Last updated: November 27, 2023
No employer looks forward to hearing that an employee had a positive drug test. Of course, the employee never wanted to hear that news either. No matter which side you find yourself on, company drug testing policies determine what happens next.
Employers who want to provide the safest work environment possible establish a drug-free or zero-tolerance program. In addition to fewer workplace accidents, employers who drug test see less absenteeism and have lower medical expenses.
Not all employers drug test, but unless regulated by the government, those who do are free to create their own drug testing policies. Employers decide on the testing method, which drugs to include on the test, and when and where employee drug testing is conducted.
There are three primary employee drug tests on the market. They provide accurate results, identify all types of drugs, and are cost-effective.
- Urine drug test—the most widely used employee drug test
- Mouth swab drug test—often chosen by employers looking for recent drug use
- Hair follicle drug test—becoming more widely used due to the 90 day detection period
Those who employ the safety-sensitive workforce are regulated by the DOT (Department of Transportation) and use the urine drug test. Drug testing is mandated and employers follow the guidelines in place to the letter—or they risk being found non-compliant.
After the DOT drug test
DOT drug test results are reported to the company’s Medical Review Officer (MRO). When they’re notified of a positive drug test, they contact the employer who removes the employee from service immediately. The MRO contacts the employee privately to ask if they want to discuss the test result.
If the MRO verifies the test as positive, the employer gives the employee a list of Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP) in the area. If the employee wants to start the Return to Duty process, they contact someone on the list. The SAP meets with the employee and creates an individualized Return to Duty process.
Meanwhile, the employer files the information regarding the positive drug test result with the FMCSA Clearinghouse.
The employee must complete the entire Return to Duty process—which, of course, includes following through with treatment options and a final negative drug test result—before the employer decides whether or not to allow the individual to return to work.
The employer notifies the DOT Clearinghouse after the Return to Duty process is complete. This clears the employee’s violation from their record. Then, if the employer doesn’t allow the employee to return to work, they’re free to apply elsewhere. At the point of hire, the SAP will reveal the probationary guidelines to the employer.
While no state forbids employers of the general workforce from drug testing their employees, some states do have stipulations. For instance, oral fluid testing—otherwise known as the mouth swab test—is prohibited in Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont.
It’s wise to check out state and local drug testing laws before creating your drug-free program.
Your written policies include how you handle the entire employee drug testing process. What happens when an employee tests positive will be documented. Your personnel should carry out the procedure laid out for them.
Some employers choose to include a “second chance” policy meaning if an employee tests positive for drugs and agrees to undergo treatment, they can return to their job when it’s completed. They may choose to handle an employee who confesses to having a drug or alcohol problem prior to a drug test in the same manner.
However, other employers choose to terminate the employee immediately.
Other results can equal a positive drug test
Even if they don’t use the urine test, which is the test required by the DOT, many employers mirror the Department of Transportation’s drug testing policies. If that’s the case, an employee who refuses to take a drug test for any reason may find themselves removed from service—permanently.
If employers use the urine test, there is a chance that a test will return marked diluted. Both of the diluted test results raise a red flag for employers.
- A negative dilute indicates that there were no drugs identified but the sample was diluted.
- A positive dilute indicates that there were drugs identified and that the specimen was diluted.
Employees who use drugs often try to mask drug use long enough to obtain a negative result on a company drug test. Even though a negative dilute doesn’t prove that an employee feared they might test positive and consumed more liquids than normal to try and hide it, it’s a possibility.
Some employers treat a negative dilute as a positive drug test result, but others allow for a second test. However, many —DOT regulated employers included—require an observed test.
If the test pops positive
Employees who fail a drug test usually lose their jobs.
That’s a pretty big wake up call. If the employer offers to help them find treatment, it would be in their best interest to accept it.
Tens of thousands die from drug overdoses in our country every year. It’s hard to beat drug addiction, but it can be done. Treatment facilities help the abuser understand why they turned to drugs and equip them with tools to combat the urge to use again in the future.
Sadly, statistics show that 50% of all drug addicts were genetically predisposed so odds are the first time they used, they were hooked. The other 50% started using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism and the habit raged out of control.
Finding a support team—usually made up of family, friends, and, yes, even an employer—can make the difference between failure and success.
If you know someone suffering from drug addiction, be a part of the cure—cheer them on to success!