The Cons of Required Drug Testing

Yesterday we looked at the pros of required drug testing at your organization. Today we’ll look at the cons.

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If you’ve been using a mandatory drug screening program as a condition of employment, perhaps you’re already aware that there are a lot of pros and cons involved with doing so. Many employers view such a program as mandatory because an employer has an obligation to provide a safe working environment.
That said, even with that as a major factor, it doesn’t make the negatives of such a program simply disappear. These concerns could have an important impact on your organization and should be taken into consideration when implementing such a program.

Drug Testing: Cons

There are a lot of reasons why drug testing policies can have negative consequences even if their overall impact is beneficial. Here are a few of the possible cons:

  • Mandatory drug tests may mean you cannot find enough otherwise qualified workers to fill open positions. There are ongoing struggles in the United States with opioid addiction, which has created a situation in which more and more people struggle.
  • A drug testing program could also result in losing otherwise qualified employees who fail random drug tests but have not otherwise caused any problem.
  • Marijuana use (either medical or recreational) is legal in many states, yet it is still illegal at the federal level. This complicates things for employers in these states who may have employees using marijuana within the state’s legal guidelines, but whose use is still illegal at the federal level. It can complicate things further if some employees or potential employees are treated differently (because they live in one of these states) than others who also test positive for marijuana. There could be further complications still if it is being used as a prescribed substance as a treatment of some type of disability, yet it is used as a disqualifier for employment.
  • Whenever you implement a drug testing policy, you must follow all applicable laws. This isn’t a reason not to do so, but it does represent a disadvantage because you will have another layer of legal rules to be aware of and to follow—which often vary at the state level. This opens up the organization for pushback and even for lawsuits if employees feel they’re being treated unfairly for any reason.
  • Drug testing programs cost money, and this is a cost fully absorbed by the business. It may or may not have much return on investment and may end up costing more to administer than it saves. This is especially true when there are ways to circumvent the system, which can reduce the accuracy of the tests. There are also costs associated with potential lawsuits that may result if employees feel the drug testing policy is unfair in any way or results in an unfair termination. (Even if the employer wins the case, there are still costs to contend with.)
  • Drug testing policies can erode employee morale, as they’re often seen as evidence the employer views the employees as inherently untrustworthy. They may also be seen as an intrusion on employee privacy—especially since many employees may feel that their activities outside of work should have no bearing on their ability to remain employed. They can also be seen as unfairly penalizing a onetime use or a use that occurred long ago. (Marijuana, for example, can leave traces in the system for far longer than its effects can be felt.)
  • Employers should be aware that former addictions may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), depending on the details for the individual, so they should not go so far as to exclude anyone who has used illicit drugs in the past. (They’re not required to hire someone who is actively taking illegal drugs, however.) This is again not a reason to completely forego a drug testing program, but it is yet another consideration when doing so.

How has your organization combated these potentially negative issues when implementing a drug testing program as a condition of employment?