The Pros and Cons of Drug Testing in the Workplace

Employers in some safety-critical industries have policies to maintain drug-free workplaces. However, critics say the tests cannot determine whether drugs affect job performance and violate employees’ privacy rights. Reasonable suspicion testing is conducted in response to direct observations or evidence that an employee may be using illegal drugs. It includes erratic behavior, physical evidence of drug use and disorientation.

Blood Test

While blood tests are considered very accurate and reliable, they can be costly and take longer to receive results than urine or hair follicle tests. For these reasons, they are usually reserved for post-accident situations or if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use in the workplace. 

Blood tests typically show whether the person has used drugs in the last few days or weeks and can also determine how often the user uses certain substances. During a blood drug test, a lab professional called a phlebotomist will remove a small blood sample from a vein in your arm. 

Most people find the procedure uncomfortable, but the phlebotomist can help you feel more comfortable by talking to you during the process and letting you know what to expect. The blood sample will then be put into a bottle and labeled with your name, date and hospital number. Some people may have a bruise where the needle went in, but this will fade over the next few days.

During the pre-employment screening, employers will most likely use the blood test to screen for common illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and marijuana. A few federal laws require all job applicants to be tested, while other government agencies and private employers may choose to test current employees randomly or after a specific incident.

Saliva Test

For some employers, particularly those who work in safety-sensitive industries like aviation and manufacturing, saliva tests are a popular option. Different types of drug testing can be administered without requiring an employee to provide a urine sample, making them less invasive and quicker. 

Additionally, some tests can be administered on-site, making the results available much more quickly. As the name suggests, saliva tests use a mouth swab to sample an applicant’s oral fluids for drug usage. 

The swab is then tested on-site or sent away for lab testing, and the result is immediate. A negative impact means no drugs were detected in the sample, while a positive result indicates that an applicant has used a specific drug.

The drug detection window for saliva tests varies but typically lasts 12 to 24 hours. It makes them ideal for detecting current drug usage, which may be more of an issue in safety-sensitive industries than historical usage. Especially in safety-sensitive roles, an employee’s mental acuity and sound judgment are essential, and any compromise could have disastrous consequences.

The most common drug tests used in the workplace are for alcohol and cannabis, which can impair judgment, reaction time, and coordination. They are often a requirement for certain safety-sensitive roles and may also be required for annual physical exams. Other tests include for-cause and reasonable suspicion testing, typically conducted when an employee shows clear signs of being unfit for duty (for-cause) or has a pattern of unsafe work behavior (reasonable suspicion).

Hair Test

Unlike urine, breath and blood tests, which detect the presence of drug metabolites at the time of testing, hair samples can show usage history. They can detect the presence of metabolites that can remain in the hair for up to 90 days after drug use. 

A selection of an applicant’s scalp is collected and sent to a lab during the testing process. Results are usually available only shortly after the lab receives the test specimen. There are a few hair test panels, including a 5-panel that looks for amphetamines, cocaine, PCP, opiates and marijuana. 

Other panels include Barbiturates (phenobarbital, butalbital and secobarbital), Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax), Methaqualone (Quaaludes) and other hallucinogens. Hair-test results can be confirmed with a separate gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test, which ensures a positive impact and identifies the specific drugs detected.


Urinalysis is a urine test that detects the presence of drugs. It can detect the presence of alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and opiates. Employers can use this test as part of their pre-employment screening or randomly throughout their workplace. It can also be conducted as a follow-up to a suspected drug offense. 

The urinalysis procedure can be intrusive and invasive. Often, another person is present to monitor the process and ensure no specimen tampering. Urine samples are usually sent to an HHS-certified laboratory, and a chain of custody is maintained from collection through disposal.

Urine tests can be inaccurate and prone to errors, such as false positives and negatives. To minimize the possibility of error, an employer should conduct confirmation testing in-house or with an HHS-certified lab and use a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to interpret test results. 

Many employees object to drug testing on the basis that it is a violation of their right to privacy. Urinating is considered private, and it is difficult for a person to control when and where they may release their urine sample. 


Furthermore in conclusion, they argue that a urine test can reveal personal health information and could lead to discrimination. Before signing employment-related documents, you must talk with your attorney if your employer requires a drug test. Before signing employment-related documents, you must talk with your attorney if your employer requires a drug test.

(Visited 25 times, 1 visits today)
Brenda Coles
I'm an elementary school teacher who became a stay-at-home mother when my first child was born. I love to write about lifestyle, education, and news-related topics.