Work Options News


Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry

Hiring: should I conduct a pre-employment drug and alcohol testing or not?

Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing has been relatively common in industries such as mining, construction, transport and logistics in Australia.  It is now on the rise in white-collar industries as well, as companies try to prevent problems due to the increase in drug use in Australia.

You’re looking to hire a new employee and are now facing the dilemma of whether or not to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing. As an employer, you have an obligation to eliminate or otherwise manage the risks of inappropriate drug and alcohol use.  However, testing workers for drug and alcohol use can be controversial, but also a vital part of your workplace health and safety program.

There are pros and cons of pre-employment drug testing. For one, it enables managers to minimise the risk of their staff using illegal drugs on the job, possibly leading to potential accidents. But many business owners shy away from testing their employees for drug and alcohol use because doing so could incur a considerable cost for the company.

Both sides present valid points, so it is important for you as a manager to research thoroughly before making a decision. Following are some reasons to consider whether you should or shouldn’t implement pre-employment drug and alcohol testing:

You should because:
Safety – maintaining a drug and alcohol-free workforce ensures that the environment remains safe and healthy.  This could minimise the threat of drug-related incidents.  Without pre-employment drug testing, it is very difficult for an employer to identify workers who may pose a risk to everyone in the workplace due to drug and alcohol misuse.

Work issues that may arise – the use of drugs and alcohol on the job may affect the quality of employee’s work, increase their absenteeism or coming in late and result in lost productivity.  The cost of pre-employment drug and alcohol testing may save your business money later on as a result of not having to re-hire or compensate an injured employee.

Possible legal liabilities – Drug and alcohol use on the job poses a clear risk to employers.  Should an accident occur caused by a drug-using employee where other staff members are injured, the employer could face legal liability because they failed to maintain a safe working environment.  Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing demonstrates that an employer is making an effort to ensure a safe working environment for everyone.

Company image and reputation – Should a drug-related incident in your business be reported in the press, it could be extremely damaging to your company image and reputation, as it doesn’t paint a picture of a company that a future client would trust with their business.

Improved staff morale – when staff know that their safety is taken seriously by their employer, it tends to raise morale.  They feel valued and more motivated and committed.

Employees with drug and alcohol problems need help – pre-employment drug testing is beneficial to the employee as well as the employer.  It can assist them with getting the help they need.

Common reasons employers shy away from testing:
Cost – Some employers believe that pre-employment drug and alcohol testing can be expensive and affect the business’ bottom line.

In reality, it is actually a very good return on investment.  A standard drug and alcohol test starts at around $40.  This is extremely little in comparison to the cost of accidents and injuries or brand damage.

Privacy issues – some employees feel it violates their privacy and their rights to choose how they spend their own free time.  It may also lead them to feel that their employer doesn’t trust them.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is not only beneficial for the business owner, but for the drug-using employees as well. A drug test is not meant to humiliate a potential employee but assist them in getting the proper help that they need.

Potential lawsuits – drug and alcohol testing need to be clearly known to potential employees, otherwise they may take legal action depending on the consequences.

A sound drug policy that is demonstrably known to your employees is key to avoiding major legal issues.

So, to test or not to test?  The pros clearly outweigh the cons.  A drug and alcohol-free work environment is critical to ensuring the health and safety of all your employees.

Find out how you can minimise the risk of drug and alcohol use in your workplace or contact Work Options on (02) 9957 1300

Urine testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Drug testing in the workplace is a common practice, particularly within high-risk industries who are at a greater risk of accidents and injury occurring. It’s important to note however, the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but rather to reduce the negative impacts – physical, financial, emotional or otherwise – of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

‘Drug and alcohol users lodge 5x more workers compensation claims than other employees’

In Australia both urine and oral fluid testing are acceptable means to test for drugs, however which one is right for an individual workplace depends on a range of factors, which includes industry specific legislation. Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

In this case we look at urine testing and what it can achieve in reducing the risk of workplace drug use and its impacts.

What is a urine drug test and how does it work?
A urine drug test analyses urine for the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications, and is a common and accepted means of testing in Australian workplaces. Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4308). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through urine:
Urine testing screens for the following drug groups. But how long after a drug is used will it still be detected through a urine drug screen? This can vary depending on a multitude of factors including route of administration / strength of drug / individual metabolism. So there is no exact answer. However the following timeframes can be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when urine testing:

  • Whilst measures are taken to ensure privacy, typically urine testing is considered more invasive than oral fluid testing, due to the nature of collection. A bathroom or private room is required to make the collection, which can be viewed as an invasion of privacy by Fair Work Australia, and workers themselves, and may also be considered logistically difficult for some when conducted on work sites.
  • Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  • Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (positive drug screens) do not correlate with impairment. But certainly represents that there is a risk an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  • If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4308, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  • Positive drug tests can provide insight into lifestyle choices of individual workers, which may have negative social affects.

‘62% of harmful drug and alcohol users are employed fulltime’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies