Drug Testing: One in Twelve Employees Admit Illegal Drug Use

July 18, 2007

A recent government survey revealed that 8.2 percent of full-time workers admit illegal drug use during the preceding month. Use rates are even higher for some industries: restaurant workers, 17.4 percent, and construction workers, 15.1 percent.

Estimates vary on the percentage of employers that conduct drug testing. The Society for Human Resource Management said in a 2006 report that 84 percent of private employers conduct pre-employment testing, 39 percent conduct random screening of employees, 73 percent conduct for-cause testing, and 58 percent require drug tests after on-the-job accidents. On the other hand, a recent article entitled "Whatever Happened to Drug Testing" states that "Despite the growing demand for drug tests in sports and other fields, the percentage of employers with testing programs has dropped steadily since 1996, from 81% to 62% in 2004, according to the American Management Association, which sees the trend continuing."

Other commentators question the drug testing return on investment (ROI) given multiple factors like a tight labor market, the cost of testing and the pervasiveness of test beating tactics. On balance, I still recommend that employers strongly consider pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:

  • The deterrent effect that testing has on applicants; particularly, if you advertise that drug testing is a part of the application process.
  • The statement it makes about your company culture: Drug Free Workplace.
  • The safety, wellness and attendance benefits (although the ACLU argues that this is illusory).

Implementing a drug testing program involves a careful balance of legal and employee relations considerations. I will be developing a series of white papers for downloading from this site which outlines considerations for this and other employment issues.