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Pre-Employment Screening and Drug Testing: Should They Go Together?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, widespread workplace drug testing is not necessary. However, when you have a whopping 31% of the UK population admitting they have used illegal drugs, with 21% saying they still use drugs occasionally, it’s no wonder there’s growing support for drug testing to become compulsory for pre-employment screening.

There are certainly some high-profile jobs where drug testing should occur, especially if drug use places the safety and security of a company at risk. As a requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act, it’s an employer’s duty to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of all its employees. An employer can face prosecution if they consciously allow an employee to continue their duties whilst under the influence, knowing that the worker posed a real risk to others. Further, a company could well be found liable if an employee, while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, was responsible for causing death or an accident.

Drug testing is currently carried out in industries like public transport, the armed forces, prison service, police, and the financial sector. Today, we’re seeing an increase in drug testing in all sectors, with employers becoming increasingly aware of the risks of malpractice and litigation. Research shows that, since the year 2010, the number of UK employers carrying out workplace alcohol and drug testing, either randomly or on new employees, has increased 470%.

While drug testing is certainly legal in the United Kingdom, it’s currently not enforceable by law. Before any alcohol or drug testing can take place a worker must consent to the testing. As per government guidelines, it’s recommended that testing should only be carried out on employees who need it; that tests must be random; and that no employee should be singled out for testing unless the nature of their job justifies such testing. Employers are also required to fully comply with data protection laws on how sensitive personal data should be handled.

Drug and alcohol pre-employment testing could certainly affect the result of a hiring decision, while anyone refusing to agree to an alcohol and/or pre-employment screening for drugs could be a huge red flag to an employer, giving them good reason as to why they should not hire that person.

While some critics state that companies could be using drug and alcohol testing as a means of monitoring and controlling staff, many business owners are genuinely concerned about their employees’ physical and mental health and are doing everything in their power to ensure a safe, more productive, and healthy workforce. With pre-employment drug testing on the rise, it’s more likely that these objectives will be met.


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