New Study Suggests Drug Use in Our Workforce is on the Rise ….How Can Employers Protect Themselves and Their Employees?

by Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

A recent study released by Quest Diagnostics reveals that drug use in the country’s workforce is on the rise. According to Quest’s analysis of more than ten million tests conducted in 2016, drug use among the combined US. workforce has increased to 4.2 percent, which is a five percent relative increase over 2015’s rate and an all-time high since 2012.

Drug use by workers poses significant health and safety concerns for their fellow-employees and exposes employers to liability. It also leads to loss of employee productivity, high turnover and creates a myriad of other issues.

What accounts for the increase in drug use among our employees? To begin with, as one might expect, more employees today are testing positive for marijuana. In oral fluid testing, for example, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016, in the general U.S. workforce.  In Colorado and Washington, the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized, the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect.

Interestingly enough, while the current national dialogue continues to focus on the opiate crisis, the Quest study suggests that prescription opiate use, including use of hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone, is actually beginning to decline in the general U.S. workforce. The decline is likely the result of state and federal authorities’ efforts in recent years to place tighter controls on opiate prescribing practices. Non-prescription opiate use also appears to be on the decline. After four straight years of increases, heroin use remains steady among the general workforce.

While opiate use is down, cocaine use was unfortunately more prevalent in 2016 than it was in 2015. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent in the general U.S. workforce. Likewise, amphetamine (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine drugs) positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend. Between 2012 and 2016, methamphetamine use climbed 64 percent in the general U.S. workforce.

What should employers in Connecticut do to address the increasing presence of drugs in the workplace, and protect themselves and their employees?

(1) Understand Applicable Laws

First and foremost, an employer must ensure it understands the various legal requirements it must comply with when dealing with drug use and abuse by employees (this includes both legal and illegal drugs). An employee using medical marijuana during non-work time may, for example, be entitled to certain legal protections under Connecticut’s medical marijuana statute. While an employee is not permitted to report to work under the influence of marijuana even if that marijuana is medically indicated, an employer may not discipline, terminate or discriminate against an employee solely because he/she is a qualified medical marijuana patient or because he/she (if he/she is such a patient) fails a drug test.

(2) Draft and Disseminate a Comprehensive Policy

We also recommend that employers draft and disseminate a clear and comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. The policy should address the proper and prohibited uses of prescription drugs and illegal drugs and the employer’s drug testing procedures. The best way to inform employees of an employer’s expectations is to articulate them and have employees acknowledge them in writing. Having a strongly worded policy also provides a first line of defense in the event of litigation.

(3) Ensure That Drug Testing Complies with Applicable Law

If an employer is drug testing prospective or current employees, it must confirm it is drug testing properly and as permitted by law. Private employers, for example, must comply with Connecticut’s drug testing statute, Connecticut General Statutes §31-51t et seq., when conducting urinalysis drug testing. That statute requires employers conducting pre-employment and post-employment testing to follow certain rules and provides a right of action to an employee if those rules are not followed.

(4) Train HR Professionals, Managers and Supervisors, and Document Everything

The employer should also train its supervisors and managers regarding the requirements of its policy and how to recognize when their employees are under the influence of drugs at work. To the extent a supervisor or manager suspects drug use or abuse, they should document everything they observe.

(5) Be Supportive and Consistent and Act In a Measured Way When Enforcing the Policy

Finally, employers should be sensitive to the difficulties employees face when abusing substances and encourage them to seek help. Employers should also engage in an interactive process with the employee and his/her health care professionals when appropriate. Employers may also find it beneficial to offer an Employee Assistance Program. While an employer may or may not wish to discipline or terminate an employee it discovers is using drugs, the situation may be complicated by a variety of human, economic and legal factors. How the situation is handled may have long-lasting effects for both the employer and employee, and handling it properly will benefit the business and reduce the risk of litigation and other costly outcomes which may be avoided with a bit of forethought.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.