Vital rules to consider before you ask your employees to take a drug test


Make sure you dot all your i's and cross all your t's when subjecting employees to drug tests as the process is quite invasive.

There isn't a work environment on this planet that is safe from drug abuse. The type of drug, the motivation and frequency of use may differ per individual, but the consequences are generally every bit as devastating. The price companies pay manifest in low morale, high rates of illness, increased absenteeism, accidents, errors, as well as the risk of theft for those struggling to support their habits.

The question becomes: How do you, as a responsible employer, approach the situation fairly, legally and to the benefit of the organisation as a whole? As with all labour related rights issues, your company policy regarding testing your employees for illegal substances has to be clear.

To reap the benefits of drug testing, the process should be well defined and comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and other South African laws. Do keep in mind that drug testing is meant to dissuade drug abuse, create a safe work environment and combat the negative effects it has on overall productivity. Drug abuse in the workplace can be treated as a misconduct.

Read: Issuing warnings in the workplace

The ins and outs of drug testing must be stipulated:

• Which drugs are going to be tested for?

• When will the tests take place?

• Where will the tests take place?

• What type of test will be performed?

For example, urine or blood test or non-invasive methods using hair, nails, saliva or sweat.

• What are the consequences of a non-negative result?

If an employee tests positive for illegal substances, the company is obligated to send him for rehabilitation if the employee is willing to pursue that route.

Throughout the entire process, you have to be careful not to infringe on your employee's’ rights:

• Your employee must give consent

This could be after he signed the employment contract. The company handbook should contain this too.

• Test everybody

Random drug tests must be random. You can be accused of discrimination and/or victimisation if you only test a select few. A great rule of thumb is to test in groups according to the nature of the job they perform.

• Breaching privacy is sensitive

The last thing you want to do is search your employees without the proper written policies in place. For example, ensure there’s a witness and that body searches are conducted by someone that’s the same sex as the employee being searched.

• You cannot force anyone to undergo a drug test

If you have covered it in your company policy, any employee that refuses can be subjected to a disciplinary hearing.

Read: How to deal with alcohol abuse in the workplace

According to section 14 of the OHSA, all your employees are obliged to prevent any intoxicated employee from entering and remaining in the workplace. It is advised that you train all your employees about these provisions not only to empower them, but also to ensure that you’re able to enforce their obligation. You should even be made aware of employees that cannot perform their duties properly because they are on medication. Sometimes, drug tests produce a false non-negative for employees that have taken over-the-counter meds or ate certain food stuffs.

Since employees must give written consent to being tested and provide permission for the results to be communicated to a third party, it is advised that all employee contracts should include a drug testing policy. A fair procedure allows little wiggle room for transgressors to slip through the cracks.

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