Developing a fair drug and alcohol policy can be a mine field that may best be left to an attorney or specialist in the field.

If you’re wondering whether you can implement pre-hiring or general workplace drug testing, then you’ve probably realized it’s not all that simple. In fact, while there are some federal laws that do apply to workplace drug and alcohol testing, most of them are state specific, and they often change.

That means that there’s no simple answer to the question of whether you can implement a blanket drug and alcohol policy, and you will need to consult the law books in your state before you do.

However, while we can’t give you a definitive answer on that particular question, we can give you some general information that can help you to do your due diligence, stay within the law, and protect your company.

Drug Free Workplaces

While there is no blanket act of US government that requires or entitles all employers to have drug free workplaces, the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 did require certain types of employers to develop drug-free workplace policies. Often, these employers were in the public sector, or are government contractors, but there are other industries that are covered.

As of 2010, however, the Department of Labor ended their drug free workplace program, and the law making and enforcement once again became a case by case process.

Industry and Career Specific

The federal laws about having a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace are complicated and confusing, and that’s made worse by state level laws that alter those rules and regulations. One area that is not complex or complicated, however, are the various industry-specific rules and regulations. Some of these include:

  • Oil and gas industry jobs, which often require drug and alcohol testing for on site employees, due to health and safety laws.
  • Transport and trucking industries, where employees may be required to undergo testing to receive or keep their certification, or by laws against driving under the influence.
  • Military, police or other civil service professions.

There are several industries and careers where drug and alcohol testing are the norm, generally in order to protect the public. If you’re not sure what the standard practice in your industry is, contact industry bodies and licensing authorities, who should be able to give you the information you need.

Your Rights and Responsibilities

Even if your state is one where drug and alcohol testing is allowed, there are still several pieces of legislation that protect various worker rights, which may include:

  • Disclosing your policies when you hire employees, or requiring employees to sign agreement to policies implemented after their hiring date.
  • Requiring written consent to testing (although certain states do allow disciplinary action for refusal)
  • Most states require that employers allow employees to explain or contest negative results.
  • Drugs used to treat disabilities or diseases are usually exempt from disciplinary procedures.
  • In most cases, employees who do test positive for drugs or alcohol in the workplace must be offered counselling or assistance in dealing with substance abuse problems.
  • Laws change all the time, so make sure that you schedule regular reviews and updates to any drug and alcohol policy you put in place.

A Potential Mine Field

The truth is, drug and alcohol testing in the workplace are a very tricky prospect for any employer, and developing a fair and enforceable policy can be a mine field that may best be left to an attorney or specialist in the field. It’s a balancing act, and as important as it is to ensure safety in your workplace, it’s just as important to ensure that you are legally compliant.


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