Many different state and federal laws govern an employer's right to perform drug and alcohol screening on employees. As a result, understanding your rights can be very confusing. Compounding the problem is the fact that government and private sector employees are often subject to separate rules. If you are tempted to object to taking an alcohol or drug test at work, it's a good idea to get some legal advice before making any decisions.
Private and Public Employees' Rights Differ
Private sector employers have the freedom to screen their employees for drug and alcohol use whenever they want, with minimal interference from government. Government employers, however, face many restrictions. Federal law requires government employers to have a compelling reason for performing drug and alcohol testing. Forcing a government employee to take such a test would violate the employee's protections against "unreasonable search and seizure." Private employers don't violate this right since the U.S. Constitution only stops the government, not private employers, from performing unreasonable searches and seizures. Exceptions exist for some government employees, such as pilots, whose drug or alcohol use could cause public safety issues.
Your Employer May Need a Written Policy
Before employers can subject employees to screenings, some states require that they have in place a written drug and alcohol testing policy. These policies generally need to outline which employees are subject to testing, when a screening may be required, and the consequences of failing to comply. Before submitting to a drug or alcohol test, you should review your employer's policy.
Alcohol and Drug Test Results Are Confidential
Employers must keep the results of your drug or alcohol screening confidential. In the event your employer violates confidentiality laws, your state may allow you to seek damages. Possible court awards include reinstatement to your job if you were terminated for positive results, as well as back pay and reimbursement for your attorney fees.
Refusing to Take a Drug or Alcohol Test
At times, refusing to take a drug or alcohol test can be worse than taking the test and having it come back positive. Many state laws allow your employer to terminate you immediately for refusing a drug or alcohol screening. If you are not terminated, your employer can't treat you differently from other employees who refuse the test or even those with positive results. If you feel you're being singled out and discriminated against because of your refusal, you may have a discrimination claim against your employer.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding employee drug and alcohol testing is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.