Warn about lawsuits when discussing drug policy

If you call FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, NC, to request drug-testing services, someone is going to ask you what sort of drug-testing policy you have in place. If you don’t have a good answer, you probably won’t get testing services.

The occupational health clinic has a firm policy requiring a good drug-testing policy before providing testing services, says Otto Rogers, MD, FACEP, medical director of occupational health services and the clinic’s medical review officer for drug testing. The clinic doesn’t just turn away employers without a drug policy; it offers to help them formulate one properly. But Rogers says he does have to say no to some requests for immediate testing.

"We get calls all the time from employers who have a suspected drug user, and they want us to come over and test," he says. "The first thing I do is ask what policy they have in place for testing, and if they don’t have one, I absolutely refuse to do it at that point. I invite them to get together with us so we can talk about it, and they usually understand after I explain some of the reasons why it’s not a good idea to just jump into the testing."

Rogers explains that the employer would be exposing itself to great legal liability by testing employees without a formal policy in place and that FirstHealth would be volunteering to share some of that liability if it conducted the testing. Once he starts explaining how easily the employee could sue and how much money is at stake, the employer usually is not so eager to do the testing without a proper policy.

"I say, You might as well call your attorney right now because you’re going to have problems if you don’t have a policy in place,’" Rogers says. "I suggest you think about the net worth of your company, and then call your attorney to tell him that’s what the employee is going to be suing for.’ That tends to get the point across."