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Risks of Employee Drug Tests in Employer-Owned Labs

April 21, 2022

Updated: July 17, 2023


When your company owns and operates a laboratory, using its capacity to complete employment screenings such as pre-employment and random drug testing panels seems like a simple solution. You control the turnaround time, cost, quality, and panel make-up.

The foremost goal of any employment screening program is to reduce risk to the employer, employees and customers/patients. But does using your own lab vs using a commercial forensic lab actually reduce employer risk equally?

The short answer is no. Using an employer-owned lab creates unanticipated risks for the employer. The following factors should be considered when determining whether to provide drug and alcohol screening in-house or via a Third Party Administrator (TPA) such as Vault Workforce Screening:  

Lab Certification

Does your laboratory hold the right certifications? The US Department of Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) certifies drug testing laboratories to test federal employees as well as any employee required to test under a federal contract or federal regulation. Many hospital and clinic laboratories are not certified, and the certification would be cost-prohibitive.  

Vault offers a variety of SAMHSA certified lab partners to choose from for your urine drug testing program, as well as oral fluid, hair, blood, and nail testing options that follow current industry best practices.  

HIPAA Protections

Employees and prospective employees undergoing employment screening have different legal protections than clinical patients. While HIPAA applies to patient records, it doesn’t apply to your employment screening program. For laboratories and healthcare systems, segmenting the records and ensuring data compliance can cause complex challenges. Volume may be a key driver of whether a segmented system of record keeping is in-line with the ROI for your laboratory.

As a Third Party Administrator of Drug and Alcohol testing nationwide, Vault can obtain and maintain chains of custody, laboratory records and MRO reviews on your behalf, preventing the need for a costly parallel record-keeping system in your laboratory. Additionally, if needed, Vault’s FirstRequest system also integrates with your ATS or HRIS so records can be stored seamlessly.

Independent Medical Review Officer

A certified MRO is typically a licensed physician who determines whether there is a legitimate medical explanation for a non-negative drug or alcohol test.  

SAMHSA recommended best practice across the employment screening industry is to have all screening results reviewed by an independent Medical Review Officer (MRO) before releasing the result to HR or Occupational Health and Safety team members. Some states even require that an MRO review all results, which ensures the employee’s ability to provide a valid prescription or address additional medical issues with their screening result.  

When using an internal lab, results should never be released directly to your employment screening program management team, as this puts the employer at risk of legal action by the employee for potentially violation of employee rights.

Vault offers clients a large team of US-based MROs who are available to rapidly review and release results, consult with employees, and provide actionable guidance to employers consistent with both current State and Federal regulations.  

Legal Risk

When the worst happens, employers act to 1) assure safety of employees, patients and others, 2) minimize employer risk, and 3) comply with all applicable laws and regulations. In situations where an employee requires a reasonable suspicion or post-incident screening, insulating the employer from any claims of bias, chain of custody errors, or failure to ensure the employee’s rights are not violated is critical to the screening result holding up in any potential court proceedings.  

An independent Third Party Administrator not only creates a buffer between the employer and employee to remove any perception of bias, but also supports the employer with compliance guidance throughout the most complex and stressful events. With emergency testing coordination personnel available 24/7/365, Vault is always ready, nationwide, to rapidly deploy sample collection and testing.  

Vault’s expert in-house MROs and compliance officers will prepare litigation packages and provide virtual or in-person expert witness testimony as required in support of resolving issues arising from these circumstances.  

We’re offering a free 30-minute screening program risk audit with one of our certified healthcare compliance experts who understand your needs and how you work. We will review your existing screening program and workflows and provide meaningful insight as to where there may be any compliance red flags, overspend, or opportunities for efficiency and improving the candidate and employee experience.  There is no obligation or risk involved, and you will receive a report you can review with team members following the consultation.