How to Avoid Common Mistakes to Optimize Your Drug Testing Policy


How to Avoid Common Mistakes to Optimize Your Drug Testing Policy

By Sharon Bottcher, Director of Policy Services at Current Consulting Group (CCG)

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein.

Overall drug use and alcohol use in the United States is on the rise.¹ According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), almost 32 million people (11.7% of the population) were actively using drugs as of 2021, with marijuana, prescription stimulants, and methamphetamines as the most popular drugs of choice.²

Many factors have contributed to the rise in drug use in America. People of all ages and income levels are using drugs and struggling with some form of substance use disorder and drug use is becoming more accepted in society.³ Turn on the television, or log into any social media platform you’re likely to see or hear references about drinking, smoking, or some type of drug use.

Is your company prepared to support the issues that accompany a rise in workplace drug use? Drug testing can help keep everyone in your company safe and prevent employee performance issues and keep workplace safety in check.

Common Mistakes When Updating a Drug Testing Policy

Here’s a glance at some problems and the factors that lead to common mistakes when developing or revamping your drug testing policy and ideas to help avoid them.

1. Failing to Create a Drug Testing Policy

A written policy is the first line of defense for employers, and it establishes the program expectations for the employees. The policy sets forth the company’s rules and procedures and can be utilized to justify disciplinary decisions. When those decisions are challenged, the policy will be front and center.

When a policy is absent it inevitably will create inconsistencies, uncertainties, and overall confusion. Think about the various aspects of a testing program. Now try to imagine what would happen if there weren’t any rules, restrictions, or guidance. Chaos comes to the forefront of my mind.

At a minimum, a good written drug testing policy should contain at a minimum the following important elements.

  • The program objectives
  • The applicable laws
  • Who is covered under the program
  • The substances that will be tested for
  • Specimens for testing
  • Program prohibitions
  • Drug and alcohol testing procedures

A policy keeps everything in order and outlines the company goals and objects of the testing program. By implementing rules and requirements in a policy, companies can ensure the appropriate guidance is provided to help maintain consistency and ensure safety. A successful program starts with a written policy.

2. Not Having a Clearly Defined Policy

Having a written policy is the starting point and the first step towards creating an effective drug free workplace but it is equally important to establish clear-cut policies to articulate the requirements for management of the program and for employees to know where they stand and what is expected from them.

The policy content should be straightforward and precise. It should be specific, and it should not contain language or words that would lead to misinterpretation. Nothing is more frustrating than have written processes so complex you need to rely on step-by-step instructions or processes so vague that you have no idea what is really required/expected.

For example, many employers have a policy that requires testing in post-accident situations. Simply outlining that testing will occur in post-accident situations will undoubtably lead to confusion. It isn’t necessary to have a play-by-play instruction guide but it is important to clearly outline the criteria that will trigger a post-accident test, who will be subject to testing, when testing will occur, and any violations for failing to report an incident.

3. Applying a Blanket Approach

Building a cookie cutter policy into your company testing program involves designing guidelines that will most likely not benefit your company’s testing program and has proven to involve drawbacks including liability concerns.

When it comes to constructing a testing program, there are a series of questions that should be evaluated to determine the best approach for your company. Not every company is the same and there is no policy that fits all programs. There are many questions to consider when developing a program and the answers vary depending on state laws, company culture, and program goals and objectives.

4. Not Tailoring your Policies to Fit Your Company Needs

As mentioned above, the first step is to review the company’s drug testing objectives. In other words, what does the company hope to achieve by revising the existing drug testing policy or creating a new policy? Have the company objectives changed from the initial roll out of the policy? Has your company expanded to different states or added employees regulated under the Department of Transportation? Perhaps you are now interested in developing a policy that allows an employer to receive a discount on workers’ compensation premiums or to deny unemployment or workers’ compensation claims?

Once the testing objectives are identified that will set the conditions for how the policy will be written.

5. Not Amending the Policy

A company policy can quickly become obsolete and it can be difficult to keep up with the changes in the drug testing trends, industry standards, and federal or state drug testing laws. At the same time, it may be the opportune time to evaluate your testing program to ensure it is still working for you. Do you need to add or increase/decrease random testing? Is there a better alternative to your current testing methodology to enhance your testing program? Perhaps the company’s goals, objectives, and operational needs have shifted which may necessitate a policy change to align with the company’s mission.

Just like with any process you implement to enhance efficiency or reduce compliance risk, it is important to revisit it periodically to determine if it remains as effective as when first applied. Evaluating your current process and understanding drug testing best practices can reduce the risk of adding a drug abusing employee to your team.

Make it routine practice for regular reviews of the policy and the company’s testing program objectives. Policy maintenance should be assigned to an individual or department. Identifying an owner for this project will make your investment in the drug testing program a more rewarding effort

If company policies have not been reviewed in a few years, most often companies will elect to start fresh with the policy. However, reviewing an existing policy and incorporating any omissions or updates is certainly a viable option.


Don’t make these drug testing policy mishaps. Establishing a clear, compliant, and custom policy early on and sticking to it can help avoid these common drug testing mistakes moving forward. If you are considering developing or updating your policy, we are here to help you. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at [email protected].

End Notes

¹ Table 20. Use of Selected Substances in the Past Month among Persons Aged 12 Years and over, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: United States, Selected Years 2002–2017. Centers for Disease Control, 

² “Drug Abuse Statistics.”NCDAS, National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 1 Jan. 2023, 

³ Cooper, Josh. “What Is Substance Use Disorder?”Kolmac Integrated Behavioral Health Centers, 29 Nov. 2022, 

© 2010-2023 The Current Consulting Group, LLC – No portion of this article may be reproduced, retransmitted, posted on a website, or used in any manner without the written consent of the Current Consulting Group, LLC. When permission is granted to reproduce this article in any way, full attribution to the author and copyright holder is required.


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