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Pre Employment Medical Drug Test: Purpose and the Legal Considerations

16 February, 2024

A group of applicants waiting for an interview

Impairment from drugs and alcohol causes significant risks in the workplace. Hence, pre-employment medical drug tests are crucial for assessing whether a potential employee is misusing prescription medication and illegal drugs. This objective assessment provides grounds for the company to disqualify them from the position. Nevertheless, companies must practice fairness during the entire process. They must also protect the privacy of the applicant. Altogether, pre-employment testing helps companies minimise risks to workplace safety.

Drug abuse can cause severe impairments to the physical and cognitive abilities of an individual. Erratic behaviours, loss of coordination, and clouded judgment make them a safety risk, especially while driving or operating heavy machinery. Hence, it is in the best interest of the company to prevent people with drug addiction problems from becoming employees. This article will present the purpose of pre-employment drug testing, the legal considerations, and the types of tests.

Purpose of Pre-Employment Medical Drug Test

A pre-employment medical drug test traces the presence of illicit drugs or their metabolites from the body samples of the job applicant. It is crucial to identify which individuals are free from drug dependency issues or substance abuse disorders. This helps employers make informed decisions about hiring individuals for safety-sensitive positions and ensure workplace safety.

Companies must provide a safe workplace for all employees within company premises. Hence, pre-employment testing aims to reduce accidents due to impairments even at the hiring stage. Illicit substance use can cause various impairments, including lower physical and mental capabilities. This can cause accidents that result in injuries or fatalities. Therefore, testing is crucial to prevent this from occurring.

Furthermore, drug screening can help reduce employee turnover. High turnover rates can become a financial burden due to the lower productivity and time lost training new staff. It can also lower morale and lead to strained professional relationships. This can lead to reputational damage, affecting business and preventing the company from attracting talented individuals.

Importance of the Testing

  • Testing is a controlled method of objectively identifying illicit use of prescription medication and illegal drugs. Examples of these include amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana.
  • It helps companies comply with legal requirements and mitigate legal risks, preventing costly lawsuits.
  • It emphasises the commitment of the company to maintain a safe and productive workplace.
  • By identifying individuals with substance use disorders, testing can help reduce rates of absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Fair drug screening procedures can also improve morale by assuring employees that they are in a secure environment.
  • Company drug screenings also help provide intervention for those with dependency issues, leading to them receiving treatment resources.

A gavel in front of a thick book and scales

Legal Considerations for Pre-Employment Medical Drug Test

There are several legal considerations that employers must take into account when conducting a pre-employment medical drug test. First and foremost, the company must comply with the applicable laws and regulations regarding drug testing. This can vary depending on the state. Hence, many companies consult legal professionals and industry experts when creating their workplace policies.

Secondly, businesses must ensure the testing process is fair and free from discriminatory practices. Moreover, they must respect the rights of the job candidate to privacy. To do so, they must protect the confidentiality of the results and only allow relevant staff to access the information on a need-to-know basis. This is one of the reasons it is crucial to contact accredited drug and alcohol screening service providers.

Lastly, employers must obtain informed consent from the prospective employee before conducting the pre-employment testing. This is also why companies must inform job applicants if passing a drug test is a requirement for a job offer. The details must include the type of tests and the substances they will test for.

Local Laws and Regulations

It is crucial to comply with local laws and regulations when conducting drug testing in the company. In general, the company must secure the safety of employees by minimising risks as much as reasonably possible. This is the essence of the Work Health and Safety Act (WHSA) 2011.

However, there may also be specific regulations within the territory the company is located in. Some states may restrict the types of testing methods businesses can use. They may also have specific provisions on what substances can be traced and the procedures to follow during the testing proper.

A woman filling out a form with a urine sample next to her

Types of Pre-Employment Medical Drug Tests

There are several types of pre-employment medical drug tests that companies can use. Each has different detection windows and advantages that businesses can utilise for their needs. Urine testing is the standard method of screening in workplaces. This is because urine samples can hold traces of substances and their metabolites for days up to a week. Furthermore, the collection procedure is easy to conduct.

Saliva drug screening is a convenient method of identifying recent drug use. It is ideal for onsite testing since the saliva collection procedure is simple and non-invasive. The detection period for this test can range from 12-24 hours, depending on the drug.

On the other hand, hair follicle testing is ideal for employers who wish to acquire a history of drug use. It has a detection window of 90 days, which can help prove the abstinence or lack thereof of individuals. Lastly, blood testing is the most accurate method, but it uses an invasive collection method. Hence, it is less common for initial screens. However, many use it for confirmatory testing because of its accuracy.

Can a Potential Employee Refuse a Test?

In general, a potential employee can refuse a test. However, this may come at the cost of being disqualified for the job. It is important to note that companies specifically state in the job posting that passing a drug test is a job requirement. Moreover, some industries may need to follow strict regulations regarding testing outside of their drug testing policy.

Hence, potential employees need to prepare for the drug screening. If they have medical conditions preventing them from providing samples, they may coordinate this with the employer. It can also help to inform them of prescription drugs that may produce a false, non-negative result.

Conclusion

Pre-employment medical drug tests are crucial in maintaining workplace health and safety. This is especially true for businesses in high-risk industries with safety-critical positions, like mining, construction, and transportation. Hence, pre-employment drug tests have become more common to prevent those with drug dependency issues and substance use disorders from causing accidents. Employers use various methods, including urine, blood, hair, and saliva testing, to trace substance misuse even after months.

Nevertheless, they must comply with relevant laws and regulations. Thus, they must inform potential applicants of the testing requirements and other necessary details. This provides the individual time to prepare, which is crucial since refusing the test would likely mean their disqualification. To improve their chances of passing, the employee may inform the employer and testing staff about medical conditions and the prescription medications they take, which may interfere with the results.

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