A survey from the Current Consulting Group (CCG) reports that since the start of the pandemic in 2020, 21% of employers have reported a drop of 61% or more in the number of drug tests that they perform on employees. There are combined factors in play, including high unemployment rates, but the majority of the decline resulted from concern about workplace drug testing safety and COVID-19 precautions. Additionally, since March of 2020, medical labs have prioritized COVID-19 testing, causing delays for employers who conduct drug screens.
For employers, the pandemic presented an array of challenges. One of those challenges was supporting frontline and essential workers, as well as employees who may have been working remotely for the first time in their careers – and doing so while arranging childcare or monitoring remote learning for school-age children. Employees were stressed, and employers saw a spike in substance abuse throughout the pandemic.
While the CDC has not offered guidance for workplace drug testing during the pandemic, other organizations, such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), have provided drug testing guidance that is applicable in workplace settings. Concerning drug testing specimens, ASAM stated:
“Any alternative testing protocol should minimize contact…and minimize the strain on local laboratory services. According to the CDC, viable and infectious COVID-19 can be found in both urine and stool samples of infected individuals. Precautions should be appropriately taken when working with these body fluids. In addition, as it is known to be spread through respiratory droplets, care should be taken when working with saliva specimens as well. At this time, the CDC provides no guidance on routinely pre-testing patients for the COVID-19 virus who are giving a saliva sample.”
While employers were able to postpone some candidate drug testing (if not mandated on the federal or state level, for example, when hiring transportation employees) and hire new employees on a contingency basis in which drug testing can occur at a later date, screening essential employees in industries like logistics and manufacturing slowed hiring considerably at a critical time.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine became available to much of the population earlier this year, COVID testing is still the primary focus for many laboratories and some of the testing facilities are understaffed as the need for healthcare staff increases with the vaccine rollout.
How should employers proceed in order to ensure candidate drug testing is completed before a hire, safely and in a timely manner? Because no one is really certain what the next several months will look like with regards to lab testing and vaccinations, scenario planning is essential. Using an “if this, then that” (IFTTT) planning model, you and your team should decide how your screening policies may change if there is a surge in new cases, a decline in cases and/or testing, if you are able to develop new partnerships with labs that are not also testing for COVID-19, or what a gradual return to pre-pandemic screening looks like.
For small to mid-sized companies that do not have a dedicated staff for candidate screening, or large companies who do but are still experiencing long wait times for candidate lab appointments, partnering with a vendor that can support your candidate screening can help.
For example, Cisive has a fully integrated drug screening process designed to speed up your candidate onboarding. This includes offering candidate self-registration online, multiple choices for lab and location (including the ability to select alternate testing companies), and an online portal that can give employers results in real time. Additionally, Cisive can help you and your team with support for employee regulations and guidelines, ranging from conditional offers of employment to mandated DOT testing and audit assistance.
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