When Do Companies Drug Test Applicants and Employees?

When and How Employers Test for Drug and Alcohol Use

Urine Lab Test Set
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When do companies drug test job applicants and employees? Sometimes drug testing is part of the employment hiring process. This is known as pre-employment drug testing. Companies also have the right to test employees for drug and alcohol use during their employment. Typically, companies notify prospective employees that they test for drug use as part of the application process. It is usually mentioned in the job posting or on the initial application.

Who Requires Drug Tests

Many private employers are not required by law to test for drugs. However, companies in some industries like transportation, safety, defense, transit, and aviation are required to test certain applicants and employees for drug and alcohol use. Other industries that often require drug testing for employees are hospitals, media corporations, schools, and universities. Federal, state, and county applicants and employees may be required to submit to drug testing as well.

Drug Testing Laws

Drug testing laws vary by state. 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 company drug test might show, check your state drug laws to get information on what drug testing is permitted in your location.

When Employers Test for Drugs or Alcohol

Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Where permitted by state law, job applicants may be drug screened as part of the employment hiring process. Drug testing may be conducted prior to an offer of employment. If a company tests for drug use, it is most often part of the pre-employment screening process and would be required after the employer has offered the prospective employee a job, pending the results of the drug test.

A failed drug test could result in the job offer being withdrawn.

If you are taking prescription medication, it’s a good idea to check on what the employer is going to screen for. It’s usually better to disclose your medications ahead of time than to fail the drug test outright. Some employers may make exceptions for employees who are on temporary medication, or are being monitored by a physician for a chronic condition. If your medications could create a dangerous situation for you or your co-workers, you should know that in advance as well. It can be an awkward situation, but remember that it is always better to err on the side of honesty than to be caught in a lie.

If you’re not sure about your rights as an applicant or employee, you should check with your state labor department.

Employee Drug and Alcohol Testing

Employers who test their employees for drug use may do so at will, and the policy is usually outlined clearly in the employee guidelines or handbook. Employees may be selected at random for drug testing at any time. For cause drug testing may be required 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 substance abuse.

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

List of Drugs Companies Test For

In addition to alcohol, companies can test for a variety of other substances, legal and illegal. If you take any prescription medication, especially for pain, anxiety, or depression, you should find out exactly what substances the employer is going to test for. Testing that falls within 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 they use the following protocols, which include the following substances as well:

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)
  •  

Additional testing can 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 tests, blood drug tests, hair drug tests, breath alcohol tests, saliva drug screen, and sweat drug screen.

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

More About Pre-Employment and Employee Drug Testing: Drug and Alcohol Tests for Employment