“Privacy & confidentiality is of paramount importance when conducting drug testing for your Drug and Alcohol Program.”
A correctly structured and managed testing program will assist in avoiding issues over privacy & confidentiality. You should ensure the external testing agency or your in-house “collectors” demonstrate true recognition of the importance of these issues. Specific training regarding all aspects of privacy & confidentiality should have been provided to all of the “collectors”.
If protective measures are put in place to protect privacy & confidentiality then the only remaining concerns for your employees will usually arise from lack of understanding or misinformation.
One common concern that is raised by employee groups is for example “how can we protect the privacy of an employee following a positive on site result by keeping it secret from other employees?”
In reality, other employees will surely notice the absence of an employee who may be stood down about the same time when drug testing was being conducted. It is almost impossible to keep it a secret – but is it truly necessary? When an employee is “stood down” for an unconfirmed positive result, pending laboratory confirmation, it could simply be a result of pain medication. Speculation and gossip over the substance causing the positive must be discouraged as part of your drug and alcohol testing and education / awareness program.
So what are “four common questions about “privacy & confidentiality” and your drug & alcohol testing program?”
These four questions are most important:
- 1 – How do we gain and maintain the trust of our employees? Employers must demonstrate they are properly considering privacy and confidentiality. This should be addressed in the content of your policy & procedures. It should also be addressed openly during education of your employees at the implementation of your program. All aspects of your program must be handled with integrity, fairness and accountability. This includes structure of the policy & procedure, management of the testing process, transparent random selection, formalised disciplinary procedures and respectful management of “positive” results.
- 2 – Who in your organisation should be privy to drug & alcohol program records? Common sense dictates that only those persons who must be involved in the administration of a testing program or direct supervision or management of the employee concerned should be privy to this sensitive information. Within this approach steps can be taken to further protect privacy. For example whilst a senior supervisor may be made aware of a failed drug test, the specifics of the type of drug and levels detected may be restricted to the senior safety manager.
- 3 – What exactly do you need to keep private? Specific details of employee usage of drugs, including medications, and alcohol should be kept private from co-workers and management. The only time use of drugs & alcohol should be reported to management is when an employee fails their drug or alcohol test. Some employers mistakenly believe privacy and confidentiality should extend to keeping the actual participation in testing of each employee a secret. The real privacy and confidentiality issue here is the specific details of employee test results and/or their use of alcohol, drugs or both. In fact it is beneficial for employees to know their peers, and managers are being tested. This maximises the deterrent effect of the testing program as it is a constant reminder drug & alcohol testing takes place in that workplace.
- 4 – What information can I request from my employees? Any use of drugs, alcohol and medication outside working hours is only relevant to management if such use impacts safety or fitness for work. Thus it may be inappropriate to seek details of an employees’ use of non-safety sensitive medications. This can be managed correctly through implementation of well thought out procedures.