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If your workplace tests for drug-use, beware of the ‘codeine holiday’

Drug testing is essential to employers in these sectors; however, there is a problem in the form of the ‘codeine holiday’

For businesses in which safety is fundamental, a failsafe drug and alcohol testing policy is vital to protect employees, third parties and the public; for example, if employees drive as part of their work commitments or work with dangerous materials or equipment, it is essential to ensure that they are fully in charge of their faculties.

It has recently come to light that it has become known amongst employees that the use of codeine, a painkiller available without a prescription, can cause confusion.

The laboratory test of urine in which codeine is present detects it as an opiate. When an employee provides a drug screening urine sample that is positive – often called non-negative by the drugs testing agency – they are usually suspended on full pay until a more detailed analysis can be carried out.

Whilst the services offered by drugs testing laboratories can be rapid, the process can still take five working days or longer. Whilst the results from the drugs test are awaited, the employee continues to enjoy time off work with full pay – hence the term ‘codeine holiday’.

It is currently impossible to establish any wrongdoing on the part of the employee. How can an employer know whether the codeine has been taken deliberately or in innocence?

Drugs testing laboratories are finding an increasing number of urine drugs test produce non-negative results, which can cause huge problems to a business. As a result, employers should seek drug testing firms that can produce full results swiftly.

Since the ‘codeine holiday’ has become well known, leading drug testing firms have invested heavily in technology that will speed up the analysis process and ensure that the results from in-depth testing will be delivered rapidly.

The technology that has been developed and the new testing regime can ensure that any employees suspended from work due to a non-negative test will only need to be absent for one day.

The monetary savings this will produce for a business are self-explanatory. Less obvious results will be minimal disruption to a workplace and the ability of employers to maintain a relationship of trust with their employees; furthermore, employees who have been suspended from work will face less uncertainty.

Some companies ask employees to keep track of all non-prescription drugs they use and disclose them at the time of testing. This can make it easier for both the employer and employee when a positive drug test is returned; however, it can clearly not prevent the problem of employees seeking ‘codeine holidays’.

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