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.

The Benefits of Pre-Employment Drug Screening

Pre-employment drug screening serves an important role for businesses by helping to create a safer, more productive workplace environment. Let’s look at some of the key advantages:

Promotes Safety and Reduces Liability

For jobs involving operating machinery, driving vehicles, or other safety-sensitive roles, drug testing helps screen out candidates who may pose a risk. Employees impaired by drugs endanger themselves, coworkers, and the public. Testing upholds an employer’s duty to maintain a safe workplace and mitigates legal liability from accidents or injuries.

Increases Productivity and Reduces Absenteeism

Numerous studies link substance abuse to decreased productivity and higher absenteeism rates. Employees who use drugs are 1/3 less productive and miss 50% more work days. Pre-screening allows hiring staff focused on the job, avoiding these drains on a company’s bottom line.

Deters Further Drug Use

Drug testing policies act as a deterrent against illegal substance use. Employees know they could be randomly tested, motivating them to make better choices off the clock. Over time, this leads to healthier, more responsible personnel.

Levels the Playing Field

Pre-employment screening ensures all candidates are evaluated fairly and held to the same standards. This prevents unfair advantages for users over non-users during hiring, protecting employers from discrimination claims.

Enhances Public Image

Companies with drug-free workplace programs demonstrate their commitment to behaving ethically and providing a secure environment. This boosts corporate reputation with customers, investors, and the community at large.

Cost-Effective Risk Management

While not free, pre-screening expenses are relatively low compared to the potential costs of workplace accidents, higher insurance premiums, lost productivity, and litigation. It’s a smart investment that pays dividends in lower overall operating costs.

Closing Thoughts

While implementing pre-employment drug screening requires some effort, the benefits to workplace safety, productivity, and liability protection make it highly worthwhile, especially for roles with public safety implications. Combined with robust drug-free workplace policies and employee education, it strengthens a company’s ability to cultivate a responsible, high-performing workforce.

Photo: “Office” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Testing

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

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