Drug Testing U.S Employees Abroad

If someone is using drugs in the workplace, it’s nothing short of an accident waiting to happen. The United States began promoting employee drug testing back in the late 80s after two serious accidents involving the public and the transportation system. President Ronald Reagan signed a mandate requiring all federal employees to pass a drug test. Incentives, such as, insurance companies offering employers discounted workers compensation rates if they participated in drug-free workplace programs helped the idea take off within the general workforce.

Once statistics began to prove the benefits drug-free workplaces provide employers, it’s hard for some to believe anyone would own a business and not go drug-free.

Policies that incorporate pre-employment testing are the most often used. In fact, a large number of American companies require a pre-employment drug test and once hired, the employee never submits to another. Unless, that is, the employee exhibits signs of drug use while on the clock. Should that be the case, supervisors would follow the procedures in place for a “reasonable suspicion” drug test.

From the employer’s viewpoint, drug use impairs both cognitive skills and mobility. That means employees impaired by drug use are at higher risk of being involved in an accident. Anyone working with or near the employee is at greater risk as well.

Why American employers promote drug-free workplaces

Employee drug testing is one of the main tools used in enforcing a drug-free workplace. It seems perfectly reasonable to require pre-employment or random employee drug testing. It promotes safety in the workplace in many ways—the most significant being that most drug users won’t even apply for a job with a company that tests employees for drug use.

Drug-free programs also require that policies be in place to carry out post-accident drug testing should employees be involved in an accident—either on site or over the road. Knowing whether or not someone involved was impaired by drug use could help investigators determine with whom the responsibility lies.

Companies that have gone drug-free report fewer accidents. Absenteeism drops and productivity goes up—both extremely beneficial to the business owner. Drug users aren’t known for staying with a job for extended periods either. That said, drug-free workplaces enjoy a lower turnover rate also. Employees report feeling safer and tend to trust their employers to put their best interests at heart to a greater extent than those who don’t work in a drug-free environment.

U.S. companies make sure to tweak your policies

It’s a common misconception of many business owners who plan to take their American business to an international level to assume they can easily import their current policies and procedures to the new site outside the U.S. Things like employee handbooks, equal employment opportunity policies, hiring, firing, and employee leave policies are all going to need revision. And, that, only after reviewing workplace laws and statutes in place where you plan to expand.

Drug-free policies and procedures make that list too. Even though employee drug testing procedures are allowed in America, business locations abroad will need to have policies and procedures that apply to the specific country they plan to operate in. For instance, random alcohol testing for safety-sensitive employees is considered an invasion of privacy in Canada. However, reasonable suspicion of intoxication makes testing permissible, as does involvement in an accident while on duty.

On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) mandates that all safety-sensitive employees be entered into a random test pool data base upon being hired. Many companies use the DOT drug testing policies and procedures as a building block for the drug-free policy that they create. Implementing the random test policy in Canada, though, could bring the owner unnecessary grief down the road.

Drug and alcohol testing differs in Europe too, mainly due to the fact that European employees have greater rights to privacy than those in the United States. Some countries allow for contractual allowances to be made regarding such things as drug testing, however, Belgium and Finland strictly forbid it.

Moreover, as a rule, Poland and the Czech Republic only allow employers to obtain the following data from those seeking employment:


  • Name and surname
  • Date of birth
  • Contact data
  • Education
  • Professional experience
  • Employment history

So, collecting a specimen for drug testing is out of the question. Meanwhile, China and India don’t allow drug testing employees at all. That may be due to the fact that many of the substances that are prohibited in the United States are widely available and legal for use in these countries.

A wide breadth

As a rule, plan on checking out drug testing laws in the countries—down to the specific city—where you’re planning to open your business. Drug and alcohol testing requirements vary greatly from country to country. However, some people who live there do use drugs and may be trying to hide it. They might also eventually get a job working for you.

The following common-sense tips will help protect you as you consider implementing your drug testing procedures abroad.

  • Never assume U.S. policies can be automatically implemented abroad.
  • Make sure your written policies detail all testing parameters, including type of tests used, levels of discipline associated with positive test results, and include information regarding teaching prevention, aiding with counseling and treatment where appropriate.
  • Ensure employees’ privacy rights are upheld at all times.
  • Use the least intrusive means of drug testing available.
  • Remember that some countries consider drug users to be protected under disability discrimination laws.

Following these tips should give you a jumping off point as you advance your company. They can help you establish your employee drug testing procedures as you expand internationally.

Bon voyage!

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