How Effective Are Random Drug Tests In The Workplace?

Workplace safety through random drug testing

As an employer, you may have some questions about Workplace Drug Testing. Is it effective? Did I make the right decision? One of the more important questions when thinking about the types of workplace drug testing you are doing may come across as “how effective are random drug tests in the workplace?” This article will give you a brief glimpse into the effectiveness of random drug tests in the workplace.

What is Random Drug Testing?

An important first step is to establish what random drug testing is, and what it consists of. Random drug testing is one of the accepted reasons to conduct workplace drug testing. It consists of having a truly random selection method. According to DISA, this is done by using a statistically random generator, which will ensure an equal probability of selection for individual screening for all employees.

Ensure that you limit the time between notification and testing. Since random drug testing is set up to detect daily drug abuse, limiting the time between notifying the employee and the actual testing occurring reduces the possibility of the employee evading detection. This is especially important to detecting substance abuse in the workplace.

According to Axiom LLC, employee drug use has become a huge safety hazard, having U.S. businesses lose up to $140 billion a year to drug and alcohol abuse. For this reason, employers have began adapting workplace drug testing in order to reduce risk.

Drug users don’t usually want to work for a company that actively tests. Promoting the fact that you as an employer perform random drug tests helps weed out and lower your risk of candidates that may present a liability to your company. In addition to the above, drug users also tend to take more sick days and their turnover rate is usually higher, which makes lower productivity.

Notification of employees’ duty to complete random workplace drug testing should be discreet, and according to the company policy. The employer has a responsibility to ensure and enforce confidentiality and maintain the element of surprise.

When setting up any employment screening program, SHRM says employers should remember these:

  • Cost
  • Risk Mitigation
  • Speed
  • Candidate Experience

How Effective is Random Testing?

Random drug testing isn’t just effective, but it is vital to workplace safety. Drug use in the workplace can cause four main issues:

  • High Accident/Injury Rate
  • Fatal Accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Loss of Production

Random drug testing can also help ensure that workers are sober while in the workplace, without having to pick out specific individuals that you may suspect are under the influence.

According to DISA, random testing is effective due to the element of surprise. Employees are aware that they might be tested, however, they are unaware of when exactly they will be tested which can cause them to be deterred from substance abuse in the workplace. It is important to have an effective policy in place for random drug testing, as ineffective random drug testing does not help prevent substance abuse in the workplace.

If you are compliant with state and federal regulations, then you are likely conducting a random drug test correctly and don’t have to worry about it being ineffective. Document the entire process of the random testing, including employees’ names selected, date and time of notification, etc.

According to FMCSA, here are a few reasons why random testing is the best tool employers have for deterring drug and alcohol use in the workplace:

  • Saves lives and prevents injuries
  • Helps employers identify workers with substance abuse issues and facilitate their treatment
  • Allows employees to easily say no to illegal drug use.
  • Reduces Employer Liability
  • It is a fair way of testing

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Furthermore, due to the protocols of random testing, employees are required to immediately report to the collection site upon notification of being selected. Urban legends suggest immediately is within two hours, however, that is not the case. It must be immediately after the notification and all employee actions must lead to an immediate specimen collection. This helps keep the integrity of the testing process. Policies should state how an employee off-site or on the road should do before resuming their safety-sensitive functions.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), approximately 50-75% of all large corporations in the United States test for drugs in the workplace, as well as using a pre-employment test as a condition of employment.

Probably one of the most important aspects of random drug testing is the ability to retain valuable talent by offering rehabilitation via an employee assistance program (EAP). Random drug testing can help find employees who may be struggling with substance abuse and may have found their productivity slipping when previously it was high. Several EAPs around the United States offer the ability to get in touch with a substance abuse treatment professional in order to find ways to keep employment. In general, employee turnover is expensive for companies and they would prefer to keep talent if they are able to. Ensure that employees aren’t abusing the EAP however. Document if their productivity doesn’t increase, or if it dwindles even further.

How does randomly drug-testing your remote employees work? Read more here: Should I Drug Test My Remote Employees?

Are Other Types of Testing More Effective?

When thinking about Random Drug Testing, you should also consider the other qualifications for workplace drug testing, and consider if random drug testing is more impactful than them or not. Are there other types of testing that might be more effective?


Sometimes a condition for an employee working for you will be that they pass a pre-employment drug test. However, this is less effective than random drug testing. Because employees will know approximately when they believe they will get a test, they may choose to avoid certain substances until after they are hired if they are able to do so. This way they can get the job, and not have to give up the addictive substance. Furthermore, they may have not developed a substance abuse habit yet, and as such, you wouldn’t detect when they do unless you are performing random drug testing methods.


One of the other conditions of workplace drug testing is doing a drug test after an accident has happened. This can be common for companies to do in order to see if there was a reason that the accident happened other than it being just an accident. This may catch someone who is currently on substances that would impair their ability to work. However, this may not indicate substance abuse is taking place, and more likely than not, relying on accidents to try to catch

substance abuse is logistically a disaster. Post-accident tests can be a great tool for catching substance abuse after an accident but is not a feasible way to detect substance abuse in the workplace beyond that.


Testing for return-to-work circumstances, especially after the pandemic, can be helpful in determining which of your employees may have developed substance abuse addiction during these last couple years, or even useful if an employee has been off work for worker’s compensation to ensure they didn’t end up becoming addicted to a substance, however in most cases, return-to-work will be announced and planned, and employees could figure out ways to hide their substance abuse if they have it. Random drug testing doesn’t have a specific timeframe to give employees chances to hide their substance abuse. If they are chosen, they must take the test or document a reason why they refuse to do so.

Reasonable Suspicion:

Reasonable suspicion can be effective if the employee is exhibiting symptoms of being under a substance, however, not every employee will exhibit these symptoms. Furthermore, employees that suffer with substance abuse may have figured out ways to hide their abuse. As such, reasonable suspicion will not always be the best way to catch someone who is not sober on the job. Random testing can help catch those who consistently abuse drugs or alcohol in the workplace, even if they have become adept at hiding their abuse and their symptoms.


Follow-Up testing usually is done in order to allow the employee a chance to keep their job. This is usually done over the course of the first year an employee is back on the job. This may be similar to random testing, with the exception that it may quit after the employee has had enough negative tests. This means that if the employee chooses to wait long enough, they could decide to start abusing illicit substances again after they have had enough negative tests, or enough time has passed. Follow-Up is good at encouraging employees to not fall back into substance abuse when returning to work, however, it may fall short in the long run and random testing will be a bigger deterrent than follow-up testing as it continues past the timeline that follow-up has to abide by.

Remember, random testing can be your best tool as an employer in preventing employees from falling into substance abuse in the workplace and decreasing their productivity. It can also help you identify problems, and how to best deal with those problems when it comes to substance abuse in the workplace. Utilize random testing in order to keep a safe, and healthy workplace.

Need to test for alcohol? Check out our article about workplace alcohol testing

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