Preparing for Pre-Employment Drug Test

A large number of employers in the U.S. have strict workplace drug testing programs, which means they may require job candidates to undertake a pre-employment drug test as part of the application process. 

If you’re about to undergo drug screening test for the first time, it’s understandable that want to prepare yourself for it, and reading this article would a good place to start.

We’re now going to answer the questions you might have as an applicant regarding your future employer’s hiring process.

What is pre-employment drug screen?

In a nutshell, pre-employment drug testing may be used by employers to screen potential workers for drug or marijuana use and prevent workplace accidents on safety-sensitive jobs. 

Drug screening process is perfectly legal, provided the applicant has signed a written policy that business has, but different laws in each state regulate what precisely employers can do.

Let’s look at why a companies may require job candidates to undergo an employers drug test.

Key reasons for drug screening

To avoid low job performance of the workforce caused by drug effects, many employers choose to integrate pre-employment drug screening or alcohol testing into their hiring process.

Having a workplace drug testing program is particularly important for healthcare professionals such as physicians, as well as other workers taking health services and patient care positions where positivity rates are higher than average.

Another reason for pre-employment drug testing is that drug users can pose a safety risk when operating heavy machinery, taking care of patients in a hospital, or working a night shift.

It’s also worth noting there are two distinct kinds of drug tests for employees: DOT urine test used by the Department of Transportation and non-DOT drug test, which is used everywhere else.

What drugs do companies look for?

To alleviate their job performance and safety concerns, most employers opt for urine drug screening of potential workers. Typical 5-panel drug testing is performed by a business such as Quest Diagnostics and may include the following drugs:

  • Methamphetamines and Amphetamines, which includes illegal amphetamine-based drugs such as crystal meth (methamphetamine) and MDMA (Ecstasy), as well as some prescription medication.
  • THC (marijuana), a psychoactive chemical present in cannabis plant, though this may be excluded in compliance with state law.
  • Cocaine in all forms is tested by drug screens, which appears as benzoylecgonine in urine samples.
  • Opiates, both prescription and non-prescription medications, will be flagged by workplace drug test, meaning that heroin, methadone, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and oxycodone can be detected.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP), a hallucinogen commonly known as Angel Dust, also counts as illicit drug use.

Legal substances such as alcohol and nicotine may also be tested for using breath alcohol tests or urinalysis. Alcohol use is incredibly common in the United States and may cause an accident in certain workplaces, such as in case of drivers.

A more complex and less-frequently used employee testing known as 8-panel drug testing may also screen for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and methaqualone in addition to cocaine, marijuana, opiates, PCP and methamphetamine.

You can find more information about how long do drugs stay in your system in our other article.

When do employers test new hires?

In most cases, a job candidate will be invited to a screening for drug use once they accept a job offer and sign company’s drug-free workplace policy. This means employee will be cleared for a job position only after results come back negative.

Employee screening can be done on-site at the office using over-the-counter drug testing kits. But these instant home tests are not as accurate as those done by the staff of professional testing facility, so inconclusive results will still be sent to the lab.

In circumstances when drug screening results came back positive, the person will be interviewed by medical review officer (MRO). If the applicant can’t provide a valid excuse like taking prescription drugs, the company may withdraw the job offer.

Turnaround of a workplace drug test

Drug screening of job applicants can be done in a way that test results are available on the same day. But a standard pre-employment drug testing can yield results as quick as in 24 hours.

By the way, we wrote a post with tips on how to pass a drug test in 24 hours in case employer didn’t give you time to prepare.

However, this is only the case if pre-employment drug testing comes back negative. If initial test result has turned positive, a confirmatory testing may take up to a week.

Sometimes a positive drug screen may actually be a false positive. For example, poppy seeds can cause false positives for opiates in the system of non-drug users.

If you believe your drug testing positive result could be a false positive, you may be able to dispute it with potential employer. Each company handles such situation differently, and they may give you a second try.

Common employee testing methods

Pre-employment drug testing for most jobs is administered through one of the following ways:

Urine drug tests

A urine drug test is the most common tool when it comes to drug testing applicants. Urine testing offers the best combination of affordability and accuracy for an employer. Most drugs will show up for up to 10 days in person’s urine sample.

Mouth swab test

A sample of oral fluid can be used to carry out drug testing of applicant for most types of illicit drugs. However, saliva test will only show drugs that have been ingested in a very recent window of time, between 24 and 72 hours, depending on the type of drug.

Blood drug test

Blood testing is the most invasive form of pre-employment drug screening and the most accurate. However, it’s expensive and only shows substances consumed within hours before blood test is performed.

Hair test

Hair drug tests are another expensive drug testing method for an employer to administer. But unlike urine test, they’re able to detect long-term drug use pattern for as long as 90 days, even after the effects have worn.

In summary

Pre-employment drug testing of job applicants to detect substance abuse is very common in the USA. Employers are mainly concerned about workplace safety of employees themselves, but also about workers’ productivity.

The most commonly used type of drug screening for employees is urine drug tests, but saliva and hair testing for drug abuse are also possible.

The main substances tested for by pre-employment drug tests are alcohol, THC, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, phencyclidine, and opioids.

We recommend to check your rights before taking a pre-employment drug test by looking up local laws in your state.