Oklahoma's new laws that give employers greater latitude for workplace drug testing can help the state address its substance abuse epidemic, according to workplace advocates. Still, businesses that drug test their workers should use more than a zero tolerance approach, educators warn.
Amended statutes, which took effect Nov. 1 and were tweaked in an emergency order May 8, among other things, allow employers to test workers with negative performance patterns, excessive absenteeism or tardiness; test workers following a leave of absence or job reassignment; test whole groups or shifts of employees; test workers who, while at work, damage property of any value; and test independent contractors when there's a contractual agreement to allow it.
Employers' drug policies now may state workers will be tested for “drugs and alcohol;” they no longer must list specific drugs. And today's employers aren't obliged to offer employee assistance programs to conduct drug testing.
“The new laws clear up issues as far as unemployment insurance claims, and allow us to understand drug tests in a more direct manner and get those records at all,” said John Carpenter, spokesman for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Employers don't need written consent from workers to release their drug test results, an unintended loophole created temporarily by the November amendments.
OESC doesn't track how many cases involve failed or refused drug tests, Carpenter said. But of last year's 170,802 initial claims for unemployment insurance, 60,313 were protested by employers, including 44,912 for misconduct.
Employees still have protections under the amended laws, said Mike Lauderdale, a labor and employment attorney with McAfee & Taft. Employers, he said, still are required to keep drug test results confidential, absent certain circumstances. And employees also are entitled to request confirmation tests within 24 hours of receiving results of a positive drug test, he said.
Susan Lobsinger, president of USA Mobile Drug Testing, applauds the legislative clarifications. In the past six months, she's had three clients grapple with the loophole affecting claims for unemployment benefits, she said.
“Drug use is an absolute epidemic in Oklahoma, and drug testing can be huge in stopping it,” Lob
Did you know?
• Ten percent of the U.S. population is chemically addicted, and 77 percent of illegal drug users are employed in full- and part-time jobs.
• Eight percent of Oklahoma's population abuses prescription drugs, which cause more than four times the suicidal overdoses as street drugs.
• Substance abuse costs Oklahoma more than $7.2 billion yearly.
• Without addiction, Oklahoma employers would save $600 million annually in health care costs.
• Twenty-six percent of employed Americans report substance abuse within their families, and 42 percent of those workers report being distracted or less productive at work because of it.