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Substance abuse in the workplace is a serious and growing challenge for employers already struggling to maintain a healthy workforce and keep costs down. The legalization of marijuana and the explosive growth of opioid and synthetic drug use in recent years are only compounding the problem. And it’s a crisis that can hit employers in the bottom line in so many ways:

  • Lost productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • More injuries and fatalities
  • Theft
  • Lower employee morale
  • Higher healthcare costs
  • Legal liabilities
  • Higher workers’ compensation costs

According to the International Risk Management Institute, substance abusers have accident rates 3.6 times above normal and are 2.5 times more likely to be absent from work. And when you include alcohol and other illegal drugs, substance abuse is costing U.S. employers an average of nearly $100 billion every year in workers’ compensation claims, equipment damage, and lost productivity.

That’s why so many employers use post-accident drug screening in an effort to maintain a sober, addiction-free workforce and reduce their overall workers’ compensation costs. But is it ultimately effective?

Opinions are mixed. It seems like a good idea. After all, a drug-free workforce is a safer, more productive workforce, and that can mean fewer accidents, fewer claims, and lower costs. But the long-term benefits are questionable.

It’s true an employee can be denied workers’ compensation benefits for being impaired at the time of an injury, which can save you money. But in many situations, drug tests simply can’t determine that. Drug testing is also costly, and there’s a general lack of evidence that it has any impact on long-term performance or safety, or that it reduces employee drug use.

On top of that, the legal gray areas are getting more complex as more states relax marijuana laws, and as abuse of painkillers prescribed by doctors – including to treat work injuries – continues to rise.

To get the most from your post-accident drug screening, it needs to be well organized and legally sound:

  • Know the law. Be aware of your state’s laws regarding drug testing and have your post-accident drug screening policy regularly reviewed by legal counsel.
  • Put it in writing. Include your post-accident and other drug testing policies in your company’s employee handbook, and require your employees to sign an acknowledgement agreeing to the terms.
  • Test immediately after an injury. If at all possible, demand that an employee be drug tested immediately following a workplace injury or accident. If you wait, it’s easier for the employee to challenge whether he was impaired at the time of the injury.
  • Provide unbiased emergency care. No matter what a post-accident drug screening reveals, the employee should get the same level of emergency medical care or assistance as any other.
  • Use a reputable lab. Make sure drug test results are processed at a reputable lab to help avoid having those results challenged as inaccurate. Although not required for private employers, the Department of Labor recommends using Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration certified laboratories for workplace drug testing.

While post-accident drug screening has questionable long-term benefits for reducing workers’ compensation costs, it’s just one of many tools available to you for fighting those rising costs.

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