HHS is considering expanding the federal employee drug testing program to include requiring employees to provide hair samples, saying that “hair testing potentially offers several benefits when compared to urine, including directly observed collections, ease of transport and storage, increased specimen stability, and a longer window of drug detection.”
“The department believes these benefits justify pursuing hair testing in federal workplace programs,” it said in a Federal Register notice open for comment through November 9.
The proposed changes would allow agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs with the limitation that hair specimens be used for pre-employment (for applicants applying for federal testing designated positions) and random testing. It could not be used for “reasonable suspicion” testing, such as after an accident where drug use is suspected, or for return to duty or follow-up testing purposes.
The specimens would be “collected by a trained collector under direct observation” who would cut “a portion of the donor’s hair that is approximately one-half (0.5) inches wide and at least one (1.0) inch long on the crown (i.e., posterior vertex) of the head and as close to the scalp as possible.”
For confirmation in case of a positive indication, the hair would be divided into A and B samples and the agency also would have to collect at least one other specimen type, such as urine.
The notice says that HHS has been considering revising the drug testing procedures to include the testing of alternative specimens including hair since 2000, while a 2015 law required it to “issue scientific and technical guidance for hair testing as a method of detecting the use of a controlled substance.”
HHS said it is seeking comments from the scientific community on the limitations of hair testing, including the extent to which hair color, external contamination and other factors (e.g., hair treatments, hygiene) will affect hair tests and the interpretation of hair drug test results.”
It also is seeking comment on “the potential added burden to federal agencies and specimen donors.” It said there would not be “a significant burden for federal agencies”; while not addressing the burden on employees or applicants, it adds that those who refuse to provide a sample would be deemed to have refused to take a required drug test.
Such a refusal “may result in the initiation of disciplinary or adverse action, up to and including removal from, or non-selection for, federal employment,” it said.