Manny Ramirez and David OrtizThe issue of employee drug testing doesn't garner much attention - with the possible exception of incidences in which the employees in question are professional athletes.

It's safe to wager that plenty of sports fans would eagerly weigh in on the latest drug testing debates involving NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield and Major League Baseball's Manny Ramirez, for instance. Or they might participate in speculation about cyclist Lance Armstrong - does he or doesn't he dope? And while the emphasis in professional sports is most often placed on performance-enhancing drugs, there's always Olympic hero Michael Phelps' bong debacle to point to. But when is the last time you participated in a fervent discussion about drug testing in your workplace?

Why should we care about workplace drug testing, and why should we be discussing the issue more often? Because it has an impact on performance and productivity, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] (SAMHSA, 2009). It seems that many of the arguments that proponents of drug testing in professional sports put forth can also hold true in the mainstream workplace. First and foremost is the argument that employees are individuals compensated for their performance, so the expectation on the part of corporations is that employees will bring their "A game" every time they report for work, whether it's on a playing field or behind a desk.

And experts say that effective drug-testing initiatives present opportunities to employers.

Beyond compliance with drug-free workplace policies and initiatives, SAMHSA says that testing, as part of a well-run drug free workplace policy, can reap benefits in the forms of increased productivity, profits, customer satisfaction, employee health status and morale. Moreover, workplace drug testing can contribute to lowered incidences of absenteeism, turnover, accidents and injuries and the accompanying downtime, and Workers' Compensation costs (SAMHSA, 2009).

It looks like most employers are already on track: Even though most U.S. employers are not required by law to drug-test employees, a recent survey conducted by i4cp found that the majority of companies have drug-screening policies and almost all of those with a program say that pre-employment testing is the most common type of screening performed.

Most (95%) of the companies that screen employees for drugs do so prior to hire, increasing to 100% in organizations with 10,000 or more workers. Seventy percent test when there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use, 62% test following an employee accident, and 41% say they do random testing.

Among companies that do pre-employment drug screening, the largest share (47%) requires that the test be conducted within four days of the applicant's acceptance of a position, while 30% say it can be done at any time before the new employee's start date.

Drug testing obviously plays a significant role in recruitment in the current tight job market, giving employers additional means with which to draft the best possible first-string players. Case in point, the i4cp survey found that not all companies will give applicants a second chance if they fail an initial drug screening. Of the companies that use screening programs, only about half (49%) allow a re-test following a positive result. Why? Because they can afford not to.

"Most companies aren't messing around anymore with the drug issue," said Jay Jamrog, Senior VP of Research at i4cp. "They can afford to be picky in the current climate, and one of their demands is applicants who are squeaky clean. Not only is it a legal concern in some cases, there's also employee health and productivity issues that can't be ignored by organizations either."

And senior-level employees shouldn't expect a pass on drug testing. When asked about specific work groups that are likely to be screened for drugs, the majority of respondents (84%) said that the entire workforce is fair game. Thirteen percent specified as testing targets workers who drive as part of their job, and 10% of companies pointed to those in administrative, clerical and professional roles as likely candidates for testing.

i4cp Recommendations:

Review and update your organization's substance abuse policy, if needed. Workplace drug testing is most effective when implemented as part of a concise written policy that is communicated across the entire organization.

Employers should offer employee education about substance abuse as well as access to confidential counseling through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Make literature and electronic information about substance abuse accessible to your employees, via handouts, bulletin board flyers, wiki postings and e-mail.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) offers a free Web tool, Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Policy Builder, that can help employers establish policies.

Documents used in the preparation of this TrendWatcher include the following: