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Did you know that nearly one out of every six companies worldwide are 100% remote? Meaning, about 16% of workplaces don't have a physical location, all employees work remotely.i And while 44% of companies currently do not permit remote work, 85% of managers believe that having the option of working from home will become the norm.ii
It's a brave new world. Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns eased up, millions of workers have started looking for jobs, but not all of them will find a workplace to go back to. In fact, Forbes reported that by 2025, an estimated 70% of workers will be working remotely at least five days a month.
This trend raises many questions, including how to maintain a drug-free workplace when workers don't come to a workplace. If employees are working remotely, usually from home, can employers require them to abstain from using drugs and alcohol during the workday, avoid being under the influence of substances while on the job, and be subject to drug and alcohol testing?
Following are 8 things every employer should know about drug testing remote workers:
1. Who works from home?
Professionals and those in management occupations rather than manual laborers, those with college degrees as opposed to those with only a high school diploma, women more than men, and people with children at home vs. those without children at home are more likely to work from home. The healthcare, technology, and financial services industries have the highest levels of remote workers.
2. Do they consume alcohol on the job while working from home?
Yes, in fact, 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to drink alcohol during working hours while working from home. This includes 36% of men and 26% of women.
3. What about marijuana use?
During the pandemic marijuana was deemed an essential medicine, which meant that most if not all marijuana dispensaries remained open and likely thrived. At the beginning of the pandemic, cannabis e-commerce platform Jane Technologies reported that average store revenue was up 52% to 130% compared to January 2020. The cannabis analytics firm, Headset, reported that THC-related beverages and edibles sales went up significantly in California. MKM Partners Research reported that the demand for cannabis surged in Florida citing an average increase in THC product sales of 36%.
4. Did this result in more workers testing positive for marijuana?
Yes, it did, especially in states with legal recreational marijuana laws. One drug testing firm reported a 20% increase in positive drug test results from random testing for marijuana. However, the federal government reported that marijuana use had already increased dramatically between 2018 and 2019. The pandemic just made things worse.
5. Is it legal to drug test remote workers?
Absolutely. All 50 states permit drug testing of remote workers for pre-employment, random, post-accident/incident and reasonable suspicion/for cause testing. Remote workers are just as likely as on-site workers, if not more so, to use drugs or abuse alcohol while on the job and therefore are more likely to make costly mistakes, mismanage clients accounts and confidential information, steal money, cause an accident, file a workers compensation claim, over-utilize their health care benefits, and work less productively than non-drug-abusing co- workers.
6. How should a company address remote workers in a drug testing policy?
Clearly and directly. In other words, if you have remote workers, be clear in your company policy that it applies to all workers, those who work on-site as well as those who work remotely. For instance, be clear that remote applicants and those who will work remotely, if hired, must pass a drug test to qualify for employment. Explain what could trigger a reasonable suspicion or for cause drug test (decrease in job performance, increase in mistakes and errors, complaints from customers, increased absenteeism or general lack of availability, etc.) and that those conditions apply equally to remote and on-site employees.
7. How can a company drug test remote workers? The same way it drug tests on-site employees, implementing adjustments as needed. For example, the company should not ask a remote worker to drive to a collection site for a reasonable suspicion or post-accident drug test. If the person is under the influence, the company would be placing that worker and possibly others in danger by sending them alone to an occupational health center. Instead, the company can employ the services of a qualified professional to visit the location of the individual to collect a sample or conduct a tele-health collection using an app specifically designed for drug testing. In these cases, oral fluid testing may be more feasible due to the ease of collection. For pre-employment and random testing, the individual can be sent to an off-site facility or, again, the company can opt to use a tele-health collection app.
8. Can a company refuse to hire or terminate employment in the case of a remote applicant or workers who test positive? Yes, however, the same laws that would normally apply to a drug test apply to testing remote workers. Some states legal marijuana laws place conditions on what an employer can do with a positive drug test result, so check those laws carefully before implementing a policy. Generally speaking, and in accordance with applicable laws, employers may treat remote workers the same as on-site workers when it comes to refusing to hire an applicant who tests positive, as well as terminating or suspending an employee who fails a drug test.
Remote workers come with benefits and challenges for employers. Offering remote work may help attract top talent, reduce employee turnover, cut down on business costs, and improve productivity. But it can be challenging for employers to maintain consistent communication with remote workers, track performance, and ensure security.
The bottom line is this: employers remain responsible for the on-the-job actions of their employees regardless of their place of employment, workplace or a home office. Respondeat superior and negligent hiring laws can apply in both cases. If a remote worker mismanages a clients finances or embezzles funds, causes an accident while visiting a customers workplace that results in property damage or harm to another person, or any number of possible scenarios, the employer may still be liable for the costs associated with losses, damages, or injuries. Because remote workers are just as likely as on-site workers, if not more so, to use drugs or abuse alcohol while on the job, employers have a responsibility to do everything possible to maintain a drug-free workforce.
Drug testing of remote workers is legal in every state and a wise business decision.
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