Corner Office: Drug Tests for Employees?

Keep in mind that your organization may run the risk of a claim of negligence if you don't test applicants for such positions.

If you test for illegal drug use, there are three points in the hiring process when drug tests can be required:

Before an offer of employment is made. After a conditional offer is made, but before a candidate is formally hired. Soon after the employee begins working, with the understanding that employment is still conditional on passing the test.

Generally, requiring a test after extending a conditional offer of employment is best.

When requiring a drug test, keep in mind that there is no single test. There are several options; see the accompanying chart for specifics.

Take Action

Know your organization's policy. Review your employee handbook. Most organizations have a stated policy about drug testing and illegal drug use. Whatever the policy, follow it. Don't be the only manager to require pre-employment drug tests unless, for example, you manage the only department in which employees directly affect public safety.

Don't keep the policy a secret. If you require employees to pass a drug test as a condition of employment, make that clear up front. Include a statement to that effect on the application form, and advise candidates of the policy during the interview.

If there is no company policy, develop a policy for your department. Don't ask for drug tests using the whim system. Determine for which positions you'll require a pre-employment drug test and which you won't. Make sure the legal department or an attorney approves it.

If you require a drug test, use a vendor recommended by your Human Resources department. If there is no HR function in your organization, or the HR function has not recommended a vendor, find a reputable firm. How do you know if a firm is reputable? Ask the following questions:

How long has the firm been in business? What sort of tests does the lab do? How does the lab maintain confidentiality? What is the lab's chain of custody procedure for the sample? Is testing done under the direction of a board-certified toxicologist? Is the lab federally certified? Has the lab been checked? Is the lab insured? Will the lab guarantee its work?

Then, ask for references — and call them.

Real-World Examples

There are two sides of the drug-testing coin:

A candidate for a management position was asked to take a drug test. At the lab, he was asked to pass through a crowded waiting room carrying a specimen cup. A lab technician then watched while he urinated, ostensibly to ensure that the sample wasn't tampered with.

Then the candidate had to pass through the crowded waiting room again, this time carrying the full specimen cup. The experience didn't do much to preserve the candidate's dignity, or to give him a favorable impression of his prospective employer.

During his initial interview, a candidate for a sales management position seemed distracted and edgy. He had a hard time sitting still. He drank a lot of water and sweated profusely. He apologized for all of the behavior and chalked it up to nerves.

Still, the executive filling the position suspected a problem and scheduled a second interview in the evening, over dinner. At that interview, the candidate seemed relaxed and comfortable. The candidate seemed well qualified, and he was hired.

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