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Rules on drug testing in the workplace

Making sense of state and federal drug testing laws

Employers often require drug testing in the workplace as a condition of employment. Understanding the rules that govern workplace drug testing can help both employers and their staff make sound decisions.

Can employers legally demand a drug test from employees?

Each state sets up its own laws for drug testing in the workplace. In Minnesota, for example, employers can test employees for illegal drugs or for prescription drug abuse, but only if the employer establishes a written drug-testing policy. In other words, the employer has to provide workers with written notification about the company's policies and procedures.

No state requires employers to test their workers, but all states have drug-free workplace programs or regulations. Knowing local drug testing laws can help both employers and employees stay out of legal trouble. Keep in mind that even in states that don’t require a workplace drug test policy, many employers will still have one.

Do federal laws impact drug testing in the workplace?

In some cases, employee drug testing practices may violate other laws. For example, if “random” drug testing always targets minorities, they might have a case for a discrimination claim. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits discrimination regardless of individual states' laws.

Privacy laws also play a big role when it comes to drug testing in the workplace. If an employer broadcasts the results of an employee's drug test, the employee could file a legal claim for defamation. Additionally, disclosing the results of a drug test can be a violation of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

What do state laws say about drug testing?

Many states regulate the ways employers can drug test their employees. For instance, they might require certain procedures for transporting tests from the testing facility to the laboratory. This helps prevent issues that could compromise the results of a test or violate employees' privacy.

Some states also require employers to give workers prior notice of a test. The extent of the notice varies, and many states are silent on the subject. Employers and employees should also make sure to follow any laws that deal with the frequency of drug tests. For instance, most states don't allow employers to require daily or weekly tests.

Some states that don't impose any laws at all on workplace drug testing. But even in these states, employees can still file legal claims if they feel their rights have been violated.

Can employees refuse drug tests?

No state requires an employee to submit to a drug test. If you don't want to take it, you can decline. Just keep in mind that most states allow employers to fire workers for refusing to take the test. However, some states limit employers' ability to terminate employment for this reason.

Refusing a drug test might also prevent you from receiving unemployment benefits or worker's compensation. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of refusal before deciding.

What happens if you fail a workplace drug test?

Failing a drug test often results in termination, and many employers have zero-tolerance policies. This means that a worker must leave the building as they fail a drug test.

However, employers have to exercise zero-tolerance policies consistently. If the employer fires some workers for a failed drug test and not others, the fired employees could have a legal claim against the company.

You could also lose worker's compensation benefits if you fail a drug test. The insurance company might deny worker's comp claims if they believe that the accident might be related to drug use on the job. For instance, if you were injured while operating a crane on a construction site, the injury might be attributed to delayed reflexes because of drug use.

What drugs can employers test for?

In most states, employers can test for any illegal drugs. Many can also test for prescription drugs. If the employee doesn't have a valid prescription in their name, the employer might have cause to terminate employment.

Some states also allow companies to test for alcohol and nicotine use. This depends on company policy and state and local laws.

Since there aren't any sweeping federal laws that govern drug testing in the workplace, employers and employees should look to state laws to find out whether they're meeting the requirements.

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