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Workplace Drug Testing: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

By Steven Calhoun on Jan 22, 2021 10:56:10 AM

If you’ve been in management long, you’ve probably encountered a situation where you suspected a worker of drug use. And if you’ve been tasked with hiring employees or selecting independent contractors, you have weighed the decision of whether to drug screen before the work or wait to see if something gives you cause for concern.

That’s a big, costly decision. So how do you decide?

Veryable interacts with workers and businesses every day through its on-demand labor marketplace. We have been asked by businesses many times whether or not we perform drug screens. While we do not conduct drug screens, we do understand that many businesses feel differently about this.

We take a strong stance against drug testing on our platform, and we will outline this below, but we believe each company should make its own choice. That’s why we explored this issue from both sides here.

In this article, you will learn the pros and cons of pre-employment and regular workplace drug testing, as well as alternatives.

 

pros drug testing

The pros of regular workplace drug testing

The three main benefits cited in recent studies on drug testing workers are reduced drug usage among workers, managerial authority signals, and improved public image.

 

Reduced drug usage among workers

Studies have found a correlation between drug testing and reduced drug usage among workers. If your company wants to conduct drug tests or has already started, this is probably the most common benefit you have heard about drug testing. 

To see the full results of drug testing, take a cue from the following study, which acknowledges that the consequences of drug usage and workplace policies might be the real deterrent, not just the drug tests alone.

In Carpenter’s study “Workplace Drug Testing and Worker Drug Use,” which found that drug testing was correlated with reduced usage of marijuana among workers, the author states the following: “...some firms might just be ‘anti-drug,’ which could result in drug testing programs, other substance use policies, and workers that are relatively substance-free. Importantly, all of these could be true even in the absence of a deterrent effect of testing.”

So it seems there is a relationship between drug testing and reduced drug usage, but we cannot definitively say that drug tests deter drug usage alone. It is likely that substance policies and the consequences for workers who are caught under the influence are just as important as drug testing.

If you are going to implement drug testing at your company, be sure it is part of a larger effort to educate workers and create an environment of responsibility and safety.

 

Managerial authority signaling

Drug tests are one way that managers can signal their authority to workers and communicate a no-nonsense attitude. One study from Fairfield University on “Drug Testing as Symbolic Managerial Action” states that “mainly, drug testing performs certain symbolic functions that are necessary to combat the sense of irrationality and immorality associated with drugs in the workplace.”

According to the study, conducting drug tests is a way to restore the image of control, give a scientific response to a seemingly irrational problem, and legitimize the organization in the eyes of stakeholders by signaling anti-drug values.

If you feel that your company needs to display these values to stakeholders, drug testing is one way you might be able to accomplish this.

 

Improved public image for the company

In addition to performing symbolic duties inside the organization, drug testing can be used to signal an anti-drug stance to the public. Many companies want to look put together and in-control to the public, both for appearances to customers and to attract the kind of workers they want. If this is another goal for your company, drug testing might be able to help you signal these values.

 

cons drug testing

The cons of regular workplace drug testing

The main drawbacks of workplace drug testing are the costs of drug testing, little proof that drug tests impact performance, a smaller potential talent pool, and the administrative burdens created by legal complexities that come with drug testing.

 

Costs and time consumption

Drug testing is an expensive program that requires time and manpower to administer. The costs increase even more if you outsource the drug testing program. 

Drug tests that detect a range of the most common drugs typically cost between $10 and $45 per worker. This figure excludes the cost of paying someone to administer the tests and the time spent on administration and reviewing the results.

 

Little proof of drug testing’s impact on work performance

While research has been done to find the effects of drug testing on drug usage among workers, not much has been done to find the actual impact of drug testing on work performance. 

A systematic review of studies on drug testing effectiveness found that years of studies have lacked the rigor necessary to prove the hypothesis that drug testing alone is effective as measured by any meaningful outcome.

The Flinders University study by authors Pidd and Roche found that the only exception was for the transportation industry, which saw reduced injury rates after implementing random alcohol and drug testing, according to one methodologically sound study the pair reviewed.

According to the Flinders University study, “given the growing utilisation of and support for testing as a workplace strategy, there is a pressing need for more methodologically rigorous research to evaluate the efficacy of drug testing in improving workplace safety, productivity, and worker well being.”

In other words, drug testing alone might not have any meaningful impact for businesses. There is no proof that drug testing doesn’t work, but nobody has definitely proven that it does.

 

A smaller potential talent pool

There are workers who will be deterred from your business by your decision to conduct drug screens. They do not want to have this intrusion into their private life, which does not necessarily mean that they have a habit of using substances. These people would avoid working somewhere that drug screens workers on principle, meaning businesses that do conduct drug screens might be missing out on good workers.

 

Administrative burdens created by legal complexities

The law varies in each state regarding drug screening before employment and drug testing current employees. By conducting drug screens or drug tests you are opening yourself up to additional risks and must ensure compliance with these laws, which requires studying the current laws and properly managing any programs you implement.

 

alts drug testing

Alternatives to regular or pre-employment workplace drug testing

You have other options besides drug testing for improving the safety and performance of your workers. You can administer post-accident or reasonable suspicion tests or find workers on a platform with a rating system.

 

Conduct post-accident or reasonable suspicion testing

There are less expensive and time-consuming methods of drug testing employees that are directly tied to workplace performance. These are post-accident drug testing and testing when you have reasonable suspicion that an employee is under the influence of drugs while on the job.

If you are going to conduct post-accident drug testing, it is important to have a policy about testing that does not discourage employees from reporting incidents. Many businesses choose to only test workers who directly contributed to the accident. For example, if the driver of a forklift caused an accident near other workers, only the driver would be tested under such a policy. That way, the other workers do not feel they will be punished for reporting the incident.

If you are going to test workers under reasonable suspicion that they are intoxicated, you should thoroughly document the behaviors they displayed that prompted you to test the worker and have a clearly outlined policy to back up your actions.

This does create an administrative burden, much like random drug tests or pre-employment drug screens. However, with post-accident or reasonable suspicion drug testing, you are drastically limiting the number of tests and the administrative burden.

 

Find workers on a platform with a rating system

If you have a reliable base of full-time employees and you’re more worried about the new hires, you could find independent contractors or workers from a platform with a rating system when you have extra work to give. 

Most of the time, independent contractors have their own incentives to perform well and prefer working independently. Their success hinges on their personal reputation as a worker. Independent contractors cannot afford to hurt their reputation by working under the influence because it directly impacts their future opportunities.

Likewise, workers on a platform like Veryable’s on-demand labor marketplace have an incentive to perform well because of the rating system. On our platform, for example, after every opportunity a worker completes the business rates the worker on multiple factors such as proficiency, safety, attitude, and timeliness. 

A rating system creates a strong incentive for workers to perform well so they can compete with other workers for opportunities and more lucrative work.

Because both of these groups of workers are already strongly incentivized to perform well, your business would not have to pick up the additional cost of drug screening before contracting these workers.

 

Veryable’s stance on drug testing

Veryable does not require drug screens or drug tests from the workers who use its platform. Our rating system incentivizes operators on the platform to perform well at work, creating a meritocracy where the best performers are rewarded. 

We believe businesses have no need to require drug screens or drug tests from these operators because they are working as independent contractors. They are responsible for their decisions, actions, and sobriety. Their performance, positive or negative, will be reflected in their ratings, which are a direct reflection of their work with each company in their history on the platform.

Asking an operator to pass a drug screen is like requiring a plumber to pass a drug test before they can help you fix your kitchen sink. You would trust a plumber to show up and perform well, because you have likely already seen their ratings and trust that they wouldn’t jeopardize their own business by working under the influence. We believe an operator should be trusted the same way.

 

Find performance-rated workers today

When you need workers but don’t have enough work to justify a full-time hire, you can find performance-rated workers on Veryable’s on-demand labor marketplace. Our rating system creates a meritocracy so that workers compete to have their bids selected based on transparent insights into their past performance.

You might be apprehensive to find workers without drug testing them because you’ve always done it that way, but we have worked with hundreds of companies who continue to see results from on-demand labor without drug screening or drug testing workers from the platform. Read more about how on-demand labor works so you can see what makes performance-rated workers using Veryable an effective choice for your business.

Steven Calhoun

Written by Steven Calhoun