In last month’s article, we discussed the logistics of the drug screening process and the reasons for delayed result reporting, including issues such as the medical review process in which a certified provider must review and declare a positive result with the employee who was tested.
Pending drug screen results have caused human resource and safety professionals to ask, “What do I do with the employee while I await results? Do I let the employee continue to work, and how do I decide?” These are valid questions and should be dealt with in drug testing policies. As with most of these questions, the answers are related to the circumstances.
Recently, our facility had an employer use the rapid-screening process for pre-employment screening. According to their union contract, their workers began hourly pay the moment they stepped into our clinic for testing. If the drug testing results were inconclusive, the worker continued to accrue pay until the results were confirmed. If the result was negative, the worker received the pay and was placed. If it was positive, the worker received no pay and was terminated. Given the volume of employees tested for this employer, they consulted their attorney regarding workers with unconfirmed negative results—some were getting paid to sit at home. Their counsel told them that under no circumstances should they allow a worker onsite without a confirmed negative drug screen. Paying those employees whose drug screen would ultimately report as a negative was simply a “liability insurance” policy.
Another consideration is why the drug test was performed. If it’s a routine random test, such as required by the DOT for truck drivers, it makes little sense to take a driver off the road for a couple of days. In contrast, if the screen was a rapid-screening performed for hiring purposes and the employee doesn’t have a confirmed negative test, it makes little sense to let the potential employee begin working.
In the case of a “reasonable suspicion” test, many employers will “stand down” the employee—give the employee time off pending results until the results are confirmed. If the results are negative, the employee returns with back pay. However, if the test is positive, he or she may be terminated without back pay.
Stand down policies should be integrated into most workplace drug testing policies to reduce the risks of discrimination claims and safety liability. However, many employers haven’t addressed the issue. When developing or reviewing your stand down procedures, remember that the policy needs to be consistent throughout the workforce. Some employers may make exceptions for an employee class that isn’t “safety sensitive,” but in my opinion, consistency is your protection. In many ways, you’re paying for liability insurance. Also, make sure you have the policy in writing and included in your employee handbook, if applicable.
Unfortunately, drug screening is an ever-increasing necessity for today’s workforce. As we’ve previously noted, companies without drug screening policies risk employing more drug users. IBI