Five years ago, a friend who owned a painting company told Chan Cornett how much things had changed since his company went drug-free. That's when Cornett, owner of Cornett Roofing Systems, in Indianapolis, decided to take a look at drug use in his own company. He wrote a memo and inserted it in every paycheck, explaining that since new hires would be required to pass a drug test, current employees would be tested as well.

Initially, at least, all the tests came back clean. It was only when Cornett began random testing that he started losing people. In fact, his entire staff, including crew leaders with seniority, was gone within six months. Gone, too, were most of the problems he'd been having with absenteeism, excessive sick days, and accidents on the job.

“All the employees seemed to know what I didn't know,” says Cornett, who describes himself as having “gotten accustomed to dealing with the handicap” of substance abuse. “I'd learned to walk with a limp.”

On Your Payroll

Estimates put the number of active drug users in the workforce at just short of 10 million. That's bad news if they're your employees. A U.S. government study found that workers who use drugs are a third less productive, are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or another person in an accident on the job, incur 300% higher medical expenses, and are five times more likely to file a workers' compensation claim.

Employers have a right to establish a written drug test policy requiring employees to be drug free and to implement drug testing as part of that program. Last year 55 million drug tests were performed in this country at a cost of $25 to $40 per test. Dozens of companies, such as Drug Test Coordinators, in Wellington, Fla., supply that service. “We test for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP,” says president JoAnne Ross. She suggests incorporating testing into the hiring process, then testing employees on a quarterly basis, in cases of “reasonable suspicion,” and after accidents.

Test to Protect

Four years ago Regency Windows, in Twinsburg, Ohio, instituted quarterly random testing of 30% of employees, including not only installers, but also salespeople and administrative personnel. Vice president of operations Richard Kasunic says that the policy came about because Regency, which installs 80% of its products with its own crews, wanted to avoid potential liability problems.

“In the last five years, we've had two issues,” he says. “And we have a policy in place for when that happens.”

Those who test positive for drugs are put on probation and required to re-test within two to four weeks. If they pass random retesting, they're off probation. If they test positive in the re-testing, they have a choice: report to rehab or lose their jobs.