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Oral Fluid Drug Testing


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Since Labour was voted into government, Union Negotiations have been on the rise and one big change that they are negotiating for is the removal of urine drug testing and implementing oral fluid drug testing in its place. From an Employer’s point of view, the Unions are not negotiating to remove your ability to drug test Employees all together, with oral fluid testing being sold as “cheaper” than urine testing given Employers can conduct the test themselves. It’s beginning to sound like a win-win situation for Employers, right? Although it may appear that way on the face of it, that is not necessarily the case.

Currently, Urine Drug Testing is regulated by specific testing standards regarding: the taking and testing of samples; the use of approved testing devices and the use of safe-guard controls to ensure the testing is reliable and accurate. Urine testing also involves having an external agency come in to conduct the testing, thereby ensuring that the testing standards are maintained. If your Employee submits to a urine drug test and produces a non-negative result, the next step is to send the urine sample to an approved laboratory for further testing and quantification of the level of drugs in the Employee’s system. This is usually a speedy process, with laboratory results often being provided within 48 hours of the initial test being completed.

Based on information from a confirmed urine test, the Employer could take steps to commence a disciplinary or rehabilitation process with their Employee without the risk that the test may be challenged based on its accuracy and reliability. Urine drug tests can provide Employers with results demonstrating the Employee’s drug use over the previous 30 days, with urine testing being more likely to detect substance/illicit drug use and possible impairment at work.

Oral Fluid Testing, however, does not have specific testing standards in respect of the taking and testing of oral fluid samples. In the absence of such testing standards, this means that the method under which oral fluid tests are taken and preserved is unregulated and can therefore result in inaccurate results. Oral fluid tests, in most cases, can demonstrate the use of methamphetamines (if taken within the previous 48 hours), and marijuana (if taken within the previous 24 hours). As such, if your Employee has used drugs more than 48 hours prior to being subjected to the oral fluid test, it is unlikely the test would pick up the presence of drugs – however, this does not mean that there are no drugs in their system and this does not rule out the impact such drugs could have on their behaviour at work.

Additionally, should you be required to send the oral fluid test to a laboratory for further testing to confirm the level of drugs in the Employee’s system, you would have to send the sample to an Australian laboratory given we currently do not have any laboratories in NZ that can perform confirmation tests on oral fluid samples. This is where the “hidden cost” of oral fluid testing comes into play. The Employer must pay to send the oral fluid sample to Australia for confirmation (which can cost more than the entire urine testing process) and then play the waiting game while waiting for the results – which could take up to two (2) weeks. Overtime, the oral fluid sample will begin to deteriorate in transit to Australia, and if the sample is not packed or transported property the integrity of the test could be compromised – therefore creating a risk for Employers if they were to rely on these results.

If you are an Employer who regularly drug tests their Employees and are thinking of moving to oral fluid testing, we would strongly caution you against doing so given the current inaccuracy, cost, timeliness and risks that it creates for Employers. To ensure your bases are covered from the initial test, right through to the end of the disciplinary / rehabilitation process, we would currently recommend continued use of urine testing so that you can rely on the results, knowing that these will meet the required standard.

If you need help with developing a drug testing policy or require information about the different types of drug testing – feel free to give us a call at any time, we are always happy to help.