What Do You Need to Know about Pre-Employment Drug Tests?

By Haley Bass | 04/24/2018

 There are several proactive steps you can take against work injuries, from providing training and protective equipment to conducting risk analyses and safety inspections. Another simple preventive measure is pre-employment drug testing.

Employee drug tests are a common method employers use to screen potential hires for drug and alcohol abuse. Maintaining a drug-free workplace is an important part of workplace safety. Taking this preventive step has been shown to reduce the risk of drug-related work accidents.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it’s important to understand what employee drug testing is and why it’s beneficial for the workplace. Here’s what you need to know.

What are pre-employment drug tests?

A pre-employment drug test is a screening service used to determine whether a potential hire abuses drugs or alcohol. Many employers require these drug tests for employment, with the job offer contingent on if the potential hire passes.

Employee drug testing became more common after the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988  and mandatory drug testing guidelines were developed for many federal employees. Federal employers are required to follow drug test procedures created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Employee drug tests typically screen for five illegal drugs:

  • Amphetamines (meth, speed, crank, ecstasy)
  • THC (cannabinoids, marijuana, hash)
  • Cocaine (coke, crack)
  • Opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust)

There are different methods for drug testing. Urine tests are the most common, but drug tests can also be completed using hair, nail clippings, blood, or saliva. How a test is performed can depend on cost and the testing time frame. While urine drug tests can show if the employee used drugs recently, hair drug tests can provide information from 30 days to 6 months back.

Why should employers require pre-employment drug testing?

Drug and alcohol abuse can be dangerous for the workplace. Drugs can affect concentration and judgement, putting both the drug user and their coworkers in danger. Between accidents, injuries, sick days, and lost productivity, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that drug abuse costs employers about $81 billion per year. An accident can cost employers millions if an employee is found to be liable for the accident while under the influence of drugs.

The greatest benefit of employee drug testing is its ability to reduce those costs and risks. Just listing a pre-employment drug testing on a job application can deter drug abusers from applying in the first place.

Is employee drug testing legal?

Yes, pre-employment drug testing is legal. It’s the employer’s right to maintain a drug-free workplace – there’s no need to justify drug testing with safety concerns or specific job functions. However, different states may have certain laws or guidelines surrounding what employers can do. These can include:

  • The applicant must know ahead of time that drug testing is part of the new employee screening process
  • The applicant has already been offered the job, contingent on passing a drug test
  • All applicants for the same job are tested similarly (no discrimination)
  • Drug tests are administered by a state-certified laboratory

These conditions don’t exist for every state. Employers should review their state’s specific drug testing laws before setting company’s guidelines. 

Want to know more about pre-employment drug testing? Interested in implementing a drug test program for your workforce? Contact a Concentra work health expert.