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An Employer’s Guide to Pre-Employment Drug Testing

As an employer, it is very important to select the right people for the right jobs. Qualified employees produce excellent results, which can help the company achieve its objectives faster than expected.

Depending on the organization, the hiring process can involve several steps.

One requirement that will almost always be there is a drug test.

What Is a Pre-Employment Drug Test?

This screening is done to check if a prospective employee is using illegal drugs or abusing prescription medication. The candidate is required to submit the test result as a part of the application process. 

Why Should an Employer Require a Drug Test?

As drug abuse can impair an individual’s judgment and physical performance, it is important for an employer to keep the workplace free from drug users. Workers who are under the influence of drugs while at work can put others at risk of harm. Studies also show that workers who abuse drugs are more likely to commit frequent absences.

Businesses regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are also mandated to conduct pre-employment drug tests for safety-sensitive positions. These jobs (like bus and taxi drivers) involve handling the safety of people, so impaired performance caused by substance abuse cannot be tolerated.

What Drugs Are Tested For?

Listed below are the substances that are usually checked for in pre-employment drug tests:

  • Amphetamines (methamphetamines included)
  • Marijuana/Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates (opium, codeine, heroin, morphine)

What Methods Can Be Used?

  1. Urine Test

Urine testing is probably the most widely used drug test method as it is quick, painless, and non-invasive. It can also be easily administered which makes it one of the least expensive methods. It can detect commonly abused substances (such as the ones mentioned above). A urinalysis can determine if a person used drugs even weeks before the test.

  1. Blood Test

Compared to urine tests, blood screening has a shorter detection window, meaning, it can detect drugs in a person’s system within minutes to hours of use. Blood tests are usually done in accident cases to see if the people involved were driving under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident.

As blood testing is considered invasive, it is not often used for pre-employment and routine drug testing. It can be more expensive than urine testing, too.

  1. Saliva Test

Saliva or mouth swab testing is another affordable option for pre-employment drug testing. As it is easy to administer, saliva testing can be done onsite (within the company premises). It also does not require the subject to be in a private, enclosed area like in urine tests, making it easy for employers to witness and validate the screening.

While saliva testing has a short detection window (like blood screening), its accuracy depends on the skills of the person administering it. To get results as accurate as possible, the test must be performed by trained professionals.

  1. Hair Test

Hair follicle testing can detect drug use for the past three months and can provide accurate results. It can also determine the pattern of drug use. While hair testing can be reliable, its cost can be prohibitive to most employers.

Procedure for Pre-Employment Drug Testing

  1. Testing must be conducted by a  professional drug testing company. In most cases (especially for safety-sensitive positions), the prospective hires will be sent to a facility or laboratory (chosen by the employer) where the test will be performed. Employers may also opt to have the test done onsite.
  1. Make sure the candidate has read and understood the company’s drug testing policy.
  1. Upon receipt of a job offer or as ordered by the employer, the candidate must go to the prescribed collection site on the scheduled date and time. If you have candidates that are under prescribed medication, ask them to bring supporting documentation.
  1. Specimen (urine, blood, saliva, or hair) will be collected from the candidate. Urine is the most common type of specimen used for pre-employment drug tests.
  1. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. A medical review officer (MRO) will review and validate the accuracy of the results.
  1. The results will be available to the employer and the candidate within one to three days. The testing facility will notify the candidate if the results are positive.

What if a Candidate Tests Positive?

Check your state’s laws regarding failed/positive pre-employment drug test results. Usually, a failed drug test serves as grounds for not hiring a prospective employee. A candidate will be given ten days to explain a positive test result.

What if the Candidate Refuses To Take the Drug Test?

You cannot force a prospective hire to take a drug test. In many states, however, the employer reserves the right not to hire a candidate who refuses to submit to a drug test.

Seek Professional Help With Your Drug Testing Policy

When drafting your drug testing policy, it is best to consult a legal professional for guidance. For drug screening, work only with a professional drug testing company to get accurate and reliable results every time.