When Do Companies Drug Test Applicants and Employees?

Laboratory Urine Cup for Drug Testing
••• DWGrafix / Getty Images

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 may also have the right to test employees for drug and alcohol use during their employment, depending on state law. Typically, companies notify prospective employees that they check 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 applicants and employees in certain roles for drug and alcohol use.

Other industries that often require drug testing for employees are hospitals, 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. In some states, there are limits to when and how drug screening can be conducted.

For example, per the ACLU, in North Carolina all public and private employers are allowed to test applicants and employees without restriction, save that the testing must be conducted by an approved laboratory.

In Ohio, on the other hand, applicants can only be tested with advanced notice and after an offer of employment is made, while employees may only be tested if they are new hires, if there’s reasonable suspicion of drug use, after an accident, or as part of follow-up after participating in a treatment program.

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.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing for Drugs and Alcohol

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 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 A failed drug test could result in the job offer being withdrawn.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 usually outline their policy clearly in the employee guidelines or handbook. Depending on state law, employees may even 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.

Where allowed by law, 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

What drugs do companies test for?
The Balance / Nusha Ashjaee

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 include:

  • 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

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)
  • Nicotine

Types of Drug Tests

The types of drug tests that 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.

The Bottom Line

In Many Cases, Employers Can Drug Test Applicants and Employees: When employers test applicants, it’s known as “pre-employment screening.”

State Law Restricts Drug Testing: Some states require that applicants receive notice prior to testing, for example, while others mandate that certain conditions are met before testing employees.

There Are Many Different Kinds of Drug Screenings, Including Urine, Blood, Hair, and Salvia Testing: However, urinalysis is the most common for applicants.

To Be Prepared, Learn Your State Laws Regarding Drug Testing: Your state department of labor will be able to inform you about laws in your state.

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. 

Article Sources

  1. Nolo. "Laws on Employee Drug Testing," Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  2. SAHM. "Federal Laws and Regulations," Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  3. ACLU. "State-by-State Workplace Drug Testing Laws," Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  4. SHRM. "What Might be Considered Reasonable Suspicion for Drug Testing," Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  5. Mayo Clinic. "Urine Drug Screening: Practical Guide for Clinicians," Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.