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Workplace Drug Testing During COVID-19

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Here’s what we know: drug testing works! It has proven to be a powerful deterrent to drug use and an effective way of identifying people who need help. Unfortunately, we also know that before the COVID-19 pandemic, substance abuse in America was on the rise. We also know that during a national crisis, substance abuse levels dramatically increase in a short period. There is evidence that the PTSD-related substance abuse trend has been in full swing during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Nielsen report cited by the Associated Press, alcohol sales rose dramatically at the beginning of the epidemic. Because most states declared marijuana to be an “essential” medicine during the pandemic, in some cases sales of legal marijuana significantly increased. 

On November 3, 2020, 5 more states (Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, New Jersey, South Dakota) voted to legalize marijuana, bringing 39 states that have legalized pot. Oregon voted to decriminalize all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, meth, and synthetic opioids.  


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What employers need to know about drug testing during and following the COVID-19 pandemic 

Now is not the time to stop or curtail drug testing. It is possible to say that drug testing has never been more critical, especially pre-employment and random drug testing. Besides the increasing rate of substance abuse and its predictable impact on safety and workplace accidents, consider these other important factors: 

  • The federal government continues to require drug testing of employers in certain safety-sensitive industries such as transportation, though special guidelines have been issued to address challenges employers and providers may experience while trying to comply with federal requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • State drug testing laws that mandate drug testing and/or regulate the how, when and who of drug testing have not been suspendedand compliance is still required when testing can be conducted (check applicable state laws to ensure compliance).

  • Traditional drug testing methods, such as lab-based urine testing, still work, but alternative testing methods may help employers overcome the obstacles to testing that some companies are currently experiencing. 

To work around some challenges, employers have encountered trying to complete drug tests during the pandemic, the following

3 alternative drug testing and collection methods to consider

1. Lab-based Oral Fluid Testing

Recently endorsed by the federal government, lab-based oral fluid testing eliminates some challenges employers are currently experiencing. Unlike most urine collections, oral fluid collections do not require the use of an off-site collection facility, thus removing sanitation concerns. 

For employers facing drug testing challenges because of closed collection facilities, have reduced hours, or cannot offer urine collections, an on-site oral fluid collection conducted by a trained employee may be a viable alternative.

  • In a typical oral fluid collection, the employee-donor and collector are in proximity with one another during the entire collection process, making every collection fully observed. However, because the collection is employee-driven, the employee-donor and collector can easily maintain at least six feet of distance between themselves per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The collector also can wear a protective mask and gloves. 
  • Drugs are usually detectable in an oral fluid sample within minutes after usage, making oral fluid testing ideal for detecting recent use, which may heighten concern for safety-sensitive occupations during COVID-19 and in marijuana-friendly states. 

POCT Urine and Oral Fluid testing per applicable state laws, using point-of-collection (POCT) oral fluid or urine test devices also represent viable options. Though they can conduct these tests at a collection facility, mobile collection services can visit a worksite and administer tests, or businesses can train employees to supervise the collection.  

POCT devices render qualitative (positive or negative) results. Employers can send presumptive positive samples to a certified laboratory for confirmation testing.  

2. Saliva Alcohol 

Saliva alcohol screens are easy to conduct and represent an alternative to the use of evidentiary breath testing (EBT) when breath testing is unavailable or undesirable. Some providers are reporting an increase in agencies and clinics discontinuing the use of breathalyzers during the COVID-19 pandemic because of concerns over deep-lung air being delivered at the site of testing facilities. 

While the DOT permits the use of approved saliva alcohol screening devices, they require an EBT for confirmation of a screen positive.  

3. Telehealth or Remote Video-Observed Collections 

Telehealth or remote video-observed collections can be done using one of several programs, including Zoom, Skype, YouTube, FaceTime, and WhatsApp, among others. One program called Proof has made these types of collections easier. Taking advantage of technology, a collector can observe every oral fluid collection phase from a thousand miles away. Because the donor does not require the privacy of a bathroom or toilet stall with an oral fluid collection, the entire collection process can fully observable.  


The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftershocks will continue to haunt workplaces for many months to come. Employers should remain committed to their drug-free workplace goals and rely on drug testing to help them achieve those objectives. Pre-employment drug testing, in particular, will be critical as the economy opens up again and millions of job seekers knock on employer’s doors.  

The value of alternative testing methods such as oral fluid drug testing and telehealth collections will continue to gain ground on traditional testing methods as the “new” normal reshapes how employers create and maintain safe and healthy working conditions.  

Looking for employment drug testing services and background checks? Schedule a free consultation with Orange Tree.