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OSHA Publishes Guidance on Post-Accident Drug Testing

By: Philip Qualo, J.D.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a memorandum last month clarifying the agency’s position on post-incident drug testing under 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). Although OSHA requirements are generally set by statute, standards and regulations, memorandums from the agency are helpful as they explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances.

On May 12, 2016, OSHA published a final rule that, among other things, amended 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35 to add a provision prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. In the preamble to the final rule and post-promulgation interpretive documents, OSHA discussed how the final rule could apply to action taken under workplace safety incentive programs and post-incident drug testing policies. Specifically, OSHA’s guidance cautioned employers against administering blanket post-accident drug tests in situations when drug use likely did not cause an injury. Without further clarification by OSHA, the final rule left many employers confused regarding their own post-incident drug testing policies and whether enforcing such a requirement would be considered retaliatory under the new rules.

In the memorandum issued by the agency on October 11, 2018, OSHA clarified its position on post-accident drug testing and confirmed that such policies are not prohibited under applicable regulations. The agency concluded that most employers that conduct post-incident drug testing likely do so to promote workplace safety and health. The agency further elaborated their position by noting that action taken under a post-incident drug-testing policy would only violate the law if an employer conducted the drug test to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health. 

The key takeaway from this guidance is that most workplace drug-testing programs are permissible, including:

  • Random drug testing.
  • Drug testing unrelated to the reporting of a work-related injury or illness.
  • Drug testing under a state workers' compensation law.
  • Drug testing under other federal law, such as a U.S. Department of Transportation rule.

Furthermore, OSHA noted that drug testing that is conducted to evaluate the root cause of a workplace incident that harmed or could have harmed employees is allowed if the employer tests all workers who could have contributed to the incident, rather than just the employees who reported injuries.