Drug testing or pre-employment drug tests is an increasingly common part of the 21st-century workforce. Companies have to reduce their own liabilities while also ensuring that work is performed safely and competently and employees are not involved in illicit drugs or illegal drugs. They have determined that regular drug testing or drug screening is the best way to meet these goals. One of the drugs that they can test for is alcohol. Tests for the presence of alcohol are usually only performed for a small number of businesses. However, those select businesses have the ability to hire and fire depending on the information that they receive in a drug test result. It is essential for people to be aware of laws and rules regarding alcohol testing while on the job before they join one of these professions and for a drug-free workplace.

Origins of alcohol testing in the workplace

Drug testing is a relatively new phenomenon in many places of business. For decades, there was no cheap, reliable way to test for a wide variety of drugs in an employee’s system. But as workplace drug testing became easier and more widespread, it became more common for companies to test for more substances more frequently. The original substances that were tested for expanded to include prescription drugs and alcohol.

Frequency increased from occurring just before employment to becoming random or regular. There was also a shift in the way that insurance companies viewed liability. These companies realized that a disproportionate number of claims were coming from employees who were impaired by drugs or alcohol while on the job. They determined that they could offer lower rates to companies that drug tested regularly and helped ensure that impaired employees were off the job once they got a test positive result of substance use or drug use and alcohol detection had been reported.

Types of drug testing methods used in the workplace

There are several ways in which drug tests can pick up on different substances. The most common types of tests are urinalysis and blood tests. Urine drug tests, commonly known as urine tests, are the simplest and most common method that many companies use. They require minimal effort and a short wait for the employee to be tested. A urine sample analysis is also more effective at picking up alcohol over a longer period of time.

The actual detection of alcohol is relatively limited with blood- and breath-based tests like breathalyzers. A blood test can detect alcohol in the span of a day or so. This test is effective when an alcohol test is being performed along with a wide variety of other tests. The breath test is the test that most people are familiar with from television and driving arrests. This test is the fastest and most straightforward to administer. It also has a high possibility of false positives and is not the most accurate test.

Many workplaces that test for drugs do not test for alcohol. The drinking of alcohol is legal, common, and widespread in nearly every state. As a result, the companies that do test for alcohol often do so in limited ways and contexts. They almost never test every day and may test on a regular basis or at random. Tests are more nuanced, and policies are more detailed than they would be for tests that detect controlled and illegal substances.

Legal limits and occupational considerations

The amount of alcohol in the blood is measured using the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) scale. This scale measures the alcohol percentage in the blood at any one time. Percentages can vary greatly depending on a person’s size, age, and metabolic characteristics. The BAC scale often detects the presence of ethanol, which is a byproduct of the metabolic process that breaks down alcohol once it is ingested. This ethanol moves into the bloodstream and is present in all bodily fluids, including saliva. Its presence in saliva (saliva test) is a major reason why police officers can often smell the alcohol on a person’s breath when they suspect someone is driving under the influence of alcohol.

One of the most common thresholds for BAC is .08, which is the threshold needed for an adult to legally drive a car set by the Department of Transportation. Many companies that do test for alcohol import this standard. They may make the limit .04 to reflect the standard for truck drivers and other people with a commercial driver’s license. In some instances, companies will stipulate that employees have no process alcohol detected in their bloodstream. All of these levels are often communicated by the company when discussing employment.

Workplace policies on alcohol testing

Depending on the circumstances, a failed drug test for alcohol can be an incredibly serious violation. Some professions will automatically suspend or fire anyone who fails an alcohol-related drug test. Other professions will offer reprimands or counseling for a first offense if it is minor. But in some cases, the alcohol policy reflects a zero-tolerance view of drinking either on or before the job.

For instance, pilots are trusted with the lives of dozens or hundreds of people. They have to be in control of the full use of their mental capabilities and cannot be impaired in any way. Pilots who are caught drinking are almost always fired and can be stripped of their license to fly a plane. The same is true for people who operate explosives or work on massive construction projects where lives may be at risk.

Alcohol use disorders and workplace support

A large number of companies with strict testing regimes are stressful and may present opportunities for employees to drink to cope with this stress. As a result, companies that test for alcohol consumption also often have a number of services available that can help employees with their drinking. They have counseling and addiction recovery programs. Companies may have partnerships with hospitals or other firms that provide therapy and medication. Many companies will allow for medical leave if an employee needs in-person rehab at a center. They know that these facilities are essential for getting employees the help they need to overcome their crippling medical conditions.

Rights and responsibilities

Employees who fail a drug test have several rights that must be respected throughout the testing process. First, they must be accounted for the protections of due process. They should never be tested or closely scrutinized as retaliation for some act during their job. They must also not be tested simply because they belong to a protected class. These violations of equal employment opportunity laws are serious and must be respected by every employer that performs drug tests.

Next, companies must be careful and cautious with the actual physical sample. They should take these samples to partners with insurance that they can trust. There should be a paper trail for every location that handles the drug test sample. Companies also need to ensure that there is a paper readout and analysis of each drug test. This readout will help make sure there is a scientific basis for whatever decision about the test is relayed to the employee. There must also be the ability to appeal a decision and for that appeal to be fairly and fully considered. All of these steps are essential if there is ever a lawsuit regarding the nature of the test.

Drug testing for alcohol is a normal part of many offices. But normalcy and frequency do not mean that companies can ignore laws and best practices. Instead, they must be careful, responsible, and fair in dealing with employee drug tests. They need to take samples according to an established policy and treat all employees fairly with regard to their samples. Most importantly, employees need to speak up and reach out to a local substance abuse recovery center or detox healthcare center if they believe they cannot meet the strictures of their company’s drug testing program. By taking these steps, companies and employees can ensure that a drug testing policy has the highest possible chance of success over the years.


  • https://www.health-street.net/blog-drug-testing/what-employers-need-to-know-about-drug-and-alcohol-testing/
  • https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/RRW-hub/Getting-started/Preventing-substance-use
  • https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Best_Practices_for_DOT_Random_Drug_and_Alcohol_Testing_508CLN.pdf
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955359/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8130990/