Drug Testing Employees Safely During The Coronavirus Pandemic

During this COVID-19 pandemic, workplace drug testing will require new guidelines and precautions, but safety shouldn’t be compromised.

Here is a real-life incident involving a test subject who, while waiting to take a drug test, found that a co-worker was coughing in the restroom. As there was a threat that his co-worker could have COVID-19, he refused to enter the bathroom.

The test was being conducted in a remote location in a company trailer on-site. There was no other restroom available.

The worker’s concern was legitimate, of course, since the coronavirus is contagious.  However, this understandably raised a red flag that maybe he was avoiding the test.

A short time before, he was prepared to work together with the co-worker with no apparent concern for his wellbeing.

How would your organization handle this matter?

Procedures

Things changed quickly after COVID-19 made its way to the U.S.

Drug testing firms immediately enhanced their security measures to offer a safe environment for both employees and their clients.

PPE

Social Distancing comes into practice; however, maintaining a distance of six feet is not always possible. That is particularly true when conducting the alcohol, mouth swab, or hair follicle drug test.

The CDC recommends taking additional precautions around any body fluids. Face masks or shields are worn to protect test subjects and collectors. Also, fresh gloves are used for each drug evaluation.

Sanitation Measures Increased

The most frequently used employee drug test is the urine test. Of course, standard procedures include sanitizing the bathrooms between tests. Sanitation measures have been improved to ensure safety.

Additionally, sanitation processes have been beefed up by drug testing centers, like frequently cleaning hard surfaces such as chairs, countertops, and doorknobs.

Collectors follow particular guidelines to clean breathalyzers after each use.

  • Breathalyzers are cleaned using a disinfectant or antimicrobial cleaner. Bleach-based cleaners are used instead of alcohol since using alcohol can affect the results of the test.
  • Hand sanitizers aren’t used by or around someone administering the test to prevent compromising the result also. Hand washing protocols issued by the CDC are followed.
  • The test subject may not touch the breathalyzer or collector or the with their hands.
  • A recently opened mouthpiece is required for each and every test.
  • The subject and breathalyzer are faced away from the collector.
  • The collector never touches the used mouthpiece — even if wearing gloves. Alternatively, the ejection tab is used to put the mouthpiece right into the trash.
  • Scissors used for taking hair samples for drug tests are adequately sanitized between uses.

Refusing To Test

If your workers show concern about reporting for a drug test, you can assure them that there are practices in place to shield them from the spread of the virus.

When an employee neglects a drug test for any reason — even COVID-19 concerns — it is reported as a refusal to test.

Collectors file the refusal and follow the company’s guidelines as drafted in its refusal to test policy. A well-documented report is crucial. It helps the company representative or employer to determine how to deal with the situation from that point.

If the organization is regulated by the DOT, refusals to test are reported to the MRO (Medical Review Officer). Management of the general workforce appoints someone to be liable for company drug testing. The documentation is reviewed. Then, it’s decided whether or not the case is deemed a refusal to test.

Moving Forward

Employers that are not held to government regulations might wish to consider upgrading your drug-free processes and policies. State clearly within the policy that if anyone refuses a drug test because of current health issues –such as we find ourselves in now — the worker agrees that their employer has the right to randomly examine them at any given point in time that the employer selects after the crisis has passed.

This change reduces the chance of your company being accused of singling someone out if you ask them to randomly have a drug test after having denied a test during a health crisis.

Employees who use drugs will probably attempt to wheedle their way from taking a drug test. A nationwide health emergency falls into that category. A policy upgrade gives you the right to have that worker tested at your discretion when the crisis passes.

If your company is regulated federally, adding this policy setting allows you to manage a non-DOT drug test at another time.

Speaking Of The Authorities

There’s been a rumor surfacing that drug testing is not being required by the DOT during the COVID-19 outbreak.

That’s not true.

In reality, the U.S. Department of Transportation published a statement near the end of March that touched on the importance of continuing drug testing during this time.

Our nation is depending on the transportation industry to keep shelves stocked with food and supplies. Additionally, it is responsible for seeing that required medical equipment and personal protective gear (PPG) reach their destinations.

Overall, the department is dedicated to preserving safety while enabling the transport industries to operate efficiently and safely during this crisis.

A person who uses alcohol or drugs is very likely to rely on them as a means of coping with a situation — especially during a time of high anxiety. The DOT must take on with scheduled drug testing.

Special Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s statement provided employers of the safety-sensitive workforce with a set of instructions to follow during this turbulent time.

They stated that drug testing should be continued unless the company found itself in a place that no longer had testing resources due to a limited workforce. They suggest if facilities are not available to them, use a mobile drug testing firm.

If drug testing isn’t possible due to a decreased workforce, local or state quarantine standards in place, or other restrictions, the company should document why a test wasn’t completed. If there is a drug evaluation not completed, employers can not let a prospective employee carry out any DOT safety-sensitive duties.

Staying The Course

The number one reason that employer’s drug test their employees is to provide the safest work environment for everybody. It’s a well-known truth that drug impairment puts the employee — and those around— at a higher risk of being involved in a workplace accident.

Also, drug use affects employers in a range of ways:

  • increased absenteeism
  • lower productivity, and
  • increased medical expenses.

Nobody wakes up one day and decides to become an addict.

Sadly, though, statistics reveal that 50 percent of drug users are born genetically predisposed. The rest 50% start using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism and become reliant on their drug of choice.

Even though many businesses have employees working during this outbreak from home, others are currently working many hours of overtime in hospitals, factories, and other companies that are essential to maintain our state-supplied with services and the products that we need to survive.

Overall, worker drug testing should continue since it plays a significant role in society. Everyone has the right to go to work without worrying about their safety.

Moreover, identifying permits you to point them. If they have lost their job for this, somebody who won’t acknowledge that they have an issue finds it difficult not to come to this understanding.

DOT Recommendation on Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations

This guidance document gives clarity to DOT-regulated companies, employees, and support representatives on managing DOT drug-and-alcohol testing provided concerns about COVID-19. We, as a country, are suffering an unprecedented public health crisis that is straining medical resources and changing aspects of American life, including the workplace. The Nation transport industries, which aren’t resistant to disruptions and the impacts caused by the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, are playing a vital role in lessening the effects of COVID-19.

DOT is dedicated to preserving safety while providing flexibility to permit transportation industries to run their operations safely and efficiently, in this period of national crisis.

The below information on compliance with the DOT and modal alcohol and drug testing programs apply during this period of national emergency.

For DOT-Regulated Employers:

  • As a DOT-regulated company, you must comply with applicable DOT testing and training requirements. But, DOT recognizes that compliance might not be possible in certain regions because of the unavailability of program tools, such as Breath Alcohol Technicians (BAT), Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP), and collection sites, Medical Review Officers (MRO). You need to make a reasonable attempt to find the necessary resources. When the collection facilities aren’t available for required testing, employers should consider mobile collection services as a best practice at the moment.
  • If you’re not able to manage DOT drug or alcohol training or testing as a result of COVID-19-related supply deficits, facility closures, state or locally enforced quarantine requirements, or other restrictions, you are going to continue to comply with present applicable DOT Agency requirements to record why a test wasn’t completed. If testing or training can be conducted later (e.g., random testing later in the selection period, supervisor reasonable suspicion training at the next available opportunity, follow-up testing later in the month), you are to do so by applicable modal regulations. Links to the modal rules and their individual web pages are found in https://www.transportation.gov/odapc/agencies.
  • If companies are not able to manage DOT alcohol and drug testing as a result of the unavailability of testing tools, the underlying modal ordinances continue to apply. By way of instance, with no “negative” pre-employment drug test result, an organization may not allow a potential or current employee to carry out any DOT safety-sensitive duties, or in the case of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you can’t employ the subject.
  • Moreover, DOT is aware that some employees have expressed concern about possible public health risks associated with the collection and testing procedure in the present environment. Employers should review the applicable DOT Agency guidelines for testing to learn whether flexibilities allow for collection and testing at a later date.
  • As a reminder, it’s the employer’s responsibility to assess the conditions of the worker’s refusal to test and determine whether the worker’s actions should be regarded as a refusal according to 49 CFR § 40.355(I). Though, as the COVID-19 outbreak poses a novel public health risk, DOT asks companies to be sensitive to employees who show they are not comfortable or are afraid to go to collection sites or clinics. DOT asks companies to verify with the collection site or clinic that it has taken the required precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Employers should revisit back-up plans to make sure the plans are current and useful for the current outbreak conditions. By way of instance, these programs should include accessibility to BAT and collection sites and collectors, and alternate/back-up MRO, as these may have changed because of the national emergency. Employers must also have proper communications with service agents regarding the service agent’s capability and availability to support your DOT alcohol and drug testing program.

For DOT-Regulated Employees:

  • If you’re experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms, you should contact your physician and, if needed, let your company know about your availability work.
  • If you have COVID-19-related questions about testing, you should consult them with your employer.
  • As a reminder, it is the employer’s responsibility to assess the employee’s conditions’ refusal to test and determine whether the worker’s actions should be considered a denial, according to 49 CFR § 40.355.

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