WORKPLACE DRUG AND ALCOHOL TESTING – HOW IDAHO LAW CAN HELP

For reasons of productivity, safety, and liability, many Idaho employers have a drug and alcohol testing program.  While certain applications of this policy might be controversial, there is no denying the impact that drug and alcohol abuse has on employers and on society at large. 

When implementing a new testing program, or evaluating an existing one, it is important for employers to know what groundwork has already been laid by Idaho law, and what benefits can be achieved with a program that is tailored to the law.  The “Idaho Employer Alcohol and Drug-Free Workplace Act,” or “Act” for short, provides broad support for employers who enforce drug and alcohol testing within its guidelines, and is intended to promote alcohol and drug-free workplaces.

No Mandate Under Idaho Law

Most importantly, the Act is not a mandate for employers.  It establishes voluntary guidelines for drug and alcohol testing.  These include conditions for when and how testing may be conducted, how the policy must be communicated to employees, and procedures following a positive test.  To promote compliance with its terms, the Act offers four principal benefits to an employer. 

Benefits of Complying with Idaho’s Drug and Alcohol Testing

First, it can reduce unemployment taxes for the employer.  An employee who is positive under a compliant test is presumed to have committed “misconduct” and will not receive unemployment benefits. 

Second, the Act protects employers from being sued by employees who were fired because of a positive compliant test, unless the test was false and the employer knew or clearly should have known that the result was false.

Third, complying with the Act can save the employer money on worker’s compensation insurance premiums.  In particular, the Idaho State Insurance Fund provides a discount to companies that certify their compliance with the Act. 

Fourth, compliance with the Act is required for employers to be awarded any State construction projects. 

Other Advantages

The Idaho Supreme Court case of Desilet v. Glass Doctor illustrates how compliance with the Act provides an employer added protection against an unemployment claim.  The plaintiff in Desilet was fired for misconduct after testing positive for marijuana.  On appeal, he argued that because his employer did not fully comply with the Act, he was automatically entitled to unemployment benefits.  The Court rejected this argument because complying with the Act is not the only way for an employer to establish misconduct.  An employer may either comply with the Act and thereby get the benefit of its presumption, or may establish misconduct in the usual manner. 

Another court case to interpret the Act in favor of employers was Anderson v. Thompson Creek Mining Company.  After being fired for a positive test, the plaintiff brought a federal suit in Idaho claiming that his employer violated his rights under the Act.  The court dismissed the case, concluding that because the Act’s guidelines are purely voluntary, it created no rights for employees.

Insights for Employers

Employers who rely on drug and alcohol testing would do well to consider the Act, and to adopt its guidelines if they meet the employer’s needs.  If not, employers should be aware that they are free to ignore the Act and forego its benefits. 

Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.