Synopsis: Effective July 1, 2018, Iowa employers may lower their standard for alcohol tests and consider taking action against an employee with a blood alcohol concentration as low as .02. Prior to this time, state law prohibited an employer from taking any action against an employee with an alcohol test result below .04.

Iowa’s drug and alcohol testing statute is considered one of the more onerous and difficult to navigate in the nation (along with Maine and Minnesota). It includes numerous requirements that employers must follow to lawfully conduct pre-employment and employment drug and alcohol tests, including (but not limited to):

  • A requirement that employers implement a written policy that is distributed to employees (including the parents of any employees who are minors) and made available to job applicants and employees for review.
  • A requirement that employers establish an awareness program to inform employees of the dangers of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.
  • If the employer has at least 50 employees in Iowa, and if an employee with a confirmed positive alcohol test (1) has been working for at least 12 of the preceding 18 months, (2) agrees to rehabilitation and (3) has not previously violated the employer’s substance abuse policy, the employee must be given an opportunity to participate in rehabilitation in lieu of termination or other disciplinary action.
  • A requirement that supervisory personnel involved with drug or alcohol testing submit to two hours of initial training and, on an annual basis thereafter, a minimum of one hour of additional training. The training must address a number of topics, including information on how to recognize employee alcohol and drug abuse, documentation of such abuse, and referral of employees who abuse drugs or alcohol to the employer’s employee assistance program or the provision of other resources available to assist employees with substance abuse.

On March 28, 2018, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an amendment to the drug testing law, lowering the threshold for alcohol testing from .04 to .02. The amendment is effective July 1, 2018. It is unclear from the legislative history what prompted introduction of the bill to amend this single provision in the law. Regardless, the amendment will allow employers (as of July 1) to take action (provided all other aspects of the law are followed) against an employee with a blood alcohol concentration of, for example, .03.

Recent court filings suggest that litigation against Iowa employers for violating the statute’s technical requirements may be on the rise and, thus, Iowa employers should consider reviewing their current drug and alcohol testing policies and programs to ensure compliance.