Passing an Employment Drug Test

How long drugs and alcohol show up on a drug test–Beer: 12-48 hours, Chronic use of marijuana: Several weeks, Casual marijuana use: Up to a week, Barbiturates: 1-3 weeks, methadone: 1-3 days, benzodiazepines: 1-4 days, amphetamines: 2-3 days

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019

Are you concerned about passing an employment drug test? When and how are job applicants and employees tested? Employers might conduct drug and alcohol tests as a condition of employment, randomly, or because of an accident or injury. They might also perform tests because an employee appears to 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.

So, what can you do if you are concerned about passing a drug test? First, you need to understand your rights as laid out by state and federal law and what you can expect if you’re screened for drug use.

Employer Drug Tests During an Employment Screenings

Most state laws allow private employers to screen job applicants for drug use, provided that they give notice that drug testing is part of the hiring process, use state-certified labs and screen all applicants for the same job.

However, state laws may restrict the way testing is carried out. For example, some states may allow screening only once the applicant has been given notice about the drug-testing policy and the employer has extended a conditional offer of employment. See your state’s laws to determine what’s allowed in your area.

Some employers may even be required to screen prospective employees for drug use before extending an offer of employment.

Federal agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense are required to conduct regular drug testing. And, the federal Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act (OTETA) mandates that all operators of aircraft, mass transportation vehicles, and commercial motor vehicles be tested for drug use.

Further, private-sector employees may also be tested for drugs or alcohol in the workplace, where permitted by state law.

Types of Drug Tests

The types of drug and alcohol 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.

Passing a Drug Test

The only way to be sure that you're going to pass a drug test is not to have drugs or alcohol in your system. With some drugs, including marijuana, a residue may show in drug tests for weeks.

If you don't believe the positive drug test results are accurate, you may be able to have the specimen retested at a lab of your choice at your expense. Check with the company for information on how to request a retest.

Here's information on how long drugs and alcohol show up on a drug test:

  •    Alcohol – 12-48 hours
  •    Amphetamines – 2-3 days
  •    Barbiturates – 1-3 weeks
  •    Benzodiazepines – 1-4 days
  •    Crack (Cocaine) – 2-3 days
  •    Heroin (Opiates) – 1-3 days
  •    Marijuana – casual use, up to a week; chronic use, several weeks
  •    Methamphetamine – 2-3 days
  •    Methadone – 1-3 days
  •    Phencyclidine (PCP) – 1-2 weeks

Note that hair drug testing may show results that go back farther than what would show up in blood or urine testing. 

When Marijuana Is Legal in Your State

As of 2017, 1 in 5 Americans lives in states where it’s legal to smoke marijuana recreationally. Eight states and the District of Columbia allow both recreational and medical use of marijuana; a further 21 states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes only. State laws restrict the amount users are legally allowed to possess.

However, federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, sale or use. Further, the Justice Department has pushed for an end to rules that restrict the federal government from bypassing state law.

Regardless of how the state vs. federal fight shakes out, employers can still screen job applicants and employees for marijuana use – even in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. That means it’s possible to lose your job (or an offer of employment) for testing positive for a substance that’s legal in your state.

How can you be fired for using a “legal” drug? It all comes down to employment at will. “People think that they have all of these job protections, but they really don’t,” said Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, in an interview with The Mercury News. “Employment in the United States is at will. That means employers can hire whoever they want, under any conditions they want, with a few exceptions.” Those exceptions? “Protected classes” like gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion or disability. “Marijuana is not one of those protected classes,” said Winkler.

Your best bet as an applicant or employee is to learn about marijuana and employment drug testing, company policy, as well as state law, in order to protect yourself and your career. 

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.