Avoid DIY drug testing warns expert

Companies undertaking their own drug testing may save money but, in light of a recent legal case in Australia, one expert is warning they do so at their own risk.

Avoid DIY drug testing warns expert
Companies trying to cut costs by conducting their own staff drug testing are putting themselves at risk of legal action. That's the warning from Kirk Hardy, CEO of New Zealand company The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA).

Hardy warns DIY workplace drug testing is fraught with more potential pitfalls than positives.

“The practices we’re seeing and hearing about will result in innocent staff losing jobs or, even worse, potential drug-affected employees not being detected, resulting in workplace accidents causing serious injury or fatalities. We will start to see expensive court cases costing the employers thousands of dollars in damages from poor drug testing practices,” Hardy said.

It's a sentiment backed by Max Whitehead, Managing Director of Whitehead Group, which represents employers in employment disputes.

“The damage unlawful drugs are doing to New Zealand is huge – particularly in workplaces. What’s worse is when an employer dismisses staff due to a cheap drug test and find out they got it wrong. The judiciary will come down hard on any employer when it's proven their drug test was unreliable,” he said.

The issue was highlighted recently in Sydney where an employee lost his job over the result of a saliva test which was conducted internally by the company's HR staff. Hardy explained the whole process was “flawed from the start”.

“Not only does a positive saliva screen need to be validated by a certified laboratory test before it can be deemed as truly positive, but correct procedures need to be followed by trained staff,” Hardy said.

“In this case the employee is now looking at suing his employer for wrongful dismissal, which will end up costing the company money. So, what started out as a cheaper, do-it-yourself option looks like it’s turning into a expensive court case that has also tarnished the company’s brand and reputation.”

In this case TDDA staff drug tested a sample of the employee’s hair and it tested negative.

Hardy also raised concerns that some employers seem to view DIY drug testing as a way to easily get rid of staff.

“It doesn’t quite work like that. Drug use in the workplace is a serious issue and must be treated as a serious issue with correct procedure followed – employers just can’t afford to get it wrong, there are people’s lives and livelihoods at stake,” he said.

“There are cheap saliva and urine testing kits available but the test results aren’t legally valid for a number of reasons, including the way the test is conducted and by whom, as well as the actual validity of the test results. There are strict industry standards that must be adhered to.

“The initial drug test results certainly aren’t enough reason to dismiss a staff member and won’t legally stand up if challenged in court.”

Hardy adds that instant saliva tests “are more often than not unreliable” and can record false positives and negative results, therefore he advises that testing is done properly and any test result is verified by a laboratory.

“Hair and urine tests are far more accurate than a instant saliva test kit.”

Hardy would like to see the New Zealand Government regulate workplace drug testing.

“Drug testing must be conducted by certified experts and there needs to be legislation in place to ensure this. At the moment there isn’t, it’s a self-regulated industry and self regulation clearly isn’t working.

“One of my main concerns is that employees are being wrongfully dismissed over invalid drug test results and general practices, and in the end it will cost companies a lot of money in the courts. Let’s keep things in perspective – drug and alcohol testing is there for workplace safety, that is paramount and that’s what we’re working towards, creating drug-free environments.”

Related articles:
$13k payout for positive drug test firing 
Workplace drug testing on the rise

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