You smell alcohol on an employee’s breath after lunch. What should you do? One of your staff is acting weird, and you suspect they may be smoking marijuana. An employee has a motor vehicle accident with a company car, and you suspect they were under the influence when they crashed. What’s an employer to do?

From experience, more and more employers are turning to drug and alcohol testing of employees as a means of screening new job applicants, and also being able to respond to chemical use and abuse of present employees. Minnesota employers can’t just act on suspicion that an employee was drinking alcohol or using drugs before coming to work. State statute governs drug and alcohol testing of employees in the workplace, outlining what, when, where, and under what circumstances an employer can test an employee for alcohol or drugs.

Before an employer asks a job applicant or an employee to submit to testing, they must have adopted a policy that fits within state guidelines, and the individual must be given a copy of the testing policy. The policy must set out:

  1. the employees or job applicants subject to testing under the policy;
  2.  the circumstances under which drug or alcohol testing may be requested or required;
  3. the right of an employee or job applicant to refuse to undergo drug and alcohol testing and the consequences of refusal;
  4. any disciplinary or other adverse personnel action that may be taken based on a confirmatory test verifying a positive test result on an initial screening test;
  5. the right of an employee or job applicant to explain a positive test result on a confirmatory test or request and pay for a confirmatory retest; and
  6. any other appeal procedures available.

Employers are required to use certified labs which meet minimum qualifications, and follow specific protocols. For example, a positive drug or alcohol test must also be subject to a confirmatory test. A job applicant or employee must be notified about a positive test result, that they have an opportunity to explain the positive test results, and that they can request a confirmatory retest of the sample, at their own expense.

“Safety sensitive” positions can be subject to random drug testing. Random drug and alcohol testing means the employer has initiated a testing schedule, whereby a random sample of employees are tested on a monthly or quarterly basis. Most employees however, are not considered “safety sensitive” and would be subject instead to a reasonable suspicion standard.  Reasonable suspicion means there is a “…basis for forming a belief based on specific facts and rational inferences drawn from those facts.” This may mean a car accident with the company vehicle, observation of behavior and an odor of alcohol on an employee’s breath, or the employee caused harm to another employee.

If the workplace is unionized, drug and alcohol testing must be negotiated with the bargaining agent. If there is no union, the employer is free to adopt a drug and alcohol testing procedure that meets the guidelines of Minnesota state statute. Most employers incorporate the drug and alcohol testing policy in their Employee Handbook.

To test or not to test, that is the question? If the answer is to test- then state statute needs to be followed.

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