With over 75% of American workers admitting that they use illicit drugs, and almost 21 million with a substance abuse disorder, there is a strong possibility that drug use is already affecting your company. These are staggering numbers, and the cost to American companies is even more astounding. Estimates put the current value of drug use in U.S. workplaces at almost $700 million.

Workplace drug testing can help. Pre-employment testing and random drug testing, in particular, increase workplace safety and productivity and reduce worker absenteeism, legal liability and turnover.

For many employers, the choice is not whether to have a drug-testing program, but whether to host their program on-site or off-site.

Currently, more than three-quarters of employers utilize off-site drug testing facilities and a further 16% use a combination of on-site and off-site testing. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Which approach is best for your company depends on several factors. Here are a few things to think about before making your decision.

Setup

Off-site drug testing facilities offer some advantages in terms of ease of initial installation. They already have the facilities, equipment and professionals required for testing. These professionals are well-trained in chain of custody and testing procedures. They are also familiar with the latest regulations and can help you avoid potentially costly errors.

Setting up on-site testing requires an outlay of resources upfront. You need to identify an appropriate location for testing to occur at your facility and purchase or rent the necessary equipment. Then you have to either train or hire on-site testing professionals to manage and conduct your testing.

Companies opting for on-site drug testing can choose to purchase kits or contract the service out to a drug testing service. These services will set up your program and conduct drug and alcohol testing on your behalf on-site and, although more costly, offer many of the same setup benefits as off-site testing.

Privacy

If employee privacy is a concern for you, an off-site testing program may be the better choice. Workers attend testing at another location, so there is less stigma attached and no co-workers around to witness an employee attending a test.

It is far more complicated, although not impossible, to ensure employee privacy in an on-site program.

Costs

On-site testing may offer some cost savings. One study suggested for example, that on-site testing was significantly lower in terms of variable costs, and total costs were lower once a minimum number of tested employees was reached.

You’ll definitely save on travel costs, absenteeism and lost productivity when your tests are conducted in the workplace rather than off-site.

That said, there are significant setup and ongoing costs associated with on-site testing, which may be prohibitive for some companies. Off-site drug testing facilities can benefit from buying in bulk and in the sheer number of tests they conduct each day.

Speed of Results

A quick return on drug or alcohol tests can be critical, particularly with safety-sensitive positions or accident investigations. On-site testing provides almost immediate access to negative test results, thereby facilitating personnel decisions. It is also easy to administer several tests in a single day to rule out false positives, for example, at an on-site location.

Cheating

Tampering is slightly more complicated with on-site drug testing. There is no lag time while an employee makes their way to the testing time and far less time and opportunity available to the employee to interfere with the test.

With off-site facilities, there are more opportunities for adulteration, particularly if the employee drives to the testing site.

It is also slightly easier to conduct completely randomized testing at your own facility.

Liability

There is an inherent liability in sending your employees somewhere else to be tested on company time, for example, if they have a driving accident on their way to the site. This is especially true of post-incident testing and testing related to worker’s compensation claims.

However, off-site testing is often recommended because it’s more defensible in litigation. There is a certain degree of separation in sending your workers to be tested by a third party with trained professionals who are well-versed in proper procedure and with the right equipment.

Convenience

There is some degree of coordination required in organizing off-site drug testing. Transportation, time off, and in some cases, supervision, must be arranged for employees being tested. Far less coordination is required with an on-site program.

That said, off-site testing at a clinic or other facility also offers some expediencies. It may be easier to arrange pre-employment or post-offer testing for new hires at a convenient time. In clinic settings, it may also be possible to arrange for any required fitness-for-duty tests to be conducted at the same time as drug tests.