Last updated: September 25, 2023
Pre-employment drug testing is often the last step in the hiring process. Ensuring that a new potential employee is drug-free improves workplace safety and productivity while reducing accidents.
Employers want competent, coordinated, and capable employees. Drug impairment inhibits all of those qualities and more. Statistics prove that drugs and alcohol are determining factors in a growing number of workplace accidents.
That’s not good business.
Pre-employment drug testing is the first measure of defense against drugs in your workplace. It is establishing where you stand on the matter of drug use without a doubt.
A written drug testing policy is critical
Whether pre-employment, random, or post-accident, requesting a drug test is never an arbitrary decision. As a matter of fact, having set standards for drug testing in place helps protect companies from frivolous lawsuits based on accusations of discrimination related to drug testing.
When following a drug testing policy, pre-employment drug testing is another check on the list. Should someone ever cry “no fair” during the hiring process, having a specific policy in place allows your human resources department to easily reply “that’s the way we do it.”
Some companies have employees complete the orientation and then report for a drug test. And, some, vice versa. Whatever is right for your company is the way it will be, but with documentation!
If you are not already operating a drug-free workplace, we can help. Policy writing, employee training, and even the software for generating a random testing pool are all available. And, it is important to mention that employers with an established drug-free workplace are eligible for reduced workers compensation insurance rates.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) includes a pre-employment drug test for all employees who perform safety-sensitive jobs. Many employers mirror their program. The DOT protocol mandates using the 5 panel urine test and has added a panel for synthetic opiates. Those mirroring the DOT’s policies and procedures might request a “DOT like” drug test from their lab representative, but they are free to use any method and any panel they want.
How does pre-employment drug testing work?
In short, a job candidate must take a drug test prior to beginning employment. Often, the drug test is conducted after a conditional offer of employment. Depending on the employer’s drug testing policy, refusal to do so will most likely result in being denied the position.
Laws governing an employer’s right to drug test differ from state to state, so having your policies written under the advice of a professional will keep you in compliance. If you’re unsure or have any questions about the laws in your area, contact us.
Employers that are not regulated by the federal government are free to choose the testing method and drug panel that best suits their needs.
Impact of marijuana legalization
Every election, it seems, brings about change in marijuana legislation somewhere. To-date thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have approved some degree of medical marijuana use. Ten are busy working out legislation for recreational marijuana use.
Because marijuana collects in the fat cells, it is detected in drug tests long past the time a person is under the influence. Data is being gathered, results tallied, and new methods of detecting those under the influence in the works.
It’s going to take a while to clear the air.
Where does that leave employers? Should they remove marijuana testing from their panel?
Unless federally mandated to the contrary, that answer is up to each individual employer. Those that mirror the DOT in their testing method and established protocol may continue to do so here. As should any employer who prioritizes a safe workplace.
There is no plan to remove marijuana from the DOT testing panel in the foreseeable future. The federal government has not changed its view regarding the drug.
The DEA (Department of Drug Enforcement) has classed marijuana as a Schedule l drug because it is deemed to have no medicinal purpose despite being legalized for such in the majority of states.
Urine drug test
The urine drug test is by far the most common choice among employers in the general workforce. It is economical, extremely accurate and, expected by employees.
The technician will collect the specimen. Then the temperature is noted, the specimen is sealed, and final documentation (including an employee signature) is completed. Finally, the technician will transport the specimen to the lab following the company’s chain-of-custody procedures.
The urine test is two tests, actually. All specimens first undergo the Immunoassay (IA) test. If there is a positive result, the specimen then undergoes the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test for confirmation. This test also identifies the specific drugs found.
Detection windows vary depending on the drug. The results of these tests are available in just a few days.
Mouth swab drug test
The mouth swab test uses a sterile swab to collect a saliva sample. They are considered fairly noninvasive. Someone with a high gag reflex could experience discomfort for just a moment. However, a quick swab inside the mouth completes the test.
This test can be performed anywhere and the results can be obtained on the spot with instant testing. Mouth swabs are ideal for both random testing and reasonable suspicion testing. There is no way to “hide” detection by eating, brushing your teeth, or swishing something in your mouth. The test results are undeniable.
Mouth swab tests are more expensive than urine tests. They are very reliable, but the detection period is short. Drugs will only be detected if ingested within the 72 hours prior to the test. The exact detection windows vary depending on the drug.
Hair follicle drug test
This test doesn’t actually require plucking hairs one by one to obtain the hair follicle at roots end. The drug remnants attach themselves to metabolites that wind up in the hair follicle. As the hair grows, the metabolites grow out into the hair creating a continuous record of drug use within.
Hair follicle drug tests are the least invasive testing method. A small section of hair snipped from an area that is not visible to others is all that is necessary. If the job applicant has thin or very short hair, samples can be taken from several areas. Body hair is also an option. This method offers a detection window of 90 days.
This is the most expensive of the three methods, but more and more employers are choosing the hair follicle test. The results are extremely accurate and there is no way to falsify this test.
Why do companies require a pre-employment drug test?
Employers want the safest workplace possible. Drug testing aids them in accomplishing that.
What drugs are detected on a pre-employment drug test?
The common 5 panel drug test detects amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, PCP, heroin, and Ecstasy (MDMA). Employers not federally regulated are free to choose which drugs they want to include.
Will prescription painkillers show up in the opiate panel?
Synthetic painkillers, specifically oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone won’t be detected on a standard opiate panel. Tell your lab rep that you would like expanded opiates added, but to be on the safe side, tell them any specific drugs you want to include. It’s that easy.
Can I refuse to take a pre-employment drug test?
You can, but you’ll probably refuse the job opportunity, too.
How long does a pre-employment drug test take?
The length of time needed to take a drug test varies. After completing the identification process, a mouth swab test is over before you can say “ahhh.” The hair follicle drug test is just a snip of the scissors. The urine test would be the most time-consuming method.
Does a drug test detect alcohol?
A hair test will not detect alcohol. Urine EtG tests can detect alcohol for around two to twelve hours. The mouth swab test or breathalyzer can immediately detect alcohol.
Will a positive result be documented somewhere?
An employer may or may not store drug test results. It’s entirely up to them. The Department of Transportation maintains all DOT drug test results in their database for a period of three years.
If I swish or gargle bleach will I pass the mouth swab test?
No! Bleach is not an option. There is no way to falsify a mouth swab test.
My state passed recreational marijuana use. Will it still show up on a pre-employment drug test?
More than likely, the answer is yes. Employers have the final say in whether or not they continue to test for marijuana. This is because it presents a workplace safety issue. Also, the Department of Transportation requires any employers under their regulations to continue testing for marijuana.
So, I took a couple of tokes at the class reunion last weekend. Will my potential employer let me explain my circumstance?
Odds are, you won’t get the job.
Is a hair follicle drug test painful?
No, because there is no hair plucking necessary. The remnants of the drugs attach to metabolites that wind up inside the hair follicles. They grow out into the hair leaving a record of drug use within the hair shaft. The technician will cut about 120 strands close to the scalp, and then it’s over.
When submitting a specimen for a hair test, are they going to leave a bald spot?
No. The technician only cuts a small amount of hair. The specimen can be taken from several spots so it’s not noticeable. Body hair can be used, as well.
If I fail a pre-employment drug test will it wind up on a background check?
Generally, no. However, if the drug test was for a federal job, it may be.
If I fail a pre-employment drug test will I lose my unemployment?
The company doesn’t know you are on unemployment. Although some states have taken action to mandate drug testing as part of their benefits.
Will I get to start work before the test results come back?
In some cases, yes. Some companies drug test as part of the actual orientation process. Employees begin work soon after, but the test results may not be returned for a few days.
Do all companies require a pre-employment drug test?
No. There are still some companies that do not drug test, but in today’s society, they are few.
Will the DOT drop marijuana from testing where it’s legal?
The Drug Enforcement Agency has classified Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug—an illegal substance with no medicinal purposes. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has no plans to remove it from the test panel any time in the foreseeable future.