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How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changes Drug Testing

COVID-19 has changed work dynamics in many ways. As remote work rises due to the pandemic, drug use has increased and the drug testing landscape has also changed. This article focuses on what employers and employees should know about the employment drug testing process in this altered work dynamic.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several aspects of the work and personal lives of individuals have changed. Nonessential companies alongside their employees have tilted towards remote work also known as "work from home." Over 40 million Americans lost their jobs and companies still struggle to adapt to the new system. One crucial matter they need to adapt to is making sure that the age-long employment drug testing policy is adjusted for a rapidly changing work environment.

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covid-19 drug testing

How COVID-19 Affects Employment Drug Testing

The coronavirus pandemic poses some challenges to companies that drug test employees normally. Employee drug testing raises some crucial questions about personal protective equipment, safety, and social distancing. Luckily, a large number of these tests are done in health care clinics and these hospitals are equipped to manage the accompanying risks. Many of these drug testing locations are open, but the employees must be prepared to observe social distancing and wear masks. The tests have also not changed, but there is a need for the employees to sit further away from the lab technician when the paperwork is being processed. In the same vein, collection sites must be sanitized according to OSHA guidelines. The employees must also be aware of the safety precautions so they can know that steps have been taken to keep them safe.

Drug Testing Remote Workers

Due to the rapid and dramatic shift to working from home, there is an increased risk of alcohol and drug use especially for people who aren’t used to being home always. The increased health-related and economic strain as well as the closure of many social gathering places, has caused a 55 percent rise in the consumption of alcohol compared to the previous year. Also, drug use may be on the increase for the same reason. So, companies need to continue their regular drug testing policies to ensure that stress-related drug use does not affect their workplace.

Considering the fact that drugs are harder to resist in the circumstances, the staff are likely to push back. Employers have the duty to remind remote staff of all regulations that the industry abide by to clear any misconception. Also, they should reiterate that all alcohol and drug policies remain effective during the remote working period. The employees must be aware of what the company policies are and the consequences when such rules are not followed.

Drug Testing Furloughed Employees

Employers cannot test furloughed employees while they aren't working. However, if the employees are retuned after being furloughed for over a month or more, they can be treated as new hires. Lots of companies ensure that their staff reinstatement process includes the usual onboarding requirements. In many cases, pre-employment drug testing may be a part of these requirements.

Drug Testing Those Who Continue to Work

If an employee falls into a high-risk category for COVID-19 or has a chronic disease, the person may be unwilling to go to the lab to submit a saliva sample. In such cases, it is not an unreasonable request. The tricky part for the employers is determining whether the employee refused to get tested for valid reasons. The pandemic makes it even more complicated.

There is a guideline that covers refusals to get tested. The DOT guideline remains the same in the case. It is the responsibility of the employer to consider the circumstances of the refusal of the employee to test. Also, the employer will need to determine whether or not the action of the employee is considered a refusal.

In non regulated industries, drug testing is solely controlled by the employer. The employer determines how to manage the drug testing program. There are also federal laws as well as local and state laws play a part in all non-DOT testing procedures. The law can offer guidance for any employer who struggles with drug testing during the COVID-19 era. However, DOT’s guidelines remain a great resource.

Moving Forward

A lot of people hope that the economy can recover quickly from the effects of the pandemic. However, no one knows when it will end and how it will change the drug testing procedures in post-pandemic world. Companies as well as their employees must understand all the risks. Even though a large bulk of employees are now working from home or being furloughed, one thing has clearly not changed in the corporate world of America: drug use isn’t tolerated. If you want to get a job, you have to pass a drug test.