Industry Insights

Can you Test If Someone Is High at The Moment?

Drug use in the workplace can come at a great cost and with may risks to both employers and employees alike. With the opioid epidemic on the rise and the legalization of marijuana changing across states, it’s imperative that employers are well informed of not only how to detect impairment in the workplace, but what actions they can or cannot take. Unfortunately, technologies aren’t quite at the level of detecting whether or not someone is currently impaired, but there are steps and precautions an employer can take to protect their company from employees who abuse or misuse drugs while on the job. 

Different Drug Types and Testing Methodologies

Not all drugs are the same. When a person uses drugs, there’s a variety of factors that come into play with how long they will remain in a person’s body to show up on a drug test. One of the biggest factors that affects detecting impairment is the fact that detection windows can vary so greatly from one drug to another. For example: cocaine’s average detection window is a span of a couple of days for urinalysis, while THC can test positive 30 days after use. For repeat users, drugs such as cocaine and marijuana can test positive in a hair analysis for up to 90 days.

Oral Fluid Testing

Can detect recent drug use ranging from a few minutes to 48 hours.

Urinalysis

Detection windows vary depending on the type of drug used and frequency.

Hair Testing

Can detect repeat drug use up to a 90-day window.

Evidential Breath Alcohol Testing

Reveal only current levels of impairment or intoxication from alcohol.

It’s best for employers to implement a sound drug testing policy and pair more than one drug testing methodology with another to prevent gaps in detection windows.

Marijuana Detection Technologies

Although there is currently not a detection test for the impairment of marijuana, companies are quickly coming up with new technological advancements for THC detection. With the legalization of marijuana on the rise, states are looking for ways to enforce safety standards, especially on the roads. Since marijuana can show as positive on a drug test much longer after its initial use, it’s difficult for employers and law enforcement to detect exactly when the person last used and if marijuana is currently causing impairment. This is especially dangerous for those in safety-sensitive positions that could pose a threat to those around them.

Companies such as Hound Labs have developed technology to assist with measuring marijuana use within the past few hours. Hound Labs is a breath technology company that created groundbreaking technology to develop the first marijuana and alcohol breathalyzer. 

According to recent clinical studies by the University of California, San Francisco, marijuana stays in breath for up to three hours. This time frame corresponds with the 2-3 hour window of peak impairment identified by global researchers, such as NHTSA and the European-based nova-Institute. 

Other studies have shown that marijuana impairs critical driving functions such as vigilance, time and distance perception, lane tracking, motor coordination, divided attention tasks, reaction time, and judgment.

The ability to measure breath for recent marijuana use will help employers balance safety and fairness in states where marijuana is legal. Identifying employees who used marijuana within hours and may be impaired helps to address the growing concerns about impairment in the workplace.

What Can Employers Do?

As of right now, there’s not a one-size-fits-all method for detecting impairment, which is why it’s so important for employers to create a clear and concise written drug testing policy. Implementing and educating employees on the company policy will ensure that they are aware and well informed of the drug testing procedures and potential disciplinary actions. This will not only deter employees from using drugs in the first place but will maintain a safe working environment that meets compliance standards.

“It’s imperative that employers have the proper training and knowledge to detect impairment in the workplace. An employee who is impaired can cause risks and dangers that are easily avoidable with a comprehensive drug testing program that’s customized to the specifications of an employer’s industry and needs.” – Frank Bernard, VP of Compliance at DISA Global Solutions 

In addition to a sound policy, employers can implement reasonable suspicion training and drug testing to help detect if an employee is impaired on the job.

DISA offers reasonable suspicion training for your company managers and employees so you can ensure a safer workplace. Reasonable suspicion drug testing, also known as for-cause or probable cause testing, allows an employer to perform a drug test on an employee when there is reasonable cause to suspect that he/she is impaired. This evidence can be determined under direct observation usually by a trained supervisor or another employee. Signs that indicate a reasonable suspicion test should be perform include:


Physical signs

Bloodshot eyes/dilated pupils, slurred speech, unsteady walk, shakes or tremors, unexplained sweating or shivering, fidgeting/inability to sit still, sleeping at work or difficulty staying awake

Behavioral signs

Attendance problems/tardiness, a pattern of absences or excessive absenteeism, a decline in performance/productivity, acting withdrawn from others

Psychological signs

Unexplained changes in personality or attitude, sudden mood changes, angry outbursts or inappropriate laughing, inability to focus or concentrate


To create a comprehensive drug testing program, employers should also implement a medical disclosure policy to inform employees of the dangers and rules of impairing prescriptions in the workplace.

Are you an employer and still have questions

regarding employment screening?

DISA can help! Get answers directly from DISA’s subject matter experts with ‘Ask DISA’.

Visit www.askdisa.com to ask your questions today!


For more than 30 years, DISA has been a provider of workplace safety and compliance services. DISA helps companies make more informed staffing decisions by offering a broad array of industry-leading methodologies to make employee screening faster and more accurate. For more information about DISA call 1-800-752-6432 or email sales@disa.com.