Random Drug Testing: A Complete Guide for Employers

random drug testing employment

One of the simplest ways employers can improve workplace safety is by implementing a random drug testing program.

Did you know that the percentage of U.S. workers who tested positive for drugs reached a 16-year high in 2020 at 4.4%?

Random drug tests help to ensure that your workforce remains sober and deter your employees from abusing alcohol or drugs, which may result in workplace accidents and injuries.

However, if you start a random drug testing program at your company, it’s important to implement it properly and comply with all regulations.

This guide outlines everything you need to know about random drug testing.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Random Drug Test?

When employers conduct random drug tests, they select employees for testing randomly.

The employees do not receive prior notice, and the employers use computerized random number generators to ensure each employee is equally likely to be selected.

Since the employees do not receive prior notice of when random testing will happen, this type of program helps to deter and detect drug use.

There are two types of random drug tests, including DOT random testing and non-DOT random testing.

Let’s take a look at both below.

DOT Random Testing

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates companies operating in specific industries and requires them to conduct DOT-compliant random drug tests on an ongoing basis.

DOT drug tests are 5-panel screens that check for the presence of the following substances:

  • Marijuana
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Opioids

If an employee fails the initial DOT drug screen, a medical review officer will conduct a confirmation test. You will then receive drug test results from the lab.

The various agencies within the Department of Transportation have established the following annual testing rates for the companies they regulate:

If one of these agencies regulates your company, you must strictly adhere to the requirements.

DOT auditors look to see whether your company complies with the DOT drug testing standards. If you aren’t, your company could face substantial penalties and fines.

Non-DOT Random Testing

If the DOT agencies don’t regulate your company, you can still implement a random drug testing program as long as you comply with your state’s laws.

Why Do Companies Have Random Drug Testing Programs in the Workplace?

Regulated and non-regulated employers implement random drug testing programs for multiple reasons, including the following:

  • Reduction of accident and injury rates
  • Detection and deterrence of drug and alcohol use/abuse
  • Protection of workplace safety
  • Required for DOT-regulated employers, federal contractors, and the military under federal law
  • Creation of positive and productive work environments
  • Reduction of turnover rates
  • Reduction of sick leave days
  • Reduction of losses
  • Reduction of liability risks

How Does Random Drug Testing Work?

Companies that conduct random drug tests use computerized random number generators to choose a set percentage of employees to test on a randomly selected day each quarter.

The chosen employees then must submit to drug tests within a short window.

Many employers use urine tests, but other types, such as oral fluid tests, might instead be used.

If you use urine testing, the employee will provide a urine sample. A medical review officer will conduct a confirmation test of any positive result and inform the employee and employer.

If you choose an oral fluid or saliva test, the technician will take a saliva sample with a swab from the employee’s mouth and test it. A medical review officer will conduct a confirmation test for any positive result.

Once an employer receives the results, the employer can then discharge the employee, mandate substance abuse counseling, or take other disciplinary action.

How Are Random Drug Tests Implemented in the Workplace? 9 Best Practices

To follow best practices, do the following for your random drug testing procedures:

1. Review the Applicable State and Federal Laws.

Your first step should be to know the relevant laws in your state. If the Department of Transportation regulates your business, be sure to review your industry’s requirements.

2. Draft a Random Drug Test Policy.

Once you understand the laws that apply to you, create a random drug test policy. Make sure your policy includes the random selection method for employees.

You should also include how long employees will have to complete testing, the substances you will test for, the random drug testing methods, and the consequences of refusing a drug test or returning a positive result.

3. Notify Your Employees.

Notify your employees that you will be implementing a random drug testing program.

Provide this notice on a standalone form, and ask each employee to sign a consent form.

4. Decide the Percentage of Employees You Will Test.

Decide the percentage of your employees that you will test each quarter and each year.

If you are a DOT-regulated company, make sure to follow the regulatory standards for the DOT agency that regulates you.

5. Ensure Your Selection Process is Random.

Make sure that your selection process is truly random. Use a computerized random number generator to draw names.

Have someone in your company’s human resources department randomly choose the date each quarter when the drug tests will occur using the random number generator.

6. Choose a Reputable Random Drug Testing Provider.

Choose a reliable random drug testing provider like iprospectcheck that is experienced in conducting drug tests, including DOT-compliant screens.

We understand the regulatory requirements and laws in each state and quickly return accurate results.

7. Give a Short Window Between Notification and Testing.

Limit the time between when you notify selected employees and when they must submit to testing.

Only give them enough time to make it from your business location to the clinic’s location.

8. Tailor Your Tests to Fit Your Needs.

Tailor your random drug testing program to fit your organization’s needs. For example, you might only need to test employees in safety-sensitive positions rather than everyone.

9. Maintain Thorough Documentation.

Make sure to document the entire process, including how you selected the employees, how you notified them, and the complete testing and confirmation process.

Keeping thorough documentation can protect you in the event of an audit or a lawsuit.

Important Random Drug Testing FAQs

1. How often are random drug tests done?

Random drug tests are typically conducted once per quarter on a randomly selected day with randomly chosen employees.

2. How long does a random drug test take?

The drug testing process is fairly short and only takes enough time to collect a sample.

It will then take between 24 and 48 hours for the results to come back, depending on the type of test performed.

3. What if an otherwise good employee fails a random drug test?

What you should do if a good employee fails a random drug test will depend on your company’s drug policy.

Include how your company will handle positive results in your random drug testing policy. Make sure your employee receives information about substance abuse programs.

If you are regulated by DOT, you must provide your employee with substance abuse program information. Your employee must also receive a negative return-to-duty drug test before you allow them to return.

You can also choose to discharge the employee, but you should still provide them with information about substance abuse programs.

4. Does the DOT do random drug tests?

While the DOT does not perform random drug tests, it does require random drug testing of employees regulated by one of its agencies.

Each DOT agency has specific requirements for random drug testing programs and the percentage of employees to test each year.

5. How does a DOT random drug test work?

Each agency has its own regulatory requirements for the percentage of safety-sensitive employees that must be tested annually. Your company will need to ensure the correct percentage of employees undergoes testing each year.

Choose employees for the random testing pool according to their job functions rather than their titles. Those who work in safety-sensitive positions must be included regardless of title.

Select employees for testing randomly, and make sure to conduct tests at least quarterly on random dates. Notify selected employees discreetly, and direct them to go to the chosen clinic for the DOT random drug screen.

If a selected employee is unavailable, make up the rate by completing a new selection or conducting an extra random drug test the following quarter. Document the reason for the employee’s unavailability.

Give the selected employees a short window to report for testing. If an employee returns a positive result, provide them with substance abuse program information.

If a positive employee will return to work, they must provide a negative return-to-duty test before you allow them to return.

Which states do not allow random drug testing?

In the following states, random drug testing is either limited or prohibited:

A recent appellate decision in Pennsylvania also changed how private employers can treat positive marijuana tests for medical marijuana users and prohibits employers from taking adverse job actions against them based on positive marijuana tests.

iprospectcheck: Your Random Drug Testing Screening Partner of Choice

Random drug testing is a smart way to protect the safety of your business. However, figuring out how to establish a random drug testing program that complies with all of the regulations and laws can be difficult.

At iprospectcheck, we have experience with implementing pre-employment drug testing programs for businesses across the U.S. and keep up-to-date with all regulations and laws. In addition to random drug testing, we provide reasonable suspicion drug testing, post-accident drug testing, and more.

Contact iprospectcheck today to learn about our drug testing and other employment screening services.

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.