With marijuana legalization spreading, employers are starting to rethink about substance abuse polices and testing. According to a survey conducted by Mashable.com, 9.7% of Americans smoke marijuana before going to work. Surprised?

In Iowa, if you’re in the private sector, drug and alcohol testing is optional and an employer can even make it a condition of employment. But, before a boss can randomly ask for a hair specimen, for example, the law sets out when and how employers can test.

What’s required by law before testing?

Employers must have a written drug testing policy and each employee and prospective employee must be provided with a copy. While Iowa does not require private employers to test, it strictly regulates employers who choose to. Iowa Code Sec. 720.5 requires a testing program to:

  • Have uniform disciplinary procedures for confirmed positive test results;
  • Establish an awareness program setting forth specific testing procedures and options for rehab and employee assistance;
  • Test only during or immediately before or after a work period – unannounced testing at work is allowed under certain conditions; and
  • Pay all costs associated with testing.

Weigh the pros and cons before putting pen to paper.

Whether your employees are driving machinery at a construction site or using a band saw for a building renovation, most jobs are safer when performed sober. Drug testing can reduce accidents and deter usage. According to the DOL, 10 to 20 percent of U.S. employees involved in fatal on-the-job accidents tested positive for drugs and alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that a drug-using employee is 3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident. The downside to drug testing programs is that they can be expensive and employees may resent random drug testing at work and view it as a privacy right violation.

Which businesses struggle most?

Small businesses “bear the greatest burden of substance abusers,” according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), because drug users tend to avoid big companies that they think will have drug-testing policies. Small businesses often find themselves lacking resources to implement testing, but with no policy in place, they take a chance of being sued if an employee causes an accident under the influence while working. On the flip side, singling out employees can create potential for a discrimination lawsuit, as well.

What’s a boss to do?

Employers should educate themselves on the rights of their workers with regard to drug testing. The ACLU monitors legal challenges to drug testing laws and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides testing guidelines.