Time To Let Go of Blanket Drug Test Programs

by Rick Cusick

There is so little common sense in workplace drug testing that when an unlikely outbreak of smart ideas occur it should be noted.

Until 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agreed that employers would be smart to adopt a blanket drug test policy. A blanket policy calls for workplace drug testing to happen only under very specific circumstances, like before employment or after an accident. Such a policy can apply to any workplace injury like a pulled muscle or even a minor cut. The supervisors liked these programs because they are removed from the responsibility of having to make a decision, the drug test companies prefer blanket programs because they get to drug test every scraped knuckle and bee sting, and the employees hold tight to their blanket because it seems to eliminate supervisory discrimination. If the policy is followed, circumstances, not supervisors, schedule the test.

But in mid-2016 OSHA released its “Improved Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” report and suggested that blanket drug test programs might be making employees reluctant to report workplace accidents at all. And even though OSHA stopped short of banning blanket drug test policies, it recommended employers limit post-accident drug tests to situations in which drug use appears to be a factor. This kicks the can of responsibility back to the reluctant supervisors who must now exercise a little judgement to make a responsible call. The fact that an accident simply occurred should not be sufficient reason to mandate a drug test.

There are exceptions. If testing is required by state unemployment compensation laws or falls under a federal guideline, the OSHA guidelines are not considered. This recommendation is for the private sector only, and private sector employers are free to ignore the OSHA report.

But it is rare when common sense coincides to drug testing. Maybe this will help reduce blanket drug test policies in the workspace, but I doubt it. The drug test companies will continue to insist that blanket drug testing, with all its foibles and flaws, is still the best way we have of know for sure if marijuana was the reason you got stung by that bee.