Drug testing increasing for area businesses
January 23, 2006
The drug testing business in Truckee is buzzing. In the past year, Truckee Drug and Alcohol Testing has grown approximately five-fold, said the company’s owner, Mark Brown.In the past, drug testing was mostly reserved to “safety-sensitive” industries, including hospitals, contractors, and truck drivers, Brown said. But now the Town of Truckee, Safeway and roughly 80 other area companies drug test their employees.There is little consensus about what is driving the increase, but Brown said more businesses are adopting drug tests because insurance companies are beginning to offer worker compensation rebates for employers who have mandatory testing programs. However, Gerry Rodriguez, senior project manager at Robert Marr Construction, said moving to regular drug testing was simply an insurance requirement. As a subcontractor of East West Partners, the company developing the Village-at-Northstar, Robert Marr Construction gets part of its insurance from East West’s insurance program, which requires regular drug testing. For Tom Just, an owner of Mountain Home Center, the move to general drug testing came similarly out of a deal with a larger, out-of-town firm, but it had nothing to do with insurance.This is “something we’re seeing a lot more of as big developers come into town,” Just said.
For a long time his company had a policy of “no drugs in the workplace,” and tests were only performed after an accident or under suspicion that an individual was using drugs. After being subcontracted by G.E. Johnson, another client of East West, Just’s company had to perform mandatory drug tests on everyone as part of their contract. Dave Albertson, a vice president at G.E. Johnson, said insurance played no role in the decision to require drug testing, but rather came out of concern about worker safety. “Caring for the safety of our employees is a foremost for us,” he said.Nonetheless, Just said there were indirect insurance benefits. Fewer workplace accidents brought down their worker compensation insurance rates. He added, though, that “the productivity benefits were huge.””When the full staff knows you’re serious there are also morale benefits,” he said.A persistent difficulty drug testing companies face is the inability to distinguish between individuals who are on drugs and individuals who take drugs outside of work.
Unlike an alcohol test, which tests an individual for influence of alcohol at a given time, drug tests look for residual drugs in the system. Drug tests indicate usage within the last few days or within the last month, depending on the drug.The problem has in some cases been an added impetus for establishing drug testing programs. Tom Just, an owner of Mountain Home Center, said that before his business had a program that tested every worker, he “would have difficulties disciplining an employee” if an accident occurred, because it would not be possible to prove that drugs were involved in the accident. The new program though, simplifies the issue by making it a policy violation to test positive for drugs.Punishments for testing positive differ from business to business and range from being sent to a drug program to expulsion. According to Mark Brown, owner of Truckee Drug and Alcohol Testing, random testing is not allowed in California without documented, probable suspicion. In some cities, like San Francisco, it is outright banned, he said. Most employers who drug test all their employees said that there was little opposition to the implementation of such a program. Just said that there was a “small percentage who opposed the change.” Some of these relented and some of these left the company.As one can expect, employees also try to elude the system, although it is hard to say to what degree they succeed. Brown claimed that supplements people buy to cheat on the drug test no longer work with newer equipment.
But one worker, whose company drug tests, said employees just “find ways to beat the test,” rather than change their lifestyle. “There are more products available at headshops to do this than there are to get high with,” he saidDespite a surge in drug screening, many area companies continue to not drug test. Many of the firms declined to comment, but others said that it was simply a matter of having a close enough staff that testing was unnecessary. “We’re fortunate to have had same work crew for many years, and we know that [they] don’t use drugs…,” said Tracy Loudenclos, office manager at Lowe Construction. “If we were to get a new crew, we would drug test them.”PULLDrug tests typically search for methamphetamine, PCP, cocaine, opiates, benzodiazapams, alcohol, and marijuana. Generally, employers do a pre-employment test as well as another test during the year.