Workplace Drug Testing in Iowa

Iowa law doesn't require drug testing, but employers who want to test must follow the rules.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Has your Iowa employer or prospective employer asked you to take a drug test? Federal law places few limits on employer drug testing: Although the federal government requires testing by employers in a few safety-sensitive industries (including transportation, aviation, and contractors with NASA and the Department of Defense), federal law doesn't otherwise require – or prohibit drug tests. For the most part, state and local laws dictate whether an employer may test employees for drugs.

Iowa law doesn't require drug testing, nor does it encourage or discourage testing. The state allows testing by employers in certain circumstances.

Rules for Applicants in Iowa

An employer may require applicants to take a drug test as a condition of employment. The employer must have a written drug testing policy available for applicants to review.

Rules for Iowa Employees

An employer may require employees to take a drug test in the following circumstances:

  • Based on reasonable suspicion of drug use
  • During and after the employee's participation in a drug rehabilitation program, and
  • Following an accident that caused a reportable injury or more than $1,000 in property damage.

An employer may also conduct unannounced testing of employees selected from the entire workforce at one site, all full-time employees at one site, or all employees in safety-sensitive positions.

Policies and Procedures

An employer must have a written drug testing policy that states the discipline or rehabilitation that will be required for positive test results, among other things. The employer must have employee assistance (EAP) resources, an employee awareness program, and supervisor training. State law also dictates the procedures for gathering specimens, conducting the tests, confidentiality of results, and so on.

An employee who tests positive has seven days to request a retest. An employee who tests positive for alcohol use must be given an opportunity to enter a rehabilitation program, if the employee has worked for the employer for at least 12 of the past 18 months and has not previously violated the substance abuse policy. This provision applies only to employers with at least 50 employees.

Legal Claims for Drug Testing

Even though Iowa law allows drug testing in certain circumstances, an employer may run into legal trouble based on the way it conducts the test or who it decides to test. Here are some examples:

  • Disability discrimination. An applicant or employee who is taking medication for a disability is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some prescribed medications turn up on drug tests, and some drugs that would otherwise be illegal (such as opiates) are legitimately prescribed for certain conditions. If an applicant is turned down because of a positive drug test, and the applicant's medication was legally prescribed for a disability, the company could be liable (unless the drug is medical marijuana).
  • Other discrimination claims. An employer who singles out certain groups of employees – for example, by race, age, or gender – for drug testing could face a discrimination claim.
  • Invasion of privacy. Even an employer that has a legitimate reason to test might violate employee privacy in the way it conducts the test. For example, requiring employees to disrobe or provide a urine sample in front of others could be a privacy violation, depending on the circumstances.
  • Defamation. An employee might have a valid claim for defamation if the employer negligently publicizes a false positive test result.
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