Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing

Urine Test Strip

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Guidelines for drug testing of federal employees were first published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 1988 and have been revised several times since in 1994, 1998, 2004 and 2010.

The detailed, 51-page "Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs" is available online in PDF form.

Developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the guidelines are aimed at standardizing drug testing policies and procedures for all federal employees in all federal agencies.

Major Changes Proposed

In 2004, SAMHSA proposed revisions to the guidelines. After public comment on the proposed changes, notice of the changes were published in December 2008 and went into effect in May 2010.

Those proposals brought about several significant changes to the policy:

  • The guidelines were expanded to include laboratory testing of hair, oral fluid, and sweat patch specimens in addition to urine specimens for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine, opiates (with focus on heroin), and amphetamines [including methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDEA), methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA).
  • Allowed for the use of on-site, point-of-collection test (POCT) devices to test urine and oral fluid.
  • Permitted the use of instrumented initial test facilities (IITF) to quickly identify negative specimens.
  • Added training requirements for collectors, on-site testers, and medical review officers.

Certification of Laboratories

Also, the Mandatory Guidelines establish the scientific and technical guidelines for Federal workplace drug testing programs and establish standards for certification of laboratories engaged in drug testing for Federal agencies.

The revisions to the Mandatory Guidelines address the collection and testing of urine specimens, the requirements for certification of Instrumented Initial Test Facilities (IITF), and the role of and standards for collectors and Medical Review Officers (MRO).

Defining the Requirements for Testing

Specifically, the new guidelines defined the requirements for:

  • Specimen collection procedures
  • Custody and control procedures that ensure donor specimen identity and integrity
  • Testing facility
  • Initial and confirmatory test cutoff concentrations
  • Analytical testing methods
  • Result review and reporting
  • Evaluation of alternative medical explanations for positive tests
  • Laboratory certification issues

Combating Drug-Test Tricks

The use of additional specimen testing, other than urine, came after a pilot program started in April 2000 to prepare performance testing materials for specimens other than urine to evaluate the labs' ability to achieve accuracy and precision.

The addition of testing using hair, oral fluid, and sweat patch specimens to complement urine tests, were proposed to combat industries devoted to "suborning drug testing through adulteration, substitution, and dilution," SAMSHA reported.

The agency also reported that hair testing, which can detect drug use for up to 90 days, could be useful in pre-employment testing, oral fluid testing could detect drug use in post-accident situations, and sweat patch testing could be useful in connection with follow-up drug testing and treatment programs.

Quick Results for Negative Tests

The addition of the use of POCT devices and IITFs would give government agencies quick results in identifying negative specimens, while also indicating that the specimen is valid, SAMHSA noted.

All federal agencies that conduct drug testing must follow the Mandatory Guidelines developed by SAMHSA, which includes having a medical review officer evaluate all test results and using a drug laboratory certified by SAMHSA.

Private Employers Use Guidelines Too

Private employers who conduct drug testing of their employees are not required to follow SAMHSA's guidelines, however adhering to the guidelines will help them stay on firm legal ground, by using the federal procedures and by testing only for those drugs mentioned in the guidelines.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, court decisions have supported following the guidelines, consequently, many employers choose to follow the federal guidelines in developing their own drug testing programs.

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