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Essential Elements Of A Drug-Testing Program

An effective drug-testing program consists of two key elements: (1) a general understanding of illicit drug use and the primary regulation that addresses drug testing, and (2) a written policy that is tailored to your business’s specific needs. Both are explained below.


Fundamental Knowledge

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) speaks to when an employer can conduct a drug test. The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

  • Pre-employment drug testing can be conducted “after” a conditional job offer is made. It can only be done if “all” candidates in the same job class/job title receive the same drug test. 
  • Reasonable-suspicion drug testing can be conducted when the employer believes the employee is unable to safely perform his or her job duties due to the potential use of illicit drugs. 
  • Random drug testing can be conducted when the employer has established the employee job classes subject to random testing and the system used to select those for testing.
  • Return-to-work drug testing may be conducted following an employee having had a positive drug screen that did not result in termination. Return-to-work drug screening is needed to confirm the employee is free from the effects of illicit drugs before allowing him or her to return to work. You must decide whether the non-termination option is good for your company, build it into your policy, then administer your program consistently with this decision. 
  • Post-accident drug testing may be conducted following a job-related accident or injury. This is done to determine whether drugs played a part in the accident or injury. Some states limit workers’ compensation benefits if an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.


Written Policy

Your policy should include the following elements:

  • Why the drug-testing program is being implemented
  • What situations you hope to avoid by having the program
  • Prohibited behaviors
  • Consequences of violating the policy
  • Who receives the drug test
  • When drug tests are conducted
  • Where the specimen will be collected—on-site at your facility or off-site at a local clinic—and whether the results will be analyzed by a laboratory. If a specimen is sent to a laboratory, a chain-of-custody process must be used.
  • When laboratory testing is advisable and what a Medical Review Officer does
  • Which type of specimen will be tested: urine, saliva, hair, blood
  • Which panel of drugs will be tested
  • How the results of a drug test will be handled: termination vs. employee assistance, etc.
  • Where drug test results will be maintained and how confidentiality will be preserved
  • Recognition of substance abuse
  • Supervisor training
  • Employee training


Additional Resources
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a leading authority on substance abuse. At, you will find many resources that will help answer your questions.

Additionally, our fact sheet on employer drug testing addresses a number of considerations for implementing an employer drug-screening program and speaks to the cost-savings of such a program. Our fact sheet on collecting drug-testing samples speaks specifically to the type of specimen used for drug testing, their benefits and limitations, and how samples should be collected.



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