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FAQs on Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Looking for a new job is a stressful process. Even if you are lucky enough to be offered a job, many employers make the offer contingent on the results of a pre-employment drug screening.

If your potential employer has asked you to complete pre-employment drug testing, you may be wondering what the test will screen for, how long it will take to get results, and why they want to test you in the first place.

Why do employers conduct pre-employment drug screenings?

Many employers use pre-employment drug screenings in an effort to prevent drug-related accidents and low productivity in the workplace.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse costs the economy over $740 billion per year. This includes costs relating to crime, lost work productivity, and health care.

Employees in federally-regulated, safety-sensitive positions are required by law to pass drug screenings. This includes federal transportation workers, airline pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers, and railway workers. However, it is now common for employers in any industry to conduct pre-employment drug screening.

What do pre-employment drug tests look for?

Pre-employment drug testing usually looks for drugs that have a potential for abuse, including street drugs and some prescription drugs. The drugs that are often tested for include:

  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Opiates (such as codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, heroin)
  • Amphetamines (methamphetamine)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

Pre-employment workplace drug testing usually requires a urine sample, but in rare cases, it could require a sample of blood, saliva, sweat, or hair. The screening takes place at laboratories that specialize in this kind of testing.

How many people fail pre-employment drug testing?

According to a 2019 analysis by Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest drug-testing providers in the country, the rate of positive pre-employment workforce drug screens in 2018 was the highest it had been in 14 years for the general U.S. population.

In 2018, the positive result rate increased from 4.2 percent to 4.4 percent among the nearly 9 million urine drug tests that were taken. While the positive rate for opiates decreased in 2018, the positive rate for THC (marijuana) increased.

How do I get my results for a pre-employment drug screen?

It usually only takes a few days to receive results from a workplace drug test. An employer may even request a rapid test, which can provide results the same day. Employers receive negative test results within 24 hours. Non-negative results take more time because of the additional testing required.

Following a negative result: If your test results are negative for drugs, it is common for a medical review officer (MRO) to contact your employer with the results. Your employer will then typically contact you regarding next steps of the hiring process.

Following a positive result: If you test positive for drugs or alcohol, an MRO will contact you for additional questioning, such as if you take any prescription or herbal medications that could have impacted the test results. If you do, you may be asked to show proof of a valid prescription.

Discuss Pre-Employment Drug Testing With an Attorney

If you believe that you were treated unfairly during a pre-employment drug screening, reach out to a local employment law attorney who can review what happened and whether your employer's process complies with the law.

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Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your privacy rights are protected.

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