Big Sky Drug Testing Services, LLC

Developing a Drug-Free Workplace

“Employers can protect their business from the negative effects of substance abuse in the workplace by developing drug-free workplace programs that educate employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and encourage individuals with related problems to seek help.”  Free resources and tools available at

The following are excerpts from SAMSHA's Developing A Drug Free Workplace Policy Guide:

When Drug-Free Workplace Laws and Regulations Apply

Businesses and other organizations covered by drug-free workplace laws and regulations must ensure that their drug-free workplace policies and programs fully comply with those laws and regulations. This compliance will help reduce drug-related problems in the workplace.

In addition, organizations may want to go beyond meeting the minimum requirements. For example, they may want their policies and programs to address legal substances (such as alcohol and tobacco) as well as illegal substances (such as marijuana and cocaine) and workplace behaviors and outcomes that can be related to drug use (such as repeated sickness and absenteeism directly before or after holidays or weekends).

When Drug-Free Workplace Laws and Regulations Do Not Apply

Organizations may want to establish drug-free policies and programs even if there are no drug-free workplace laws or regulations that apply to them. Such policies can be relatively narrow (with a concentration on illegal drugs) or broader (with attention paid to legal substances, prescription drugs, and behaviors that can be drug related).

Whether or Not Drug-Free Workplace Laws Apply,
a Lawyer or Other Legal Expert Must Review the Policy

Every organization should ask a lawyer or other legal expert-with specific knowledge about drug-free workplace policies, programs, and case law- to review the draft policy, whether or not the businesses are covered by drug-free workplace laws or regulations. (Some organizations may ask a lawyer to do more than review the draft policy; they may want a lawyer to help them put it together from the beginning.)

The steps taken to prevent or reduce drug abuse can affect the employment, and future employability, of the workers. As a result, there are legal, health, safety, and productivity issues that can lead to legal appeals and lawsuits. Every organization needs to ensure that all legal obligations are fully met and that both the employer's and the employees' legal rights are properly protected.

A Written Policy Helps Each Organization

There are many reasons to put the drug-free workplace policy in writing:

  • A written policy may be required by a law or by the organization's insurance carriers.
  • It makes legal review possible.
  • It provides a record of the organization's efforts and a reference if the policy is challenged. It    may protect the employer from certain kinds of claims by employees.
  • A written policy is easier to explain to employees, supervisors, and others.
  • Putting the policy in writing also helps employers and employees concentrate on important policy information.

Resources for Developing a Written Policy

The most important task for every organization is to ensure that the policy meets the needs of its employees and workplace. Whether or not laws and regulations apply, the policy should address the key topics outlined above. Organizations can write (or adapt) and organize content on the key topics using whatever language and structure will best communicate the information to their workers. Organizations do not need to start from scratch. They can borrow and adapt information from drug-free workplace policies put together by other organizations in their industry. Since the Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed, many national, regional, and local programs have been set up to help employers create effective policies. The programs provide free or low-cost information, technical assistance, or model policies that organizations can customize to meet their particular needs. To learn more about these and other resources, organizations can call SAMHSA's Workplace Helpline at 1.800.Workplace.

Requirements for Safety-Sensitive Industries
Department of Transportation (DOT) rules and regulations

Employers and employees in fields that affect public safety and national security are, understandably, subject to additional drug testing requirements. The most important piece of Federal legislation affecting safety-sensitive industries is the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991.2 This Act requires drug and alcohol testing of all safety-sensitive transportation employees in aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, pipelines, and other transportation industries.

Any employer whose business is regulated by one of the following Federal agencies is covered under the Act:

  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • United States Coast Guard
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • Federal Transit Administration
  • Federal Railway Administration
  • Research and Innovative Technology Administration
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

While each of these agencies has developed its own specific set of guidelines and procedures for complying with the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, the following core requirements apply to all employers and employees within the transportation industry:

  1. All employers in the transportation industry are required to test safety-sensitive employees at certain key points in their professional careers. These key points include pre-employment (before the employee is hired), whenever there is reasonable suspicion that the employee has been involved in drug use, immediately after the employee is involved in an accident, and before allowing the employee to return to duty following suspension for drug abuse.

  2. All employers in the transportation industry are also required to have a program of random drug testing in place.

  3. All drug testing conducted under the Act must be carried out by a laboratory certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  4. All drug testing conducted under the Act must test for five different classes of drugs (and only those five classes): marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP).

  5. All alcohol testing of employees must strictly adhere to the DOT's policies and procedures for alcohol testing, and the testing must be conducted using devices and equipment approved by DOT.

  6. All positive tests must be reviewed by a trained Medical Review Officer, and employees must be allowed to consult with this officer before the test result is reported to the employer.

  7. All employees, whether in safety-sensitive positions or not, must receive drug and alcohol awareness training and education.

  8. All supervisors must receive at least 2 hours of training in substance abuse detection, documentation, and intervention. Half this training time should be devoted to drug abuse, the other half to alcohol abuse.

  9. Any employee who is determined to have a substance abuse problem must be referred by the employer to a trained Substance Abuse Professional. This person will be responsible for evaluating the employee's treatment needs and assessing the employee's ability to return to work.

Employers who are subject to the requirements of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act must ensure that their policies and procedures strictly adhere to DOT's requirements. Otherwise, employers run the risk of failing to comply with the Act or violating their employees' civil liberties, either of which can have serious consequences.

Organizations can obtain more detailed information on how to meet the requirements of the Act from DOT's Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance, which publishes helpful guidelines and manuals for employers and employees. These materials are available online at

Employer Education

The Workplace Facts

Developing a Drug-Free Workplace

Marijuana in the Workplace

Random Drug/Alcohol Testing


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