Can an employer ask employees to submit to drug tests? The answer to this question, and many others like it, is “it depends.” California state law imposes strict guidelines for when such tests may be administered.
Intoxicated or impaired employees can lead to safety hazards, injuries, and decreased productivity, so it is understandable that employers would desire to do what they can to protect their interests. On the other hand, drug testing necessarily involves some level of invasion of person privacy. Thus, the restrictions on drug testing imposed by California law exist to ensure employees' right to privacy is protected, while at the same time protecting the countervailing interest employers have in maintaining a drug-free workplace.
As a summary, drug testing is permissible:
- Before an employee is hired, as part of the screening process for all new hires;
- When included in a routine required physical examination;
- After a workplace accident has occurred, where there is suspicion that drugs or alcohol were involved or the accident was a serious one;
- When there is reasonable suspicion of drug use (which will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case).
Random drug testing is generally permitted only in limited circumstances based on job classification or as part of a pervasively regulated industry, such as truck drivers. Legal counsel should be consulted before drug testing programs are implemented.