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5 Best Practices for Workplace Drug Testing

Date Published: December 02, 2015 | Last Updated: September 15, 2023 | By Accurate Background

The statistics surrounding workplace drug and alcohol use are alarming. Consider the following:

  • According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • According to Quest Diagnostics, the positivity rate for urine drug tests among non-safety-sensitive workers in the United States was at 4.5% in 2019, the highest level since 2004.
  • Positivity rates in the general US workforce population increased from 4.8% in 2015 to 5.1% in 2018.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly detected drug.
  • The Other Services and Retail Trade industries have positivity rates well above the 5.1% average.
  • Workplace abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs is expensive, costing more than $700 billion a year in losses related to crime, low morale, lost productivity, accidents, and increased health care needs.

Employee drug testing is an important tool for protecting your brand and employees and establishing a drug-free workplace that’s good for you and your employees. These 5 drug testing best practices will help you build and maintain a successful drug screening program for your organization.

“70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.” 

1. Testing Methods

Testing options include urine, hair, blood, sweat, and oral fluid (saliva). The gold standard for drug testing is the 5-panel urine drug test that screens for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). However, if you have candidates in a safety-sensitive position or who have access to specific medications, you may want to evaluate and expand the testing panel. Urine tests are inexpensive, quick, and reasonably reliable, which largely explains why over 90% of all drug tests conducted in the US each year are done using urine.

When it comes to other drug testing methods, detection windows, accuracy, and cost are all important considerations. Saliva tests are the next most common, but their detection window maxes out at about 2 days. Blood testing is expensive and invasive, but is the most reliable for determining if the individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol right now. Hair testing has the longest detection window, nearly 90 days, and is the least invasive method of all, but also has the highest cost. However, hair tests will show a pattern of habitual drug use, which other tests cannot reveal.

Select a method of workplace drug testing for your policy that will cover the needs of your specific industry. For example, all federally mandated drug testing is done via urine samples and many healthcare organizations require an expanded drug testing panel if their employees are going to work with prescription medications.

2. Testing Window

Faking out drug tests is an all too common strategy of many drug users. To be effective, your drug policy needs to define drug testing windows that give candidates and employees a reasonable time to complete the drug screen but not enough time to beat the system. Twenty-four hours is considered to be a good standard for job applicants, giving them time to get to the facility but staying well within the screening window for most substances in a urine test.

Random workplace drug tests as well as drug tests following reasonable suspicion events or accidents will need to meet a different time standard. These tests need to be completed within a tight 1-3 hour window to be effective. Your policy should clearly lay out your time expectations with regard to workplace drug screenings.

3. Random Testing

Implementing a random drug testing program is one of the best ways to ensure a drug free workplace. Random drug testing is a best practice by the Department of Transportation and has been shown to deter employees from abusing alcohol and drugs once they are hired by a company. To be effective, your policy should include the following:

  • Random selection. Truly random selection gives every single employee exactly the same odds of being selected each round. Even an employee that’s been selected the previous two rounds has the same selection odds in the next round.
  • Tight time windows. Employees selected for random drug testing should be tested immediately. If you don’t have a collection site at your location, the employees should be directed to the closest site to complete the test within one to three hours.
  • Fast lab turnaround times. Positive tests require confirmation. Your drug testing lab must be able to accomplish this quickly as employees who have tested positive cannot work.
  • Conscientious compliance. Drug testing laws vary widely. Working with a professional drug testing partner will ensure your policies are in compliance with local laws.
  • Thorough Documentation. Keep clear records of everything from test notification to results and everything in between.

4. Electronic Tools

Electronic tools such as client portals and scheduling apps streamline the drug testing process and make everyone’s experience smoother. Accurate intelligent drug screening services are designed to help you make quick, compliant, informed decisions so you can maintain a healthy workforce while complying with all your industry guidelines. Paperless systems create a closed loop where all relevant information is stored in one repository, making access to schedules, results, and compliance documents as easy as pressing a button.

Electronic scheduling provides a number of significant benefits, including the following:

  • A view into what happens once an order is placed and the donor is notified to complete the test.
  • Easy to locate test results and confirmations that the donor has completed the drug test.
  • Candidate tools that help them find a site and schedule a test.

5. Comprehensive Drug Test Policy

Your company policy for drug testing employees should be consistent and clear and provide a detailed explanation of what employees can expect. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, provides a toolkit that can walk you through the elements of an effective drug testing policy. At minimum, your written policy should contain the following:

● A clear explanation of the rationale for the policy such as general organizational goals or compliance with law
● Expectations for compliance detailing who, what, when, and where
● Support options for employees
● Consequences for violations


Accurate offers a completely customizable process for drug testing through our online background check platform, our background check API, as well as through ATS integration. Clients work directly with an Onboarding team member to ensure your unique requirements are captured and implemented.

Contact us to learn more about Accurate’s drug testing health services.