What is Random Drug Testing?

April 14 2021
4 min read

Of the many types of workplace drug testing that one can perform, one of the most prevalent is random testing. Particularly in safety-sensitive industries, random testing can prove a valuable tool in creating a drug-free workplace environment post-hire and can help prevent costly mistakes and/or accidents that would have otherwise occurred had employees not been deterred from abusing drugs.

What is Random Drug Testing?

Random testing is unannounced testing that should be performed at “reasonable” intervals throughout the year. Employees are chosen randomly from a pre-determined pool and given no advance notice that testing is to occur, meaning that drug-abusing employees do not have the opportunity to either become clean or purchase products in hopes of adulterating the test.

Employees should be chosen via a random selection method that gives equal probability to all individuals subject to random testing. Selections can occur on whatever timeline the employer prefers and should be performed using an identifying number specific to the employee (e.g. employee number or other identifying number) which is placed in a testing pool from which a scientifically arbitrary selection is made.

While most states don’t place restrictions on selection methods for random testing, some states do, giving employers in those states an extra hurdle to overcome. Maine, for example, has extremely restrictive drug testing laws that limit an employer’s options for selection methods in terms of random testing. The law states that random selections must be performed by an individual “not under the influence of the employer” such as a Medical Review Officer (MRO).1

For Department of Transportation (DOT) regulated employers, determining a random pool is simple. Each DOT agency (Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), etc.) determines a random testing rate at the beginning of the calendar year based on drug and alcohol testing data from the prior year. Employers with employees in regulated positions are required to comply with these determined random rates, and selection methods are outlined in the DOT regulations.

Who Should be Randomly Drug Tested?

Employers regulated by a DOT agency have very clear-cut regulations determining who can and cannot be random tested. Refer to agency regulations to review definitions of what a safety-sensitive position entails in order to determine which employees meet those requirements and must be included in the DOT random testing pool at your workplace.

For non-DOT random testing programs, things can get a bit trickier. Many non-DOT employers choose to mirror the DOT random testing program as closely as their state law(s) allow. While many states permit random testing of non-safety-sensitive workers, recent case law has underlined the importance of choosing employees for a random pool based not on their titles or work locations, but rather on their safety-sensitive job duties in certain states.2 Regardless of whether a random testing pool will included non-safety-sensitive workers or not, it’s always a good idea to include a list of safety-sensitive positions (based on job functions) in your company policy.

Some state laws, such as Tennessee’s voluntary workers’ compensation premium discount law, contain specific language determining what constitutes a safety-sensitive position.3 Prior to updating or creating a drug-free workplace policy that includes random testing, employers should study applicable state law(s) carefully.

What are the state drug testing laws for random drug tests? 

Although it is rare, a number of states either outright prohibit random testing or place a number of restrictions on random testing in the workplace. San Francisco CA, Boulder CO, Rhode Island, and Vermont all prohibit random testing, and California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts place restrictions on it. DOT-regulated employers are required to comply with federal random drug testing requirements even in state(s) that restrict random testing. This means that if you are a DOT-covered employer in one of the aforementioned states you are still required to perform random testing in compliance with DOT regulations regardless of state law(s).

Why should employers perform random drug tests? 

Random testing is a powerful tool for employers to help identify individuals who may have a substance abuse problem in addition to being a means to deter individuals from starting or continuing to use drugs. Studies of positivity rates by testing reason have shown that random testing consistently continues to catch drug users across the board. From 2014 to 2018, positive rates from random testing via urine for the general U.S. workforce stayed steady at slightly above 5%.4 While one may assume that such a consistent and low positivity rate means that random testing doesn’t work, it, in fact, means the opposite.

If random testing produced consistently high positivity rates, it would have failed in its mission to deter employee drug abuse. However, random testing not only deters drug-abusing employees from doing drugs, it also helps identify individuals that could benefit from rehab. The lower the positivity rate, the better.

How Orange Tree can help 

Orange Tree offers a full suite of drug testing solutions including the administration of a random drug testing program.  We can help you consider and assess how these different solutions align with your business goals and policy.  

We provide a single order background and drug testing experience for you and your candidates.  The process begins with a text and allows the candidate to schedule a testing location convenient for them.  Our mobile friendly CandidateConnect® platform also reduces turnaround time by a day.

Orange Tree's solution enables the best possible candidate experience while allowing you to do your work instead of handling the logistics and administrative burden of random testing.  All steps in the process are annotated in our ClientConnectTM portal so you are kept informed every step of the way.

Schedule a free consultation today. 

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