How to Build an Effective Drug Testing Policy That Stays Up-To-Date and Compliant

Compliance and law

Building and implementing an effective drug and alcohol testing policy is key to creating a competent, effective, and efficient workforce that gives you a competitive advantage in business. Employers with a quality workforce and efficient drug testing program often benefit from a safer and more productive workplace. However, maintaining that policy so it meets compliance standards, state and federal laws, and addresses safety-sensitive positions isn’t always an easy task. You should consider the following topics when creating a policy or reviewing your current policy:

Staff Categories

Identify the staff categories that will be mandated by the testing policy with consideration for:

  • Permanent or fixed-term employees
  • Casual employees (on a “needed basis”)
  • Apprentices or trainees
  • Temporary employees
  • Contractors and sub-contractors

Roles and Responsibilities

Identify all job classifications that will be mandated by the testing policy paying special attention to positions that may qualify as safety-sensitive roles.

Work Locations

Draft a roster of work locations, including each location’s city, county, and state for applicable staff and locations.

Identify Legislation and Regulations That Impact Your Business

Several laws, regulations, and guidelines may apply to your testing policy based upon the applicable staff, their individual role and responsibilities, and work locations. These circumstances bring unique challenges as you work to create or update your policy to ensure adherence with:

  • DOT standards (if applicable), including relevant modals
  • Non-DOT Standards – city, state, and state mandates for each of your work locations
  • Industry-specific consortiums/testing programs

Determine Who Is Involved with Policy Development

Your policy development team may differ depending on the policy and could include team leads, supervisors, managers, HR directors, or executives. Gathering a diverse group of stakeholders will ensure your policy(s) meet the needs of all affected groups. It is common to collaborate with a drug testing service agent like DISA for development consultation or to review policy revisions.

"Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say" - The Brainstorming Phase

If your organization does not have a documented testing policy, now is a prime time to develop it because delays risk biased enforcement and inconsistent discipline, which can result in workplace complaints and liability. Creating a new drug testing policy can be a daunting task because of numerous decision points that must be made before the draft stage. A critical consideration is the fact that employees will inevitably look to the organization’s testing policy for greater clarity regarding the tenets of the policy. At a minimum, it is critical to determine what will be acceptable:

  • Incentives for employee abstinence
  • Test Purposes (Pre-Employment, Random, Annual, Wall-to-Wall, Reasonable Suspicion, Post Accident, etc.)
  • Drug Testing Methods
  • Panels (5,6,7,8,9,10,11 or 12 panel drug tests)
  • Specimens (urine, hair, blood, oral fluid, etc.)
  • Cut-off levels
  • Employee behavioral expectations
  • Collection locations (on-site or off-site)
  • Drugs i.e. specific prescription drugs, medical marijuana, recreational marijuana
  • Protocol for prescription drugs in the workplace
  • Violations to promote a drug-free workplace
  • Disciplinary actions and opportunities for re-employment or zero-tolerance
  • Vendors needed to support your drug testing program (collectors, Medical Review Officers, third party administrators, substance abuse professionals, etc.)

Other Considerations for Drafted Testing Policies

  • Timing - Introduce Your Policy Early in the Hiring Process to all Employees

The hiring process is a complex and consuming process that hopefully results in hiring and retaining a highly competent employee that will bring significant value to your organization. But, hiring a competent employee means very little if your organization cannot retain that employee because he or she uses alcohol and/or drugs in a manner that violates your organization’s testing policies. Setting this standard early on is often overlooked as a best practice, but the value of a candidate recognizing that their lifestyle violates your testing program is critical. Alternatively, employers may withhold a candidate’s opportunity to determine that applying for employment that requires more rigid testing could be against their best interest over time.

  • Review and revision plan – Develop a plan that ensures programs remain up-to-date, and compliant

The daunting task of developing a drug testing program is just the beginning; an effective program will include a comprehensive maintenance plan.

State-specific drug testing legislation is changing at a rapid pace. At the close of 2019, there were a total of 29 states that had one or more legal changes that affected drug and/or alcohol testing: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York (City), North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington.

It can be difficult to keep up with changes in the drug testing industry. This process can become extremely challenging, especially for employers with special circumstances; for example, an employer who has team members that reside in a state that is outside of the corporation’s home state(s) will have to consider variances from state to state. The presence of a review and revision plan affords companies the opportunity to complete a timely review of legal changes. This type of review should be completed annually at a minimum. An effective practice that can be easily implemented is working with a subject matter expert or drug testing program vendor to identify potential risks in your current program language. It is highly recommended to include a review by legal counsel prior to implementation or after final revision.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

A well-written policy that is consistently executed will not guarantee a company’s immunity to challenges from violators; however, a company’s ability to clearly set expectations, define processes, and maintain a written policy that supports adverse action will prove to be a powerful deterrent for violators to escalate issues. A clearly written policy will allow a company the opportunity to develop unified training that can be easily replicated or modified for multiple mediums. Making drug testing program training easily accessible is an effective method of encouraging acknowledgment and adherence.

A company’s best efforts can be impeded by an outdated or misaligned drug testing program or their inability to produce documented guidelines that support adverse action. If you are an employer who mandates pre-employment or random drug testing, it’s imperative that your company maintain a relevant, well-documented drug testing program.

What DISA Can Do for You

As a Third-Party Administrator, DISA is aware of the complexities of creating and maintaining a drug testing program. We currently offer professional drug and alcohol policy creation and review services. By enlisting the assistance of DISA, users can rely on our industry experience and subject matter expertise to help them navigate the intricacies of ever-changing drug testing regulations.

If you would like to learn more about DISA’s Policy Creation and Review services, please contact our sales group at 281-673-2530 or email

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About DISA Global Solutions

Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 35 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background check, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.

DISA Global Solutions aims to provide accurate and informative content for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. Always consult with a professional or legal expert.