Periodic drug testing is often lesser-known than other instances when workplace drug testing and alcohol testing is carried out. However, there are some important reasons to consider it as an integral part of your company policies and procedures.

What Is Periodic Drug Testing And How Does It Differ From Other Forms of Drug Testing?

Alcohol testing and drug testing is designed to detect the presence of illicit drugs, alcohol, and sometimes prescription medications in an individual's system.

Drug tests can be carried out for various reasons. Pre-employment tests such as fit-for-work testing may include drug and alcohol tests. Testing can also be conducted randomly, after a workplace accident, or on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

Periodic testing, however, is carried out on a regular basis within the company. It is different from other forms of testing because it is uniformly administered. All current employees are tested rather than those who have been singled out in specific situations.

Periodic testing is not random. Instead, it is scheduled in advance at pre-determined intervals. Some companies might choose to carry out periodic testing once per year, as part of an annual physical for all employees. It is also possible to carry it out more frequently, for example, on a quarterly basis, if the employer chooses to do so.

Periodic Testing Compliance with Federal, State and Local Laws

In some industries, drug testing is legally mandated and regulated by federal laws. This is the case for those in safety-sensitive positions such as those within the Department of Transportation (DOT). Periodic testing is not a part of DOT's federally mandated drug testing policies.

Outside of specific industries, drug and alcohol testing is likely to be voluntary. (Find out more in "DOT vs. Non DOT Testing: What's the Difference?").

Companies that fall under the voluntary banner for drug testing often choose to implement workplace drug and alcohol testing. Periodic drug and alcohol testing can be included as part of an overall plan to improve workplace safety and productivity.

Industries that fall under the voluntary drug testing banner must still comply with applicable laws. Federal laws outline specifications about worker rights. State and local laws around drug testing must also be followed. (Find out more in "What is the difference between open, voluntary, and mandatory State laws around drug testing?").

The Benefits of Periodic Testing And Why A Company May Choose To Implement It

There are several reasons why a company may choose to carry out drug and alcohol testing. General reasons include:

  • Improve workplace health and safety
  • Reduce company costs and increase productivity levels associated with substance abuse and addiction (for example, as part of an overall goal to decrease absenteeism)
  • Compliance with federal regulations in applicable industries, or with insurance contracts and employment contracts
  • Offer help to employees with addictions and evidence of substance abuse
  • Reduce the likelihood of employee addictions and substance abuse in the future

The nature of periodic drug and alcohol testing potentially offers some additional, unique benefits:

  • As they have been given prior warning, periodic drug and alcohol tests are more likely to be accepted by employees than random tests
  • There is a decreased risk of bias since all current employees will be tested (i.e. no one has been "singled out")
  • Ongoing periodic testing may eventually result in a lower number of positive drug test results in the workplace. However, as highlighted below in the potential downsides to periodic testing, this may not necessarily equate to a reduced incidence of substance abuse

The Potential Downsides of Periodic Testing

The regular, scheduled nature of periodic drug testing creates the possible scenario of employees changing their substance use practices in the lead up to testing. They might stop using drugs in anticipation of the testing date, in order to prevent the drugs from showing up in testing.

Depending on the drug and how long it's expected to stay in a person's system (and therefore be detected), this time frame could vary from several hours to several weeks in advance of the test. Employees could also attempt to "cheat" on their drug tests in other ways.

The latest Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index brochure (2019) identified that positive drug test results in the workplace are currently on the rise. It also suggests that there have been more efforts to "cheat" on tests. Some of these statistics are likely to reflect current trends around substance use (e.g. cannabis).

Insights like these highlight the importance of solid policies and protocols around workplace drug testing, whether it's done on a periodic basis or not.

How to Implement Periodic Drug and Alcohol Testing

There are a number of important areas to consider for the successful implementation of a periodic drug and alcohol testing program:

1. Determine how testing will be carried out

The use of certified laboratories is considered to be the gold standard for drug and alcohol testing. However, it is not essential. Other options include Point of Care tests where only positive test results are sent to the lab.

2. Decide what substances you will test for

A wide range of drug testing options is available. Determine which substances to test for based on factors such as laws, costs of various tests, and which drugs are commonly abused in your geographical area.

There are a number of different types of panel tests, which cover various substances. The 10-panel test is a common one that covers a range of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids and more. You can find out more about the types of tests and which one to choose in "Drug test types: When to use 5, 7, or 12-panel urine screening."

3. Determine the method of testing

The method of testing will be determined by what substances are being tested for. Urine testing is a common method of testing. Other testing methods such as oral fluid testing and hair follicle testing are also available.

4. Documentation of periodic drug testing procedures

Periodic drug and alcohol testing procedures should be clearly documented in the company's drug and alcohol policy. This should include information about prohibited substances and the consequences for violations of the policy.

Overall, there are plenty of reasons to consider periodic testing as a crucial part of an effective workplace drug testing program. Refer to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for further guidelines and resources on workplace drug and alcohol testing.