How to Build the Perfect Drug Testing Policy

Random drug testing

Day with DISA 2019 offered attendees a chance to learn more about the trending topics in the drug testing industry. Hosted by DISA Global Solutions, this annual drug testing symposium helps employers get advice from industry experts covering a wide array of drug testing topics. Employers were able to get help with building and implementing a drug testing policy to meet their specific compliance needs.

DISA’s President of Ethics & Compliance, Frank Bernard, partnered with Nina M. French, the Managing Partner of the Current Consulting Group to present “How to Build the Perfect Drug Testing Policy.” This session focused on solutions and best practices for employer’s common policy challenges, including the legalization of marijuana, prescription drugs, and alcohol in the workplace.

During the presentation, Frank and Nina outlined four main topics for employers to address when creating their policies, including state laws, the future of workplace testing, program innovation, and policies themselves.

State Laws

State laws vary widely, and policy requirements do too. Employers should familiarize themselves with mandatory and voluntary laws, case laws, workers’ and unemployment compensation, industry-specific laws, and the laws regarding medical and recreational marijuana. As legislation on marijuana progresses in the country it is vital that employers stay vigilant with the updates in their state(s). A few examples of marijuana legislation that employers should keep an eye on include:

New York City

Effective May 2020.

Prohibits testing for THC as a condition of employment.

Includes limited protections for safety-sensitive industries.


Employers cannot fail or refuse to hire applicants because of marijuana metabolites in a drug test.

Includes limited protections for safety-sensitive industries.

New Jersey

Effective as of July 2019.

Prohibits adverse employment actions against medical marijuana patients.

Employers cannot take action on a positive marijuana drug test if legitimate medical explanation exists.


Provides employment protections for medical marijuana using employees.

Includes a safety-sensitive carve-out.

The Future of Workplace Testing

The Office of National Drug Control Strategy determined that 20 percent of young workers admit to using marijuana on the job, which should be a great cause of concern for employers especially for employees performing safety sensitive job functions.

As the legalization of marijuana progresses, employers risk is growing. This rapid change in laws is one of the reasons that building and implementing an adequate drug testing policy is so important. The National Safety Council determined that 81% of employers’ policies are incomplete, while 67% of policies do not adequately address employee prescription drug use and abuse. When creating a policy, employers should include information regarding the following:

  • Employee use of medical marijuana
  • Employee responsibility to notify supervisors of prescription drug usage
  • Performance improvement plan for employees who fail drug tests/performance declines from drug usage
  • Interactive process to make accommodations for employee impairment due to prescription medications
  • Return to work policies for employees taking impairing medications
  • Employee use of prescription drugs at work
  • Return to work policies for employees undergoing substance abuse treatment
  • Employee use of drugs without a prescription/illicit drugs
  • Program Innovation

According to the National Safety Council, safety-sensitive industries have the largest number of workplace injuries, including service, transportation/shipping, manufacturing/production, installation, maintenance, and repair, and construction. Because of this heightened risk, it is important for employers in these industries to customize their company program to limit their risk and protect their workforce.

Here are some things to consider when building your program:

  • Federal requirements
  • State laws
  • Industry specific laws and requirements
  • Safety-sensitive employees and fitness for duty
  • Drug panel
  • Testing methodology
  • Occupational health doctor
  • Medical Review Officer (MRO)

Employers need to ask themselves exactly why they are testing to better establish a program that meets their business needs. The presentation advised that employers should determine who is subject to drug testing and under what circumstances testing is required, then address that in their program design. The design needs to address what types of drugs to test for, drug testing methodologies, Return-to-Duty programs, state law changes, and training requirements.


A clear and concise written policy is vital to ensuring the safety standards of your company. When creating a policy, employers should consider including elements such as:

  • A purpose statement
  • Testing circumstances
  • Coverage and applicability
  • Prohibited conduct
  • Consequences
  • Return to work practices
  • Employee awareness and supervisor training

Once written, the implementation of the policy is also vital to the program’s success. By following best practices for policy implementation and training, employers improve their return on investment through this improved success. And application of the policy is key. Once tests are administered, employers must have clearly defined consequences that are consistently applied. Employee and supervisor training and awareness are important in supporting the program and beneficial to all employers, regardless of the requirements under which they are mandated.

What Can DISA Do?

DISA’s Compliance Service Group can assist you with ensuring your drug testing policy meets compliance standards that are specific to your business and industry. DISA provides customized policies for all DOT modes, states and territories, and laws. In addition, DISA also offers training both online and in-person to help educate employees on safety standards and best practices on a variety of subjects. Our professionals will also provide audit support to better prepare you in the case of an audit, and also to help ensure compliance.

Are you an employer and still have questions regarding employment screening?

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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.