Who are you really sending into the field to represent your company? Could their after-hours activities put your reputation on the line — or worse, sacrifice the safety of others?

The reality is, choices your people make off the clock can cost you if drugs are involved. That’s why pest control firms adopt drug testing programs that involve pre-employment screening and testing when there is reasonable suspicion or following an accident. Others do random drug testing.

It’s not about playing big brother.

“If you do not have a viable drug testing program, you are playing Russian roulette,” remarks Bert Dodson Jr., president and CEO, Dodson Pest Control, Lynchburg, Va.

As one of the largest family-owned pest control firms in the country, with more than 600 employees in 36 offices, Dodson says a drug testing policy is absolutely necessary to ensure safety, prevent accidents, protect clients, reduce liability and also decrease insurance expenses. (Agencies want to see that you’ve got a program in place.)

When you test for drugs, employees who don’t “stick with the program” will migrate to companies that are more lax about their requirements. At least, that is what Dodson has noticed when employees who have tested positive leave his firm. (This is not a common occurrence, by the way.) “You’re never going to eliminate drug use in the workplace, but you can reduce it dramatically by having a program,” he says.

PCT talked to pest control firms to find out how they structure their drug testing policies and what course of action they take when results aren’t clean.

YOUR NAME’S ON THE LINE. When employees are in the field, they’re wearing a logoed shirt, driving a company truck and representing your business. Their behaviors reflect on your organization, says Melissa Chaney, human resources/office manager at Killingsworth Environmental of the Carolinas.

“If you have employees out there who are involved with drug activities — you don’t want to send that message out to customers,” Chaney says.

Technicians enter clients’ homes to provide services.

“We feel like we have a responsibility to send people who are making good decisions,” Susan Pearson says of the 450 employees at Northwest Exterminating Co. in Atlanta, Ga. “We have a responsibility to do as much due diligence as we can to protect our clients’ properties.”

What’s more, technicians are driving vehicles. “We have to do everything we can to ensure that we are putting people on the road who are not impaired,” adds Pearson, who is director of human resources.

Policies ensure their own safety, as well, says Karen Madden, vice president of human resources, Environmental Pest Services, Sarasota, Fla. “We have an obligation to help protect the safety and wellbeing of our employees, and we take that seriously,” she says.

If an accident happens and an employee tests positive for drug use, “Get ready for a blank check,” Dodson remarks.

And accidents do happen. At Total Lawn Care in Weslaco, Texas, President Gary Bower says employees have been terminated after denying post-accident drug tests. He relates two scenarios in particular. In one case, an employee drove a riding mower over a curb and fell off the machine.

“We took him to the hospital right away, where we said, ‘We have to do a drug test,’ and he refused,” Bower says. “He said, ‘No. I’m high on coke. I’m not going to do it.’”

The refusal resulted in immediate termination.

The other situation involved a key employee who hit a building’s canopy with a truck. “I said, ‘No problem, let’s deal with the accident, get the drug test and we’re all good,’” Bower says. “He refused to go (get the test).’”

Because the employee was a “lead,” other managers wondered if he’d get a break. But, he was terminated. “Losing that employee was huge,” Bower says. But he could not allow him to stay on board. “Drug testing is not about catching an employee,” he adds. “It’s about investing in your company. Our people are our greatest asset, so it’s sad to lose someone.”

A REASON TO TEST. A robust drug testing program might include pre-employment screening, post-accident and random testing, and a test when there is reasonable suspicion of drug use. When behaviors indicate possible drug use, Environmental Pest Services might call for a test.

“Usually you see some physical deterioration, and from an HR perspective we might talk to leadership about that,” says Madden says. Declining performance and absenteeism are also clues.

“A leader cannot just go out and make a decision (to drug test an employee),” Madden says. “We require two people in leadership or HR to validate the symptoms being demonstrated in the workplace so we have double validity, which is pretty standard in any workplace.”

If the behavior is a one-time occurrence, the employee will get pulled aside. A manager will ask in a tactful way why the person is acting in an unusual manner. The “symptom” could be an odor, as with alcohol use. And, this can get tricky, Madden says.

“If someone was out partying the night before, their body can sweat and emit an odor that indicates alcohol but they might not be impaired,” Madden says.

Drug tests based on reasonable suspicions are not the norm for most firms. But pre-employment drug screening is. At Environmental Pest Services, this test is required at the point of offer. “They are required to get the test within 48 hours,” Madden says.

Dodson Pest Control does not require pre-employment drug screening because Dodson says there are too many ways to cheat the test. “People can go to the nutrition store and there are masking agents you can find to clean out your system,” he says. “Or, the biggest thing is they can stop using.”

If the only drug test an employee takes is when hired, there’s still risk of use on the job, Dodson points out. That’s why the company issues random drug tests every quarter.

KEEPING WORK ‘CLEAN.’ Random drug tests are just that — even the owner never knows whose name will get pulled from the employee roster. Killingsworth Environmental uses a third party to administer random drug testing on a quarterly basis.

“That way, employees don’t feel like they are targeted,” Chaney says. “Everyone is subject to random testing, not just our drivers out in the field, and we want it to be fair game for everyone.”

The message: “We do not tolerate drug use.”

It’s no secret that random drug testing is a part of maintaining employment. “We are very upfront with people during the hiring process,” Chaney says. The company has a zero-tolerance policy — no second chances. “If you test positive for any illegal drugs, you lose your job. Plain and simple.”

Northwest Exterminating also performs random drug screening, and once employees’ names are pulled they have four hours to report to the designated clinic for the test. There’s no pushback against this policy, Pearson says. “It’s a condition of employment,” she says, citing one person in eight years who did not want to comply. “If people are doing the right thing, why would they (have a problem with it)?”

Employees who test positive during a random screening at Dodson Pest Control have an opportunity to complete an Employee Assistance Program. (The worker pays for it and cost depends on the scenario.) After the first positive test, the program is recommended but not required. And, for the following two years that employee is subject to random screening at any time.

After a second positive test, the employee must complete the Employee Assistance Program. After completion, a two-year period of random drug testing is in place. If there’s a positive third test, the employee is immediately separated from the company.

The two-strikes-before-you’re-out policy gives employees an opportunity to clean up. “But by no means is it just a slap on the hand if there’s a positive result,” Dodson says. “For two years, they have to live under the cloud of giving a sample at any time during the work day.”

Because of the administration end of random drug testing, Environmental Pest Services opts to screen new hires, and then post-accident or with reasonable suspicion. “You have to monitor the way you screen for compliance and legality,” Madden says of why companies outsource this role to third parties. “There are always benefits to doing (random testing), but the administrative component is why folks don’t do it.”

For all labor policies, including drug screening, Pearson says Northwest Exterminating Co. consults with its labor attorney, and she advises this for any company.

“The overriding factor for our drug program is that we put vehicles on the street every day,” Pearson says. “There is a responsibility to ensure that our people are clear-headed when they go to do the work and when they are making decisions in the field.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.