When Do Employers Drug Test Applicants and Employees?

When and How Employers Test for Drug and Alcohol Use

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When do employers drug test job applicants and employees? Employers may drug test as part of the employment hiring process. This is known as pre-employment drug testing. Companies may also test employees for drugs and alcohol use under certain circumstances.

For job applicants, drug testing is typically conducted prior to an offer of employment.

For employees, there may be regular screening or screenings because of a workplace incident.

Many private employers are not required to test for drugs. However, companies in some industries, like transportation, safety, defense, transit and aviation, may be required to test certain applicants for drug and alcohol use.

Job Applicant Drug Testing

Laws regulating drug testing depend on where you live. Where permitted by state law, job applicants may be drug screened as part of the employment hiring process. If a company tests for drug use, it is typically part of the pre-employment screening process and would be required after the employer has offered the prospective employee a job. A failed drug test could result in the job offer being withdrawn.

Employee Drug and Alcohol Testing

Employees may be drug and/or alcohol tested prior to accepting a promotion, when an on-the-job accident occurs, and at any time when employed by the company as a continuing condition of employment.

If an employee does not pass the drug screening they could be subject to disciplinary action and/or terminated from employment.

When Employers May Test for Drugs or Alcohol

Pre-Employment Drug Testing. All applicants who are offered a job with the company will be tested for drugs as part of the post job offer employment screening process.

Random Drug Testing. Employees may be selected at random for drug testing at any time.

For Cause Drug Tests. Employees may be required to submit to a drug test if the company believes an employee may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job, if unexcused absence from work or lateness is an issue, or if performance appears to be impacted by drug or alcohol abuse.

Post-Accident Drug Test. Any employee involved in an on-the-job accident or injury may be tested for drug or alcohol use.

List of Drugs Companies Test For

In addition to alcohol, companies can test for a variety of other substances. Testing that follows the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guidelines includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Amphetamines (meth, speed, crank, ecstasy)
  • Cocaine (coke, crack)
  • Opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust)  
  • THC (cannabinoids, marijuana, hash)

When companies conduct further testing the following substances are also tested for:

8-Panel Test

  • Barbiturates (phenobarbital, butalbital, secobarbital, downers)
  • Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like Valium, Librium, Xanax)
  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes)

10-Panel Test (the 8-Panel Test plus the following)

  • Methadone (often used to treat heroin addiction)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon compounds)

Testing can also be done for:

  • Hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, peyote)
  • Inhalants (paint, glue, hairspray)
  • Anabolic steroids (synthesized, muscle-building hormones) 
  • Hydrocodone  (Lortab, Vicodin, Oxycodone)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

Types of Drug Tests

The types of drug tests which show the presence of drugs or alcohol include urine drug testsblood drug testshair drug testsbreath alcohol testssaliva drug screen, and sweat drug screen.

Urinalysis (the screening of urine for drugs) is the most prevalent type of pre-employment testing.

More About: Drug and Alcohol Tests for Employment

Drug Testing Laws

Drug testing laws vary by state. In some cases, the law requires drug testing. For example, industries regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation are covered by federal or state drug testing requirements. In some states, there are limits to when and how drug screening can be conducted.

If you're concerned about what a drug test for employment reasons might show, check your state drug laws to get information what drug testing is permitted in your location.

More About Employment Drug Testing: Company Drug Testing Policies