How to Implement a Truly Random Drug Testing Program

A few industry studies have shown that illegal drug users cost employers between $11,000 to $13,000 per year due to their associated healthcare costs and lost efficiency. Employee drug testing can be a great way to prevent illegal drug users from negatively impacting your organization’s bottom line. It helps detect drug users in your organization, creates a safer work environment, and limits productivity losses due to absenteeism.  

In particular, random drug testing works very well as a deterrent for employee drug use because it makes it difficult for employees to predict when they will have to submit a sample for a drug test. Whether you are required to use drug testing through the Department of Transportation or just want to deter drug use for the reasons previously listed, random drug testing can help you accomplish this.


The Problem

Unfortunately, random drug testing is only effective as a deterrent (and legally compliant) if it is truly random. When organizations start to get repetitive with their random drug testing process, it becomes easier for employees to be able to predict when a drug test is coming. They will then be able to plan their activities accordingly.

Example – ABC Inc.’s random drug testing program consists of quarterly drug tests during the first week of the quarter, where 25% of employees will be tested. Since the test is done at consistent intervals (as a way to make it easier for the supervisor to keep track of), employees know to keep clean and “detox” for a couple weeks prior to the test. They can then resume their habits afterwards.


Legal Compliance

Another common issue is that organizations tend to have a not-so-random method of selecting individuals for drug testing. If your program isn’t truly random, it may be seen as a “pretext for discrimination.” This can lead to legal issues down the road as seen in a recent court case – Perkins v National Express Corporation.  

There needs to be a clear distinction between for-cause/reasonable suspicion testing and random drug testing. If you add someone to the list because you suspect they may be using drugs, you are opening yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit because you are specifically targeting a certain person within a “random” drug test


The Solution

There are a few simple ways to ensure that your random drug testing program is, in fact, random. It’s important to remember that any change to your random drug testing policy should be approved by your legal counsel before being implemented.


Testing Intervals

When considering when and how often to conduct a random drug test, remember that a random drug test is only effective as a deterrent when employees cannot predict when the next round of testing will occur. Shorter test intervals (e.g. weekly or monthly) help to instill that mindset, but may be impractical for smaller organizations.

Regardless of the which interval you chose, the test should never be on a set date within that time frame (e.g. first of the month or every third friday). The specific day within your time frame should be constantly moving to make it harder to predict. This may require keeping a yearly calendar for your drug tests to help map this out. Just be careful to limit access to the calendar and keep it confidential – office gossip spreads quickly.

It’s also important to give your employees a very short testing window, when their name is selected for testing. The more time they have to “sober up,” the less effective your program will be.


Random Employee Selection

Choose the number or percentage of employees that you will want to test during each cycle. Testing a high percentage of employees may be more effective as a measure of deterrent, but is also less practical from a cost standpoint. Test too small of a percentage, and your employees may shrug it off as unlikely that they will be selected. You will need to find your “goldilocks zone” that fits the happy medium between cost and effectiveness.


Scientifically Random Selection Software

In order to prove that there is absolutely no bias in your selection process, you will need to use a scientifically random software for selecting employees for a drug test. The easiest way to accomplish this is by choosing from one of the many software programs that are already out there. There are randomizer apps that were created specifically for employee drug testing. Many of these programs tout compliance with DOT regulations (for those who need it) and often also come with additional data management functions.

Whichever route you chose, just don’t forget to update your employee roster before uploading it during each selection interval.


Using an Impartial Third Party

Using a third party to manage this process adds another level of impartiality to your random drug testing program. This added level may help to increase the defensibility of your program. In many instances, your employment screening provider that facilitates your random drug testing collection process will also be able to help you manage your random drug testing program.