fix” the test. The following methods of selection are never acceptable:
- Drawing from a hat
- Rolling dice
- Throwing darts
- Choosing a card
Granted, most would not resort to these selection methods. However, if they are used by way of example, you can see how these methods could easily be challenged as being rigged in some way. Especially, when employees complain that they are tested more often than everyone and then so-and-so never gets chosen.
A TPA completely eliminates this possibility.
When using the random selection software, the employee’s name goes right back into the mix with everyone else. Unfortunately, the odds that some employees get chosen more often and some never at all can be common from a statistical perspective.
The collection methods for the random drug test remain the same as those used for any employee drug testing program. A collection specialist obtains the specimens, and they then handle and transport them according to the company’s chain-of-custody protocol.
At the laboratory, all specimens undergo an immunoassay (IA) test as an initial screen. If this test produces a positive result, a second test, the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), is administered to identify the specific drug(s) and levels detected.
Urine drug test
The most widely used collection method is the urine test. It’s cost-effective, extremely accurate, and, frankly, because it’s so commonplace, expected by the workforce. However, due to the privacy needed to collect the specimen, some employees attempt to mask drug use by tampering with it. Substituting the specimen using synthetic urine instead is the latest trend among those who attempt to cheat the test.
Most employers choose the 5 panel urine test. In fact, the DOT requires a 5 panel drug test but added an expanded opiates panel in January 2018. It was a direct effort to combat the opiate crisis that grips our nation.
However, employers of the general workforce are free to use other test panels, most manufacturers have 10 panel or 12 panel drug screens available. Employers also have the option of creating unique testing panels.
When the employee returns the sample, the collection specialist documents the temperature and obtains the employee’s signature to complete the process. As mentioned, they deliver the specimen to the lab following the chain-of-custody protocol and release the specimens to the lab.
Urine drug tests identify drugs in the system from up to a half-hour after ingestion to a few weeks. Chronic marijuana use can cause a positive test result for over 30 days. Negative results are available in 24 hours, but if there is a positive result, the second test takes a few days.
Mouth swab drug test
This test is becoming a more popular choice for random testing. It’s noninvasive and needs little privacy. In a matter of minutes, the employee is ready to return to work.
The HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) released guidelines for submitting oral fluid specimens for federally regulated employee drug testing. The mouth swab test is approved as an alternative test method and doesn’t replace the urine test. Its use becomes effective on January 1, 2020. The DOT hasn’t announced plans to add the test to its policies at this time.
The mouth swab, or saliva, test is more costly than the urine test. However, advances in technology are making it more reliable. The detection periods range from minutes after using up to 72 hours prior to the test.
Employers who conduct random drug testing often choose the mouth swab test as it detects recent drug use. Moreover, a growing number of law enforcement agencies use them when suspecting impairment during routine traffic stops.
All types of drugs are detectable and these tests also detect alcohol use. It depends on the screening panels chosen.
Results return in a few days.
Hair follicle drug test
Hair follicle drug tests are gaining more notice in the realm of employee drug testing. They are the most expensive testing method. However, hair follicle drug tests are noninvasive, quick to complete, and create a record of drug use. Moreover, they offer a 90-day detection period.
The DOT is in the process of switching from urine testing to the hair sample test. The trucking industry stands behind the proposed change. In fact, some employers in the industry are currently using both the urine test and the hair follicle test.
The collection specialist uses scissors to collect approximately 120 strands of hair cut as close to the scalp as possible. If necessary, they will take the sample from several areas to make sure the test spot is not visible by others.
Moreover, if the test subject’s hair is cut too short or is non-existent, gathering hair from other parts of the body is a possibility. Rather than length, though, the collection specialist gathers the hair by volume. The sample winds up being about the size of a cotton ball and can be gathered from multiple areas. Body hair grows at a different rate than the hair on our heads. These test samples yield results of drug use for about a year.
There is virtually no way to pass this test if someone uses drugs. The drug metabolites pass from the hair follicle into the center of the growing hair leaving a long-standing record behind.
It takes around 24 hours to determine negative results, positive results take longer. Employers usually receive results in about a week.
All employee drug testing methods yield uniform results.
- Positive—drugs identified
- Negative—no drugs identified
- Inconclusive—Neither a positive or negative result determined
Urine tests, by far, yield the greatest number of inconclusive results. Occasionally, the cause is attributed to human error, however, attempts to falsify this test cause the majority of the inconclusive results. For instance, one of the most popular “beat the test” myths out there is to merely drink lots of water just prior to the test. It’s said to flush the system of any drug metabolites.
It flushes the system all right. The urine becomes so diluted that it triggers a red flag. The diluted inconclusive result yields one of two results.
- A positive dilute indicates both a diluted sample and drug detection.
- The negative dilute result indicates a diluted sample only.
Employers often suspect an employee is trying to mask drug use when receiving a negative dilute result.
Hair and mouth swab tests rarely yield an inconclusive result, however, the possibility of human error can’t be overlooked.
Reasons for varied detection periods
The length of time drugs are identified on the various test methods depends on the drug itself. However, there are other outside factors that play a part as well.
- Dosage and frequency of use
- Age—Young people tend to metabolize things at a faster rate than older adults.
- Body mass—Size makes a difference as to how quickly things complete the metabolization process. Moreover, someone who’s heavier could metabolize things slower than someone in prime physical condition.
- Genetics—Our DNA determines everything about us. Metabolization process included.
Marijuana legalization is making an impact
Many states have chosen to legalize medical or recreational marijuana use. Employers choose whether to continue testing for it, but for the majority safety in the workplace remains a top priority. Most employers have chosen to follow the federal government’s lead regarding marijuana.
However, Nevada and New York City have passed laws banning employers from including marijuana on pre-employment drug tests. They take effect in January and May of 2020 respectively. Both governments have left safety carve-outs in place enabling employers of the safety-sensitive workforce to proceed with marijuana drug testing. Employers should go over their job descriptions and, if necessary, rewrite those that broach a legitimate safety concern.
For the time being, marijuana remains on the DOT testing panel because it’s still listed as an illicit drug with no medical benefit at the federal level. Individual state laws legalizing it can’t override federal law that proclaims marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
That may not always be the case.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act) on November 20, 2019 after little more than two hours of discussion. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump, marijuana will be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s controlled substance list.
If the STATES Act passes, it will do the same.
Employers will be left at the mercy of the state in regard to marijuana legalization which could pose additional problems for companies who operate in multiple states. Employers are encouraged to contact their state and local governments voicing their concerns.
It’s wise to stay abreast of changing laws in your state. Having a professional look over your policies ensures you remain in compliance.
A standard 5 panel, 12 panel, 9 panel, or 10 panel test are commonly available. But, employers may always create a specific drug testing panel for their employees with no hassle. We’ll note here that while manufacturers offer a “standard” panel, they aren’t required to adhere to a “standard” industry-wide list. The list of drugs contained on the panel may not be the same from company to company.
USA Mobile Drug Testing can identify all types of drugs, including specialty drugs, such as bath salts, steroids, or synthetic marijuana. You can easily add subsequent panels to your drug test, substitute standard panels on the test with ones of your choosing, or create a test from scratch.
Why we test
Employers implement a drug-free workplace to create the safest work environment possible for everyone. Employees who use drugs at work are more likely to be involved in an accident. That means anyone around them risks being involved in an accident too.
Drugs in the workplace invade every industry throughout our nation. Drug testing not only provides protection against workplace accidents, but it may also provide an opportunity for someone to realize they need help.
But, we’ll gladly come there.
Are random drug tests legal?
Yes. As long as your employer has the correct policies and procedures in place and follows them, random drug tests are legal.
How random is random?
Randomly speaking, imagine the selection process to be reaching up and grabbing a name out of the cloud. All employee names are entered into the random pool database. When it’s time for the test, a list is generated from within the software.
What is the “employee pool?”
This is a database of all employee names used to generate a list for random drug testing.
If my boss is having a bad day, can he just pull a random on us or was that strictly a coincidence?
There is no random spite testing allowed. Ever. The number of tests held throughout the year is predetermined.
Why do companies do random drug testing?
While it is important to know if an employee is actively using drugs at work, the actual reason is to deter drug use altogether.
What is “oversampling?”
Oversampling is choosing more than the designated ratio of employee names to fit the suggested testing ratio. Odds are that someone whose name pops up on the list is going to be unable to take the test that day due to sickness, vacation, or their child’s school field trip. The standard oversampling number is 20%.
What do random drug tests look for?
What is “consortium?”
A drug screening consortium is a group of employers that band together to create a larger employee pool for the purpose of randomly screening for drugs and alcohol.
Can I go to jail if I fail a random drug test?
All states have privacy laws in place to protect citizens. The fact that you failed the company drug test will probably go no further than the human resources department.
What is “TPA?”
A TPA is a Third Party Administrator, someone off-site administers the drug tests and maintains the employee pool.
My company mouth swabs for random tests, what if I keep mouthwash in my locker?
Your saliva is your saliva. Rinsing with any substance will have no effect on the test.
I failed the random and as a result, I lost my job. Is this going to haunt me on my background check?
No, the results don’t become part of a public record that other employers can see on a standard background check.
Can my old boss share the information that I failed a drug test?
Technically, yes, as long as they tell the truth. They probably won’t, though, for liability reasons. The best way to find out the answer would be for you to ask them.
Negative random equaled losing my job. How do I explain my “reason for leaving” if actually asked during an interview?
If you think there is a possibility that your failed drug test will be discovered, just come clean. Employers are human. If you take responsibility from the beginning, it could speak volumes to them as to your character. Live and learn, right? They might just give you a chance.
Can I refuse to take the random drug test?
Yes. However, it may mean immediate termination. It will be stipulated as so in the employee handbook you received upon hire if that is the case.
So, is a random drug test literally a “tap you on the shoulder and off you go” moment?
An employer’s drug testing policy determines this. Typically, a day-shift worker might, but a night shift employee would probably be instructed to report to the testing site by a certain time after ending their shift.
If I fail a random drug test and lose my job, can I get unemployment?
Yes, but laws vary state by state. The unemployment office will have this information readily available.