How Does Employment Drug and Alcohol Testing Work?


According to the Department of Labor, workplace drug use costs US employers $75 to $100 billion in lost revenue each year, which accounts for lost time, accidents, healthcare, and workers’ compensation costs. While drug screening practices are currently in flux in locations where marijuana has been legalized, most Fortune 500 companies still require their employee screening processes to include drug testing to look for cocaine, PCP, opiates, amphetamines, and marijuana (in some states), which could disqualify an applicant.

Drug testing in the workplace is a standard practice that virtually all applicants should expect to find in the hiring process of a company, so it’s important to have a clear understanding workplace drug testing to create company test policies that are comprehensive, effective, and compliant with federal and state laws and regulations.

Reasons for Workplace Drug Testing

So why do employers choose to perform drug and alcohol tests on prospective and current employees? The most common reasons for workplace drug testing are:

  1. To foster a safe and healthy work environment for employees and customers.
  2. To help the company benefit from Workers’ Compensation Premium Discount programs.
  3. To identify and disqualify candidates who use illegal drugs.
  4. To deter drug and/or alcohol abuse among the company’s current employees.
  5. To identify and appropriately refer current employees who have problems with drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  6. To comply with state and federal laws and regulations (i.e. the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rules for drug testing employees who fill certain safety-sensitive positions.)
  7. To promote employee and customer confidence in the company’s commitment to quality and safety

How the Drug Testing Process Works

Employers are generally required to obtain written consent from applicants before conducting a drug test. They should understand that their eligibility is contingent on the results of the test. Employers outsource the drug screening portion of the hiring process to specimen collection sites or drug testing vendors. Typically, the applicant is required to perform the testing within a couple of days of their application to narrow the window of time they can “get clean.”

Not long after the specimen (typically urine) is sent to the lab, the results become available. It takes even less time if the applicant is found to be drug-free. A positive test takes longer, because it must be re-verified before the employer and applicant are notified. The lab will keep samples of the positive test in case the findings are challenged.

How Drug Users Circumvent Drug Screenings

The process of background checks for most entry-level positions is a familiar process for those entering the job market, and drug users have found ways to get around the hurdle of requisite drug screenings. Periodic cocaine users can still pass a drug test 24 hours after using the illegal substance, and even chronic users only need a few days to test clean. A similar time frame holds true for heroin and PCP users. Marijuana, on the other hand, requires a longer detoxification period. These users often find alternative methods to giving up the substance.

In terms of urine samples, marijuana users sometimes attempt to alter their own sample by adding agents such as dish soap or bleach or submitting a synthetic sample. Drug users can also find legal substances at local general nutrition centers to flush their systems. Some users even go as far as borrowing urine from a clean person to pass off as their own. 

Most drug users find their way around screenings, whether they choose to detox or cheat the system. Therefore, as methods for beating drug screenings are growing, the need for firms like Victig that provide holistic options to job candidate dishonesty becomes crucial.

Circumstances That Merit a Drug Test

There are many occasions that could be written into an organization’s drug testing policies, which are listed below.

Pre-Employment Testing

Following an offer of employment, the applicant agrees to be tested, understanding that the offer will be withdrawn if the test proves positive. Because applicants can prepare for pre-employment testing by abstaining from drug use for several days, some employers perform additional unannounced tests on probationary employees, but some states restrict this practice.

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers across the board are prohibited from performing pre-employment testing for alcohol use. With pre-employment testing, employers cannot be selective about the applicants they choose to test at this stage.

There are four types of pre-employment drug screening: 

  1. Urine test

The most traditional type of drug test uses the potential employee’s urine to screen for drugs and alcohol. Five-panel drug tests screen for: 

  • Marijuana
  • PCP
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Amphetamine

If an employer wants a more complete view of an individual’s drug usage, an in-depth 10-panel test can be performed. Alcohol passes through the system very quickly, which makes urine tests more effective for detecting drugs than alcohol.

  1. Blood test

A blood test is used primarily to check alcohol and drug levels at the time the test is completed. It is not as reliable as urine tests for long-term detection but is more effective in determining current levels of alcohol and drugs in the system.

  1. Hair follicle test

Hair testing is effective in detecting months worth of illicit drug use, such as marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and PCP.  When an employer needs a complete long-term picture of a potential employee’s drug use, a hair test may be justified. 

  1. Saliva test

Some employers may choose to perform a saliva test because it’s quick, easy, and provides deep insights. Saliva testing is mainly used to check for recent usage and pinpoint a specific substance. It is more effective in detecting specific drugs than urine, but drugs and alcohol do not remain in saliva as long as they do in urine. 

Testing Based on Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion testing is performed when a supervisor has observed and documented the signs and symptoms of drug use in an employee. This type of testing is discretionary, so it’s crucial that the organization’s supervisor training program include clear and consistent definitions of the “signs and symptoms of drug use” to look out for and that their suspicions be corroborated by someone else in management. 

Post-Accident Testing

Objective criteria that are often used to justify a post-accident test on an employee include an incident that results in:

  • Fatalities
  • Injuries requiring off-site medical care
  • Property damage exceeding a specified dollar amount
  • Police citation

However, some employers choose to label this type of testing as “post-incident” to cover any event in which accident or injury could have occurred but was fortunately averted in order to rule out the presence of drugs and/or alcohol as a factor in the incident.


This type of testing has no advance notice and is used as a deterrent for drug use. Subjects are drawn at random from an employee pool on a scientifically arbitrary basis to assure an equal chance for selection among all employees. 


These tests occur uniformly across the employee base, usually on an annual basis and especially for positions that require regular physicals. Periodic tests can be planned for by abstaining from drug use for several days before the scheduled testing.

Return to Duty

Return-to-duty testing is for employees returning to work after an extended absence, usually because they tested positive in a previous drug test and have undergone the required treatment and rehabilitation process for substance abuse. Post-rehabilitation testing can also be periodic and unpredictable.


Blanket testing is similar to random testing in that it is unannounced, and participants cannot prepare for passing a drug test by abstaining beforehand. However, instead of testing a random employee or selection of employees, all personnel are tested.


Other types of drug testing that can be included in your drug-free workplace policy are voluntary, probationary, pre-promotion, and return-after-illness testing. These are all generally announced, allowing employees to anticipate and prepare for testing.

What Are the Federal Guidelines for Drug Testing and Who Must Follow Them?

Some federal agencies are overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)) and are subject to their guidelines. But because SAMHSA’s mandatory guidelines have been supported by court decisions even in the private sector, many private employers choose to follow them as a precautionary measure even though they are granted some latitude to implement policies of their own design. 

These federal guidelines include:

  • Having test results evaluated by a qualified Medical Review Officer (MRO)
  • Requiring the use of only SAMHSA-certified drug labs
  • Provisions for the five substances (or six, including alcohol) tested for in federal drug testing programs: Amphetamines (meth, speed, crank, ecstasy), THC (cannabinoids, marijuana, hash), cocaine (coke, crack), opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine), phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust), and in some cases, alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol, booze)
  • Following procedures to assure accuracy and validity in the testing process: chain of custody, initial screen, confirmation test, split sample

SAMHSA’s Testing Process Procedures and Visibility of Results

Observing the four procedures outlined by the SAMHSA will provide the necessary quality control measures to conduct drug testing within your organization with confidence.

  • Chain of Custody: This is a form that follows and documents the lifecycle of the sample from collection to disposal. This provides an unbroken link, in writing, between the specimen and the employee or applicant while the sample is being handled and stored at the collection site and the laboratory.
  • Initial Screen: This covers the sample’s first analysis, which cannot be considered wholly accurate or reliable on its own, since it’s possible for an initial screen to result in a false positive. A second confirmation test is always conducted on a positive result at this stage.
  • Confirmation Test: This second test is performed a little differently to provide added specificity and is considered highly accurate. Its intention is to rule out any false positives from the initial screen and is performed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The confirmation test and the initial screen must agree in order for the test results as a whole to be considered positive.
  • Split Sample: At the time the sample is collected, it is split in two — one half for the initial screen, and the other for the confirmation test if the first returns positive.
  • MRO: Before the test results can be reported to the employer as positive, they must be reviewed by an MRO, or a licensed medical doctor with training in substance abuse. The MRO makes sure of the correct application of chain-of-custody and crosschecks with the employee or applicant to rule out the interference of certain doctor-prescribed medications, which can cause a positive result.
  • Restricted Access to Results: Employees and applicants generally must sign a release that allows the results of the drug and alcohol test to be viewed by the employer. Otherwise, the result of a drug test can be considered personal health information and protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That being said, employers must handle such information with discretion, as with all sensitive materials, regardless of whether the employee or applicant has signed a release

Drug Testing Methods

The most common method of drug testing for the five illicit drugs listed in the SAMHSA guidelines is urinalysis, while breath testing is the most common for alcohol. Other types of bodily specimens can be collected for detecting specific types of drugs and usage, such as blood, hair, oral fluids, and sweat.

  • Urine: Shows the presence or absence of drug metabolites in urine. 
  • Breath: Measures how much alcohol is in the bloodstream (blood alcohol concentration or BAC).
  • Blood: Provides a more accurate measure of how much alcohol or drugs are actively present at the time the sample is collected. 
  • Hair: Provides evidence of usage history of a specific drug, not current impairment.
  • Oral fluids: Detects current use by collecting traces of drugs or alcohol in the mouth.
  • Sweat: Used mainly to maintain probation or parole compliance; signs of usage are collected with a skin patch and worn for a length of time

Drug Test FAQ

  • What other drugs can private employers test for apart from those listed by the SAMHSA?

There is an 8-panel test that includes SAMHSA’s listed substances plus Barbiturates (phenobarbital, butalbital, secobarbital, downers), Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Valium, Librium, and Xanax), and Methaqualone (Quaaludes.) A 10-panel test includes all the above plus Methadone, used to treat heroin addiction, and Propoxyphene (Darvon compounds). Other substances that can be included in drug screening for employers are Hallucinogens, Inhalants, Anabolic steroids, Hydrocodone, and MDMA.

  • How long are certain substances detectable?
    • Alcohol: 1 oz. for 1.5 hours
    • Amphetamines: 48 hours
    • Barbiturates: 2–10 days
    • Benzodiazepines: 2–3 weeks
    • Cocaine: 2–10 days
    • Heroin Metabolite: less than 1 day
    • Morphine: 2–3 days
    • LSD: 8 hours
    • Marijuana: casual use, 3–4 days; chronic use, several weeks
    • Methamphetamine: 2–3 days
    • Methadone: 2–3 days
    • Phencyclidine (PCP): 1 week
  • Who pays for drug tests?

The employer. Additionally, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees are generally paid for time spent undergoing required testing.

Starting a Drug-Testing Program

Though employers are not prohibited by any federal laws from testing employees and applicants for drug use, it is important to become familiar with state laws that prohibit or restrict random drug testing on employees who aren’t in safety-sensitive positions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also has protections—in certain situations—for individuals with a history of substance abuse who are considered qualified with a disability.

While drug testing is an important component of a drug-free workplace program, it’s also important to have provisions for clearly outlining your expectations regarding drug use and for uniform supervisor training on detecting signs of use and enforcing policies. It is also advisable to seek legal consultation for an existing program or before starting a new one, which will help you confidently create a comprehensive drug-free workplace program to protect your company, your employees, the people you serve, and ultimately, your community.

How Long Should a Quality Employment Background Check Take?


The profitability of a business depends heavily on the productivity of its people. Every moment affects the bottom line, so it’s tempting to take the fast route in the hiring process. When it comes to employment background checks, however, a speedy screening is a disservice to your organization — especially when screening candidates for high-responsibility job positions. Compromising quality background checks for speed may cause you to miss valuable insights and hire a poor organizational fit who may even cause liabilities for your company.

So how long should you expect a quality employment background check to take?

The Purpose of a Background Check

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 72% of all employers in the U.S. conduct formal background checks on their candidates, which means that 28% of employers still do not. Background checks are an effective safeguard for the employer and their company. As a critical part of the hiring process, the employment background check is intended to:

  • Ensure workplace safety
  • Mitigate liability
  • Protect company reputation
  • Determine professional eligibility
  • Verify candidate claims of experience and qualificatio

The Average Timeframe for a Background Check

Determining these parameters for any given candidate requires a number of different types of checks. The length of time a background check will take depends on:

  • Which checks are conducted
  • The thoroughness of each check
  • Whether or not any concerns arise
  • Industry guideline

An employment background check, for example, for a government job that will grant a level of security clearance can take as long as a year. Meanwhile, the standard check for a basic office job may take as little as 24 business hours or as many as five business days. 

If the employer is using a third-party background check provider (and all should), a portion of this time frame is outside of their control. Background check providers or services that tout an “instant” turnaround time are generally pulling from incomplete or inaccurate databases; you should always opt for thoroughness over speediness.

Factors That Impact a Background Check Timeline

  • Credit checks: The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that job applicants give written consent for their personal records to be pulled. Delays commonly happen when employers fail to acquire or delay conveying this signed authorization.
  • Educational/employment verifications: It also takes time to conduct verifications and personally contact applicable persons at prior schools and places of employment to receive the requested information.
  • Cross-checking records: Name confusion can be a setback with background checks, as name variations require agencies to cross-check information to make sure they have the right person. It’s crucial to complete this step, as mistaken identities have caused problems for all involved parties in the past and leave the employer and agency vulnerable to litigation

What’s Included in a Thorough Background Check?

Many employers use a third-party employment background check provider to conduct the different types of checks that make up the background check as a whole. A good deal of companies also divide the process of checking a candidate’s qualifications between a third-party provider and an in-house HR team. What are these checks and how does each one contribute to the potential length of the employment background check?

A thorough employment background check is one that deploys most or all of the following types of in-depth checks:

  1. Social Security Trace 
  2. Criminal Database 
  3. Sex Offender Registries 
  4. DMV Records 
  5. Drug Tests 
  6. Credit Score 
  7. Employment and Education History 
  8. Licensing and Certifications 
  9. Social Media

CareerBuilder reports that of the 72% of employers conducting background checks on candidates: 

  • 82% check the candidate’s criminal background
  • 62% manually confirm employment history
  • 60% specifically confirm candidate identity
  • 50% confirm education history and degrees attained
  • 44% check for illegal drug use
  • 38% confirm licensing where applicable
  • Only 29% actually review a candidate’s credit history.

Some employers don’t check all of these aspects and may choose to forgo the credit history or driving record check, for example, because they aren’t relevant to the job. In this case, the background check overall is still a thorough and reliable measure of the candidate’s ability to successfully meet the demands of a position.

Social Security Trace

Social Security traces are the tip of the spear when it comes to professional employee background checks. Social Security is typically the first thing an employer investigates, as a candidate’s Social Security number (SSN) reveals activities the candidate has been involved in, such as rental agreements, car loans, and other background checks. All of these activities are recorded under the SSN, giving the employer insight into where the candidate has lived, where they’ve previously worked, whether or not the SSN is attached to other aliases (such as former surnames), and if the SSN appears in criminal databases.

The turnaround time for a Social Security trace is immediate, and if there are no issues with the returned information, this step can be resolved quickly. If the candidate has had SSN issues before, further verification will be needed to find out if the person’s identity was ever stolen, if the SSN was connected to suspicious activity, and whether the candidate was honest about these from the beginning. These factors will help you determine the eligibility of a candidate.

Criminal Database

The majority (82%) of employers who reported conducting background checks in the aforementioned CareerBuilder survey focused heavily on criminal activity. While “ban-the-box” initiatives across the country seek to ensure the unbiased employability of individuals with criminal histories, there remain certain industries, such as childcare, home care, and caretaking of the elderly in which employers must be especially careful in their hires to protect clientele.

This second step in the background check process includes investigating sex offender registries and this step can be expected to take at least a day. It requires thoroughness and is too often the step in which critical information slips through the cracks because there is no single, catch-all criminal database that is complete or totally accurate.

Verifiers must comb through multiple local, national, and international databases (such as global watch lists, on occasion) to paint a complete picture of a candidate’s criminal history if one exists. Knowing where a candidate has lived is important to criminal searches in each locality. Not every database is automated, so retrieval requests must be processed through a human courthouse clerk. This can affect your turnaround time, but not as much as finding a red flag, which will require further investigation.

DMV Records and Drug Tests

Though this step typically takes up to three business days, employers want to know that their potential employees are trustworthy. If the job description involves piloting a vehicle, DMV records will reveal if the candidate has a history of DUIs, license suspensions, reckless endangerment, or even speeding tickets. This added step is further verification that the candidate is who they say they are.

Drug tests are often outsourced and have a prompt turnaround. These are especially important for high-risk positions in which the employee will be handling heavy machinery or operating vehicles.

Credit Score

Credit checks take only a few minutes, and the rules for conduct varies by state. Each state, however, must abide by the FCRA, which dictates that the candidate must provide written authorization for the check to be run and given the opportunity to contest or correct negative results.

Determining employment eligibility based on credit scores can be a controversial practice in some industries, but many employers do it as a precautionary measure if the job description grants access to large sums of money or highly sensitive materials and information, for example. Does the candidate have a gambling problem? Have they been bankrupt? Do they have a history of exorbitant debt and missed payments? Fraud and embezzlement charges may turn up on criminal records, but credit scores can sometimes provide valuable indicators of potentially risky behavior before it can occur at your organization.

Employment and Education History

Of the employers who reported making a bad hire in the CareerBuilder survey, at least 49% claimed that the new hire’s skills were misrepresented at the time of screening, a fact only discovered post-hire. Six years ago, a report indicated that 66% of employers surveyed had caught some form of falsehood on applicant resumes and applications. That’s up to 85% as of 2017.

With these statistics in mind, it’s clear to see why employers should take the time to verify employment, education history, licensure, and certification that the applicant claims to have attained. The length of time this step will take depends on the processes used and how quickly former supervisors, references, and academic offices can provide the necessary information. As long as no discrepancies are found, this type of check only takes one to three days.

Social Media

If you’ve ever done “online research” on a potential love interest, you know the value someone’s digital footprint can offer. It’s no different for employers, who use social media profiles to spot unsavory or dangerous traits in a prospective hire. The red flags employers look for include:

  • References to drug and alcohol abuse
  • Derogatory hate speech or harassment
  • Signs of bullying, discrimination, or violence
  • Poor grammar, spelling, or communication skills
  • Qualifications that do not match the applicant’s resume
  • Inappropriate photos or other sexually explicit materials
  • Revealing confidential information or unseemly talk about past places of work, coworkers, and/or customer

While social media checks may be considered an informal part of the screening process for now, it’s an increasingly common practice and should take only as long as your standard Google search.

Speed Up Background Checks With VICTIG Solutions

Thorough background checks require time, but there are technological solutions to speed up verification processes. VICTIG’s verification hotline sidesteps the time-wasting yet common “phone tag” problem by allowing contacts to call a hotline at their convenience rather than coordinate with the personal schedule of agency employees. Call us at (866) 933-1658 to learn more or get started.

How Does Employment Drug & Alcohol Testing Work?

How Drug-Use Legislation Will Potentially Change Employee Screening Policies

Only months into the  New Year and we’ve already got a substantial list of changes to expect in the workplace. Jena McGregor of the Washington Post writes that this list includes the potential repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act and its effect on employee health insurance, changes to the Dodd-Frank act which requires some companies to publish their CEO-to-worker pay ratio, and the possible expansion of paid parental leave. A hot item on the list is also the issue of marijuana legalization and how many companies have had to adjust their policies to reflect their state’s changing stance on the subject.

Currently, marijuana is allowed for recreational use in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine. The number of states that adopt similar legislation is expected to grow, but even before that takes place, companies within these four states will adjust their drug testing policies in ways that will have a far-reaching effect on long-distance employees as well.

Significant Changes to Expect

McGregor reports that many human resource leaders believe that companies will begin requesting that screening providers to omit tests and reports on marijuana use specifically going forward. Obviously, there a few jobs where this omission would be, at best, impractical and at worst dangerous:

  1. Airline pilots
  2. Truck drivers
  3. Construction workers
  4. Medical professionals

However, these same professionals maintain that employers—even if they decide to omit marijuana drug testing from their pre-screening processes—will and should reserve the right to prohibit its use on the job and to test employees when reasonable suspicion has alerted them to the employee’s impaired performance.

Contact VICTIG with any questions regarding your region’s stance on marijuana use.

4 of the Most Common Drug Tests


The Urine Test

A urine test to screen for drugs or alcohol is the most common and traditional kind of test given to prospective employees. The urine test is conducted at a lab or at the company location, and usually includes these five drug panel tests: amphetamines, marijuana, PCP, opiates, and cocaine. If an employer is interested or has reason to investigate further, they can request the fuller ten panel drug test, Alcohol passes through the body quite fast, so a urine test is more useful in detecting illegal drug use.

The Blood Test

A blood test is most commonly used to check for current levels of alcohol or drugs in the system, at the time the test is carried out. It is not as reliable as the urine test, but it works better for detecting current consumption.

Hair Follicle Testing

Hair follicle testing can be performed in order to give the employer a full picture of the prospective employee’s long term drug use, if any. This method of screening for drug use can detect traces of drugs months after consumption. Hair follicle testing, which has unquestionable efficacy, can detect illegal drugs like amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or PCP. Hair follicle testing can’t detect alcohol.

The Saliva Test

The saliva test is quicker and easier to perform than other methods, and is better at detecting specific substances. However, drugs and alcohol do not stay in the saliva for very long, so this type of test mainly used to check for recent usage, and for a specific substance.

3 Essential Things to Look for When Hiring New Employees

Performing a thorough background check on a potential employee is the first stop in limiting employee turnover and retaining good ones. A background check will help you with the difficult and time consuming process of hiring the right person for the right job, and one that will stay with your company for a good amount of time. Studies show that it costs more than $4,000 to hire a new employee, so be sure to use a good screening service to make this expense worthwhile. While a background check does take a little time and money, it is essential for the following reasons:

1. Verification of Qualifications

The primary reason for a background check is to be sure that all of the qualifications your potential hire present to you are true. If you don’t verify the education and work history (and identity) of your job candidate, you could very well find yourself looking for their replacement in the near future.

2. Eliminate those who Use Illicit Drugs

Second, you need to be sure that your new hire does not use illicit drugs. You can’t determine everything about a person with just one or two job interviews. With a background check, you can be sure that all of the positive qualities you saw in your new hire during the recruitment and interview process will not be marred by unpleasant surprises. A drug screening will tell you whether your bright, shiny new prospect uses illicit drugs, and you can then eliminate this person, saving you a costly mistake that could have terrible consequences for your company.

3. Eliminate those with Violent Tendencies

Last, you also need to be sure that your new hire does not have other qualities that you may have missed during the interview process. Your new hire should not have violent or confrontational tendencies. It is very important to be sure your new hire is not only qualified and a good match for the job role, but is also emotionally stable. Performing a background check will allow you to eliminate these kinds of people from consideration, saving you the time and money that would result from an incident in the workplace.

The Hangover: How Drug & Alcohol Abuse Affects the Workplace

be76d1a55ee5ffb3b2dc895570c95b36_LCriminal background checks and drug screenings are fairly standard with a new employment, but how often is drug use actually bleeding into an employee’s performance? The presence of drugs and alcohol in the workplace doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem on work premises as it does on the cost to an employer when an employee shows up already impaired or recovering from a night of heavy use. Drugs (both illegal and prescription) and alcohol take the hardest toll in the following categories:

Employee Productivity

Employees who show up to work after a night of heavy drinking and/or drug use are more likely to make mistakes, which takes time and money away from their employers, especially if employees show up late to work. A clear-headed individual can get a job done a lot more efficiently than someone who mental and physical faculties are dragging.

Workplace Morale

Happy employees generally produce better results. In contrast, an employee who is in a bad mood because he or she is affected by a hangover could infect the general demeanor of the entire workplace, creating a negative ripple effect into the productivity of employees who came to work well-rested and prepared to do their jobs.

General Safety

When employees are impaired, they may neglect safety protocols, and even small omissions could lead to major accidents.

Drug & Alcohol Use in the Workplace

Anyone who has experienced a hangover knows that a little “hair of the dog” can alleviate the physical pain of withdrawing from substance abuse. When employees show up to work impaired, whether they are recovering from a wild night or are under the influence on work premises, they are more likely to participate in drinking and/or drug use while they are still on the clock. A coworker with a bottle of booze stashed in a desk drawer for such an occasion is much more common that one might expect.

Most companies have a drug and alcohol use policy to avoid the aforementioned situations, but anyone who chooses to get loaded is susceptible to compromised performance, not just individuals who suffer from addiction or habitual substance abuse. Employment drug and alcohol screenings simply help reduce the presence of the latter in the workplace.

The Top 5 Things to Look for in a Background Screening Provider

No matter if you are trying to make a decision on a job applicant or on a potential tenant, you most likely understand the importance of utilizing a background service provider. Even if you are a veteran of the background check game, the myriad of companies that provide this important service can be overwhelming. Don’t fret though, if you follow the five proceeding guidelines you will be equipped to make a smart decision on a background service provider.

1. Credibility

When trying to determine an individual’s credibility it just makes sense that the company you choose to screen them is also credible. One such way to ensure you hire a credible background service provider is by checking if they are accredited. An accreditation process requires an agency to undergo audits proving that they are adhering to laws and regulations.

2. Accuracy

You may always get results from a background screening service but are the results accurate? The aforementioned accreditation once again makes this decision much easier. Find a review service or another objective third-party that can determine the accuracy of a background service provider.

3. Speed

Time is money. You need to fill that open position or location an acceptable tenant as soon as possible. No matter how accurate or even credible the information, if it arrives to you slowly it’s practically useless. Before hiring an agency determine the timeframe that works for you and make them stick to it.

4. Number of Services

Look for a provider that includes all of the services you require. You may need a criminal background check, reference check and drug testing. Prior to hiring an agency contact them, or check their website, for the services they offer. It’s always best to select an agency that has robust offerings in case you require more services in the future.

5. Customer service experience

This goes for all companies not just background screening agencies, look for firms that have exemplary customer service. Background checks are vitally important for your selection process so having easy-to-contact and responsive customer service should be a must.

Getting a Perfect Picture of Employee Drug Use Proves Difficult with Current Screening Methods

Prospective job candidates are not the only individuals who face the likelihood of undergoing a drug screening prior to gaining employment. Employers often conduct random drug screenings on current employees depending on the nature of the workplace, and an employee under suspicion of violating a drug and alcohol use policy may also be subject to such a test. Regardless of the reason for the drug screening, the current methods available limit an employer’s ability to get a comprehensive picture of an individual’s drug use, and doing so may even violate laws in certain states.

Employers, except where federally mandated for safety reasons, are able to implement their own requirements and regulations as to how they screen employees for drug use. Even with a multitude of options at their disposal, many employers choose to screen according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) guidelines, the set of standards to which those in safety-sensitive federal positions must adhere. SAMHSA drug screenings (most commonly procured by urinalysis) go through laboratories and deliver highly accurate results, but they only screen for five substances in addition to alcohol: amphetamines, THC, cocaine, opiates, and phencyclidine. While these five substances cover a large population of illegal drugs, they do not offer a full scope, and drug users have become increasingly proficient at achieving a clean urinalysis while using the aforementioned substances.

Drug testing panels available to private employers can check for a wider range of illegal drugs, while also testing for prescription drugs and controlled substances. However, conducting these panels and making employment decisions based on their results, particularly if the drug test is randomly conducted on a current employee, can conflict with certain laws. In some states, legislation protects individuals with a history of drug or alcohol addiction (who have been given disability status) from certain types of drug screenings. Other states prohibit the frequency of random drug testing on employees, unless they are in a federal, safety-sensitive line of work.

The biggest issue with current drug screening methods, whether conducted under SAMHSA protocol or other methods utilized by private employers, is that most drug tests cannot gauge impairment due to drug or alcohol use. Level of impairment is one of the biggest concerns in a workplace, because it is most likely to affect the safety of others and employee productivity. When performing a drug test on an employee, employers often have to choose between gauging an individual’s drug use history or assessing their current level of impairment. Hair and urine samples provide a better understanding of historical drug use for up to 90 days (if the person is using drugs that stay in the system that long), while oral (saliva) and blood tests provide a better gauge of someone’s level of impairment. The latter tests can tell an employer if an employee is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, but they cannot determine habitual use.

Though current drug screening methods cannot tell employers everything they want to know about their prospective and current employees, they can reduce the likelihood of drug use entering the workplace. Setting a precedent for a clean, safe working environment by conducting drug screenings on new employees, and testing those under suspicion of impairment in the workplace, sends the message that employers will not tolerate drug abuse. The more education employers gain on the drug screening methods available to them, the better they can educate their employees on how to create a safe and productive place to work.

Millennium/Medicare Lawsuit Highlights Drug-testing Problems

A recent drug-testing settlement negotiation between Medicare and Millennium Health LLC, the largest drug-testing lab in the United States, has caused a host of problems beyond those incurred by Millennium, the defendant in the suit. Medicare alleged that, after a three-year investigation, Millennium billed the federal government for non-essential tests, primarily for Medicare clients undergoing pain management treatment. This unnecessary testing may have contributed to the 2,000% increase in Medicare spending on drug testing over the last six years. Millennium could face paying up to $250 million in damages.

Because of the astronomical increase in federal spending for Medicare clients undergoing pain management treatment, Medicare agencies, health care providers, and drug testing laboratories are scrambling to find a solution that allows patients to get the care they need without allowing labs to take advantage of federal spending.

Drug-testing labs get paid by Medicare for each substance they test. Millennium has been accused of running unnecessary tests to increase their payout and performing unwarranted high-tech testing that is consequently more costly. Labs can screen for substances ordered by the physician, and they can perform further high-tech tests to confirm any abnormal results. Medicare claims that Millennium not only ordered an exorbitant amount of irrelevant tests per substance (i.e. testing senior citizens for party drugs like MDMA), but that they ran high-tech confirmation tests on normal samples that should not have been subjected to further lab testing. Medicare spending for simple tests has not gone up in recent years nearly as much as the exponential increase in high-tech testing.

Since the settlement negotiation between Medicare and Millennium is still in process, solving and preventing recurrence is also up in the air. Medicare has proposed billing caps on certain types of testing. These caps would help taxpayers, but cut into laboratory income. Providers and labs who have acquired expensive equipment in order to perform the high-tech testing would see a decrease in payment as well, in some cases as much as losing around 75% per test. Different parties have considered changing the payment structure to bundling the cost of testing instead of paying per tested substance.

Lab staff are concerned that changes in billing and high-tech testing would limit growth, as Medicare is one of their largest sources of revenue. Health care providers are concerned that their patient care may suffer due to a decrease in available tests. Pain management patients need to be tested for drug abuse, noncompliance (which can indicate they are selling their medications), addiction, and/or overdose, and some of the high-tech testing allows more quantitative analysis that helps providers make informed treatment decisions.

Millennium is working with Medicare to resolve the consequences of their infractions. Hopefully their resolution will evoke a mutually beneficial policy change that will help economic growth and patient care without exhausting federal spending.