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11 Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

why do employers drug test

Why do employers drug test applicants? Even though the benefits are obvious to most, job seekers often ask us about the reasons drug testing has become ubiquitous. Here are 11 benefits employers and employees gain from drug testing.

Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

  1. Productivity
  2. Safety
  3. Insurance Purposes
  4. Reputation
  5. Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help
  6. Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean
  7. Lower Costs
  8. Avoid Lawsuits
  9. Gather Evidence
  10. Improve Work Environment
  11. Avoid Drug Related Incidents


At the end of the day running a business is about making money. It boils down to taking raw materials, adding labor and creating a marketable product that people want. Anything a company can do to increase the amount of work that is completed in the same amount of time will increase profits.

According to the National Safety Council workers with a substance abuse disorder miss 50% more days than average workers, and workers with pain medication use disorder miss 300% more days.

Absenteeism by drug users
An older study showed a 59.3% increase in absences that became progressively worse as time went on.


In extreme cases opiate users will sleep on the job. Drug use makes employees inconsistent at best, and downright dangerous and counterproductive in some cases.

A classic study outlined in “Under The Influence? Drugs in the American Workforce.” found that identified drug users had a 64% higher rate of receiving disciplinary warnings and were 5 times as likely to receive poor performance evaluations from their supervisors.

Negative work performance of drug users
This graph from “An Evaluation of Pre Employment Drug Testing” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed applicants with a positive pre employment drug screen had significantly higher disciplinary infractions all around.

An employee that uses drugs will often use on the job. Their breaks are longer and they take longer to regain focus when returning. You also need to contend with the possibility of days when the employee has taken too much drugs and days when they are suffering withdrawal. Most recovering drug addicts admit that withdrawal made them useless at work. Employees that have a prescription for a narcotic drug avoid many of the ways drug use can affect production, but are still subject to negative impacts caused by the effects of the drug.


One of the primary reasons employers why drug test is because of worker safety. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 77% of drug users were employed full or part time. Drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or a coworker in an on the job accident. They’re 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim.

Opioids can impair thinking and reaction time. Marijuana has been proven to affect reaction time and short term memory. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine affect self awareness and risk analysis. All drugs affect an individual’s capacity for judgement.

Rates of Substance Abuse by industry
A 2017 study suggested substance abuse costs employers $100 billion annually. These figures show rates of substance abuse across industries.


Insurance purposes

Some employers drug test because they have to. Many insurance companies will not even sell insurance to an organization that doesn’t have an employee drug use policy in place. Some types of insurance offer a discount for organizations that have a strict and extensive policy regarding employee drug use.

Anyone company that receives a federal grant or is contracted by the federal government is required to maintain a drug free workplace which is outlined in the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. Several states offer a discount on workers compensation premiums to companies that maintain the same guidelines. These States are:

State Discounts for A Drug-Free Work Place 

As of October 2018, 13 states had laws that provide a discount on workers compensation insurance to employers that implement a drug-free workplace.

    • Alabama codes §25-5-330 – §25-5-340 provides a five percent discount to employers that establish a drug-free workplace.
    • Arkansas code §11-14-101-112, employers with drug-free workplace programs may qualify for a five percent discount on workers’ compensation premiums.
    • Florida State code §440.102 provides a five percent reduction in premiums to employers that implement and maintain an insurer-certified drug-free workplace program in accordance with the standards set forth in the Act.
    • Georgia §33-9-40.2 & §34-9-412 provides a 7.5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that have implemented a drug-free workplace program that is certified by the state Board of Workers’ Compensation. Employers must submit their certificate to their insurer annually.
    • Idaho Sections 72-1701 through 72-1716 of the Idaho code provide that public employers who conduct drug and alcohol testing of all current and prospective employees shall qualify for and may be granted an employer Workers’ Compensation premium reduction.
    • Kentucky State regulations 803 KAR 25.280 allow employers that implement a drug-free workplace program a 5% reduction of their insurance premium.
    • Mississippi Under Mississippi Code, Sections 71-3-201 through 71-3-225, employers that establish a drug-free workplace program may submit an application to their insurer for a 5 percent reduction in their workers’ compensation premium.
    • Ohio Program established via O.A.C. 4123-17-58. Employers may enroll in the Drug-Free Safety Program offered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Employers that fulfill the requirements may receive a discount of four to seven percent on their workers compensation premium.
    • New York Part 60 of Sect. 134 of WC created the Workplace Safety and Loss Prevention Incentive Program. Employers with an experience modifier of less than 1.30 and an annual WC premium of at least $5,000 are eligible for a voluntary program. They may receive a separate credit (typically 2%) for each of the following: safety, return-to-work, and drug and alcohol prevention.
    • South Carolina §38-73-500 provides 5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that voluntarily establish a drug-free workplace program.
    • Tennessee State codes §50-9-101 to §50-9-114 provide a 5 percent discount on premiums if employers establish a drug-free workplace program as outlined in the law.
    • Virginia §65.2-813.2 provides a 5 percent premium discount for employers who institute a drug-free workplace program. The program must satisfy requirements established by the insurer.
    • Wyoming Under §27-14-201, employers that implement a drug-testing program may qualify for a base rate discount up to 10%. This program is offered by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.



With the increased adoption of social media customers are quicker than ever to emotionally lash out at a company in an online review for even the smallest offense. People getting fired for a single tweet has become an everyday occurrence.

Every employee is a reflection of the business they work for. When an employee shows themselves to be insensitive or unaware the public accuses their employer of the same charge.

The same associations apply to employees on drugs. Even employees that hide their drug use very well on the job may be more open in their private lives. A single employee that presents a persona of drug use can make everyone that meets them or views their social media associate that persona with their employer.

Illegal drug use doesn’t need a whistleblower. It was the Santa Cruz county coroner that shed light on the culture of drug use in Silicon Valley when Google executive Timothy Hayes died from a heroin overdose in 2014. As reporters probed colleagues and employees at other tech companies they found that hard drug use (including methamphetamine and heroin) was above average and drug testing was almost non-existent in Silicon Valley.

It is more critical than ever for businesses to brand themselves as a positive contributor to their community. In most cases any association with drug use suggests negative connotations that are easily attached to a brand, but very difficult to address.

It’s important to stay compassionate and give employees a chance to address their problems. A great example of a drug addict cleaning up their act and enjoying positive PR is Robert Downey Jr. After a few episodes of bad press Robert went into rehab, came our clean and went on to star in one of the most profitable movie franchises ever. A community focused company makes encouraging positive behavior and compassion part of their mission.

Robert Downey Jr
Robert Downey Jr. has enjoyed enormous popularity and success after recovering from bad PR associated with drug use.

Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help

Even though substance abuse can be a big problem for employers, employees that are in recovery miss fewer days than average workers and have a 21% lower turnover rate. Gainful employment at a company that drug tests is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean.

Since the incentive to get clean is tied so closely to employment, this is an opportunity for businesses to give back to the communities they serve. Identifying drug use through testing doesn’t have to be all about the benefits for the business. Even though recovery is hard and it takes most addicts several attempts and a strong will to succeed, instigating a successful recovery is a very rewarding part of drug-free-workplace policy.

Most reputable companies offer employees that fail a drug test the opportunity to attend an in-patient program. Most employer insurance plans do pay for in patient treatment, and since the Affordable Care Act all drug treatment programs are supposed to be covered by insurance.

Belden Inc. was having such a hard time dealing with applicants and employees struggling with opiate abuse that they started a program that paid for employees drug treatment.

Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean

As I mentioned before the promise of secure gainful employment is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean. It’s also the biggest incentive for drug users to stay clean.

Most of the recovered addicts we have met through this business used getting a job as their first step forward in recovery. This led to many starting families, adopting hobbies and making new friends. At some point the idea of losing your income is worse than avoiding drug use and many addicts fall into a normal routine.

Companies associated with addiction treatment and rehabilitation are especially known for having great success hiring recovering addicts. Since recovering addicts miss less work and are more likely to stay loyal to a company, this could be as self serving a reason as it is an altruistic one.

Joe Arndt VP of Delta Lighting
Joe Arndt, the Vice President of Delta Lighting recruits employees that are in recovery. He has found that people in active recovery tend to be better employees.


Joe Arndt, Vice President of Delta Lighting, has been recruiting recovering addicts for several years. When asked why he said, “They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”.

“They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”

-Joe Arndt, VP of Delta Lighting on hiring addicts in recovery

Despite the fact that many studies show recovering addicts make better employees and several initiatives developed to help those in recovery find a job, the unemployment rate of drug addicts in recovery is approximately twice as high as the national unemployment rate.

Lower Costs

Healthcare costs for substance abuse treatment programs were about $35 billion in 2015. Another $85 billion is spent treating illness, injuries and infections related to substance abuse. Employers that offer health insurance will almost definitely pay higher premiums even if their employees do not report substance abuse.

The cost of retraining the least skilled employee is often tens of thousands of dollars. With drug users having more absences, getting in more accidents and being less productive in general companies often find themselves in an endless cycle of replacing people if they cannot weed out applicants that use drugs during the hiring process.

When you start to add up productivity losses, higher workers comp and insurance premiums, employee absences, higher healthcare costs and the cost of on site incidents, it’s hard to believe an employer can afford not to drug test their employees.

Avoid Lawsuits.

A positive drug test can turn a common workplace accident into costly negligence lawsuit. Negligent hiring and retention lawsuits are becoming more common and judges are more frequently ruling against employers. Plaintiffs prefer to file against a corporation or small business that has deeper pockets and lawyers are more likely to present the weaker case with the hopes of getting a bigger settlement.

As previously mentioned, drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or others and 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim. OSHA has deemed post injury drug testing to be retaliatory in nature and it can expose a company to worker’s compensation retaliation tort claims, so it is important to identify and address the possibility before it becomes a reality.

A few examples of lawsuits that found the company responsible for the drug or alcohol use of their employees:

  • Chesterman v. Barmon: The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that an employer’s liability for the criminal actions of an employee who was taking mescaline and amphetamines was a question for the jury to decide.
  • Otis Engineering Corp. v. Clark: A drunk machine operator was sent home by his employer. On the way home he caused an automobile accident killing himself and two occupants of another car. The Texas Supreme Court held the employer liable.
  • Brockett v. Kitchen Boyd Motor Co.: An employee left an office Christmas party after having too much to drink. The employee caused an automobile accident and the employer was held liable for injuries suffered by third parties.

Gather Evidence

The goal of post accident drug testing is to find the truth and either exonerate or convict the person involved in the accident. Regardless of the circumstances a positive drug test can affect a company’s liability to an employee that is injured on the job.

A positive drug screen is also grounds for termination in most states. Most companies will try and avoid having a claim on their unemployment insurance if possible and a positive drug screen is almost iron clad.

It’s important to stay educated on drug tests and their admissibility in court if you plan on using results for more than coercing an employee to resign on their own. It’s also important to understand the legal guidance for drug testing in the workplace.

For instance OSHA recently issued a memorandum on workplace safety incentives and post accident drug testing. Their guidance is primarily meant to keep employee drug testing consistent and avoid any type of unfair targeting. For post accident drug testing

“Post-incident drug testing should be conducted consistently on any employee whose conduct may have contributed to the accident, and not merely the employee who was injured in an accident.”

So during an investigation of a fork-lift driver hitting another employee both employees should be drug tested and not just the driver.

Improve Work Environment

Theft, crime and violence all increase with levels of employee drug use. Company morale drops quickly when a co worker that has a substance abuse problem isn’t doing as much work, isn’t coming in on time and isn’t being disciplined for it.

Drug use is often a major aspect of a user’s life. Thoughts of getting drugs and using drugs are frequently on their mind even at times when they should be focused on their work.

It’s not fair to other employees that drug addicted co workers use up more of a company’s resources. It’s also not fair that an employee would need to worry about her personal belongings being stolen at work because a co-worker is feeding their drug habit.

It’s important to consider company culture when drafting drug testing policies. Some companies have experienced pushback and negative reactions when instituting company wide drug testing policies.

Some people see it as an invasion of their privacy. Studies have shown that when jobs are more dangerous employees are more open and even supportive of strict drug testing policies. Whether drug testing aligns with employees’ political stance, everyone wants a safer work environment, higher morale and peace of mind not having to worry about thievery and other drug related property crimes at work.

Avoid Extreme Issues That Cause Problems on All Levels

Some incidents that could have been entirely avoided by drug testing have such a high cost that they’re hard to classify in this list. For instance in 2014 a McDonald’s employee was arrested for selling heroin in Happy Meals. The employee would include a bag of heroin in the happy meal box if a customer said “I’d like to order a toy” when placing their order. Besides the lost revenue from an employee running an illegal drug dealing operation out the restaurant instead of working, besides the obvious safety issues associated with putting hard drugs in a meal designed for children, you cannot create a fictional headline more damming from a public relations perspective.

Even though a drug test may not have identified the criminal, it would have likely uncovered widespread drug use among the staff.  Other employees had to have been aware of the scheme and more than likely were given drugs to ignore it.

In another episode a customer is suing McDonalds after he ingested a soft drink spiked with Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is widely prescribed as a maintenance drug. A post accident drug test of the staff would have likely found the culprit.

The recent Netflix documentary “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” tells the story of Sonja Farak, a lab chemist that was found to be stealing drugs and getting high at work. In this case her actions led to 24,000 cases being overturned by the state of Massachusetts. The total costs and repercussions associated with this example cannot be measured. It could have all been avoided with a $2.50 12 panel drug test.



It’s even more astonishing that the state of Massachusetts had just dealt with a similar issue. Annie Dookhan had faked test results and adulterated others in a bid to win over her superiors. The state’s entire policy should have been revised and the most obvious tactic, random drug testing employees, should have been added.

So why do employers drug test?

Considering all the disadvantages and damages that are likely to be caused by employee drug use and considering the obstacles involved with reacting to a drug related problem in the workplace it should be clear why employers drug test their employees. Any business that does not currently have policies addressing employee drug use should start planning the implementation of pre-employment and random drug testing immediately. We are happy to help readers with their plans and answer questions about our products and the industry. Feel free to contact us for additional information.