Should Small Business Owners Test Their Employees for Drugs and Alcohol?

In the corporate world, a drug test is essentially a cornerstone to the hiring process. Anyone beginning a job at a large corporation knows that they will invariably be drug tested before their hiring is official. It makes sense, if you think about it. Corporations can have hundreds of employees working for them. Drug testing ensures that no one with problematic habits will slip through the cracks and cause issues within the organization.

Doctor examining test tube

While it might be customary and make sense at a large corporation, things get a bit more nuanced when we’re discussing drug and alcohol testing for small businesses.

To help you decide if a drug and alcohol policy is appropriate for your organization, here are some pros and cons to consider before deciding which path your business will take.

Pro: Reduce the Risk of Hiring People with Drug and Alcohol Issues

This is the very purpose of drug and alcohol testing. The idea is that you identify any people who might cause a problem before they become employees. Even for small businesses, this isn’t a bad idea. It’s easier to simply not hire someone than it is to terminate an employee who’s already joined your organization.

Con: Losing Good Employees During Random Screening

Of course, new hires aren’t the only ones who are subject to drug tests. If you implement random drug tests on your current employees, you do risk losing great members of your small organization due to drug use that may be relatively minor.

A good example of this is marijuana. While illegal in many states, it has been made legal in states such as Colorado. The jury is still out as to whether or not marijuana is a relatively harmless substance or if it’s detrimental to users. However, most of us can agree that some people who use marijuana are able to do recreationally, without the drug affecting their day to day lives.

Remember, if you conduct random drug screenings, you must terminate all employees who fail. You can’t terminate some employees for some drugs and not other employees for others. Hence, your small business runs the risk of losing a good employee over drug or alcohol usage that could be relatively innocuous in the grand scheme of things.

Drug testing consultation

photo credit: Alex Proimos / Flickr

Pro: Reduces Risk of Accidents in the Workplace

When an employee is using an intoxicant like drugs or alcohol, they become more likely to have an accident while at work. As a business owner, this can be an insurance nightmare, even if you can prove that the employee was using.
When you utilize drug screenings, you’re ultimately reducing your risk of on-site accidents. This can be especially important for small businesses that have a higher risk of accident and injury, such as a mechanic’s shop.

Con: Create an Atmosphere of Mistrust and Resentment

You might not want to be friends with your employees, but you certainly want them to like you. Not only does it make the workplace more pleasant, but it makes your employees more motivated to make your company money.

When the threat of a drug and alcohol test is always looming, employees may grow to resent you. Even if they wouldn’t otherwise be partaking in any illicit substances, they might resent the notion that you don’t trust them and could at any minute send them to a lab for a test.

Generally, employees are going to be happier and more motivated when they feel like they are trusted and respected by their employer. The constantly looming threat of a surprise drug test is not an ideal way to foster this sort of atmosphere.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how your small business should handle drug and alcohol testing. While you should absolutely foster a trusting and positive atmosphere in the workplace, you ultimately do need to keep the best interests of your organization in mind.


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