Last updated: September 25, 2023
The urine drug test is the most used employee drug test and has been since employee drug testing began. Of course, at first, it was the only drug test available on the market so employers had no choice. Still, even after oral fluid and hair follicle drug testing became available, the employers of the general workforce mainly steered clear of them. The urine test has always remained the top ranking of the three.
That may not be the case much longer though.
The oral fluid drug test is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons. First and foremost, employers feel as if enough time has passed to have gathered enough data to prove its accuracy. Even so, many states don’t recognize its result as admissible evidence in a court of law.
If the laws in your state prohibit using this drug test as evidence, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck using the urine test though. Should employees test positive for drugs, have them submit to a urine drug test for confirmation. That way, should a disgruntled employee pull you into court at some point, you’ll be properly prepared.
Be sure to document any policy changes in writing and distribute copies to employees before making the switch.
Other benefits that have employers switching
There are a number of benefits that are causing employers to consider using oral fluid drug testing rather than urine drug tests.
- Non-invasive—The test literally consists of holding a mouth swab stick between the cheek and gum until saturated.
- Ease of use—The collector merely has the employee open wide to ensure there is nothing tucked away in the mouth and then inserts the swab between the lower cheek and gum.
- Capable of incorporating all types of drug test panels—Employers have the option of going with “ready-made” tests or creating their own unique version.
- Shorter detection window—This is an indicator of recent drug use.
- Does away with shy bladder issues—This greatly benefits employees who suffer from shy bladder.
- Tamper-resistant—The employee is never out of the collector’s sight.
DOT recently approved oral fluid testing
In May 2023, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released its final ruling approving the oral fluid test as an approved alternative to the urine drug test. Safety-sensitive employers are free to use the test for all types of DOT drug testing. The list includes pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, and return to duty. Employers can completely switch or use both interchangeably. All scenarios must be documented in writing and employees informed of the change before actually beginning use.
It’s important to note that at the moment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hasn’t approved any laboratories to process these tests. However, now that the ruling has been made public, laboratories are scrambling to complete certification. It’s expected to happen early in 2024, if not sooner.
The Department of Transportation is seen as an authority in the realm of employee drug testing. This ruling could encourage employers of the general workforce to begin using the oral fluid drug test either in part or entirety as well.
What’s the process?
Oral fluid drug testing, also known as saliva drug testing, is a non-invasive method to drug test employees. The test detects both drugs and drug metabolites harbored in a person’s saliva. A swab is most often the type of applicator used to collect the employee’s saliva. The applicator is usually placed between the lower cheek and gum, but collectors are sometimes trained to place the applicator under the tongue.
It usually takes no more than five minutes or so to saturate the applicator and complete the test.
The applicator is removed and readied to be sent off to the laboratory. Unless of course, the employer is using self-reading tests. It’s a very viable option as the majority of employee drug tests are negative. No need to search “drug testing near me” to find a nearby facility either! Should an employee test positive, it’s a good idea to have a laboratory confirm the result. Instant result tests only take a few minutes to view results. Specimens sent to a laboratory usually return results within one to three days.
We will mention here that employers of the safety-sensitive workforce don’t have this option. All employee drug tests must be the DOT-approved applicator and results determined by a SAMHSA-approved laboratory.
Time will tell if employers decide to “can” the urine test and make the switch to the oral fluid drug test. The test can detect all manner of drugs—as long as you have specified what you’re looking for beforehand so the test is accurately prepared, of course. The shorter detection window points employers to recent drug use, but it can’t be determined if the person is “high” in the moment. That’s because there’s no way to determine the difference between the drug itself and its metabolite—yet.
Oral fluid drug testing technology will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated as time passes. It’s quite possible that over time, it will indeed surpass the urine test as the most used employee drug testing method saving employees the inconvenient—and sometimes messy—experience of the urine test.