An expert’s perspective on alcohol and drug testing

Focus Area — Human Resources

man with sleeping disorder

In August 2019, The Conference Board of Canada spoke with Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler of DriverCheck Inc., who provided her expert perspective on alcohol and drug testing.
This QA is included in our  free report Fit for Duty: Alcohol and Drug Testing in Canadian Workplaces

1. Can you provide some recommendations regarding alcohol and drug testing that organizations should consider when developing their alcohol and drug policies?

It’s important to not just find a policy template online and use it for yourself, because not all safety-sensitive positions, workplaces, and consequences of impairment are equal. I think a company needs to develop its stance on legal drugs, including prescriptions and over-thecounter medications that are readily available in Canada and can be as impairing as cannabis.

It should also decide what’s needed to ensure a safe workplace and how to best educate employees about the policy. Employees need more guidance with cannabis, especially with it being very different than alcohol. People think of them similarly because they are both legal, so it can be hard to understand why they can drink on a day off but can’t smoke cannabis. Organizations will have more employees following their policies when there’s a better understanding of where the policy and regulations are coming from.

2. In your expert opinion, what kind of testing method is the best or most effective for testing cannabis in the workplace?

What I always say is that there is no perfect test. It very much depends on the type of industry, company policies, and type of test you’re doing, whether it’s a follow-up test, reasonable-cause test, post-incident test, etc. For example, if you are in the aviation industry where you have a zero-tolerance policy or 28 days' abstinence of cannabis before work, then I would probably say urine testing would be the best approach. If a company said, “We don’t care what a person does on their own time but have told our employees they cannot use cannabis within 24 hours of coming to work,” then an oral fluid test would be most appropriate. There is one answer for each company, but not one answer for all workplaces.

3. What can non-safety-sensitive organizations be doing to manage or detect alcohol and drug usage in the workplace?

When we look at the big picture of “fit for work,” we know that there are different consequences for being impaired in a nonsafety- sensitive job compared to safetysensitive jobs. But at the same time, our expectation is that everybody shows up fit for work and not impaired. It is important that even in a non-safety-sensitive world, supervisors and managers who have employees under their umbrella are trained to look for signs of overt impairment. The important thing is to have conversations with employees about legal substances and to discuss the expectations around cannabis in the workplace and consequences for coming to work impaired.

4. If you could determine the direction of future research in the alcohol and drug testing space (related to cannabis), what would you focus on?

One of the biggest areas that I would like to see more research on is with cannabidiol (CBD). All legal CBD sold in Canada contains some THC, with the quantities varying among products. It’s important to understand if impairment differs when using a CBD oil with 1 mg/ml of THC versus using a CBD oil with 30 mg/ml of THC. And if so, what does this look like? Will drug tests be different? How does this impact individuals in safety-sensitive work? There’s not much research when it comes to impairing effects of CBD and many people are using it for medical purposes: for sleep, arthritis, back pain, anxiety, etc. These individuals may be in violation of their workplace policy without being aware.

5. Following legalization, do you have any additional advice on cannabis testing policies and protocols for employers/organizations?

Companies that test can sometimes come across individuals with true substance use disorders, which are considered disabilities. How a company deals with these results can really change the culture in that workplace. Employees can have a more positive attitude toward workplace drug testing if their employer makes it part of a bigger wellness program that shows they care about their employees. The program should include ways the employer plans to help employees with true substance use disorders. It should look at impairment from all causes—not simply from drugs (such as insomnia, anxiety, mental health concerns, and wellness)—that can all certainly impact work. It’s not about focusing on the singular alcohol and drug piece but putting it all together as part of a wellness and fitness-forduty program.

Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler

Chief of Medical Review Officer of DriverCheck Inc.

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Related Research

Insights — Cannabis

Hear more of Dr. Adler’s persectives at the
Cannabis at work conference.

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