Workplace Drug Testing BLOG

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Things are looking up. You’ve sent out dozens of job applications and have been invited to a few interviews in the coming weeks. Aside from planning your best professional look, what other things should you prepare for?

Do you know if they drug test their employees? Would it matter to you either way? You’ve been smoking weed like a chimney and won’t have a chance in heaven of passing a drug test.

So what can you do? Ideally, you would already have done some of the suggestions below before even sending out your resume and job application.

How to Ace the Interview

  • Review the job posting – Any drug test requirement for job applicants should already be indicated there. Check to see if you just missed it.
  • Hit the net – go to that company’s website and try to find out what you can. Many companies post right there if they do drug testing. At the very least they will advertise that they are a drug-free workplace, a safe working environment etc.
  • Call ahead of time or have someone else call for you. Ask about their hiring policies, safe (drug-free) workplace policies, employee benefits etc. Tell them you are hoping to apply for a job and are just trying to learn as much as you can about the organization. This you will do anonymously, of course so don’t use your own phone or mobile number. Duh!
  • Ask a friend or a friend of a friend who knows someone else working in that company. It’s not like you’re asking for trade secrets or anything like that. Just ask casually, like “Oh hey, I may be going for a drug screen at this company I’m applying to, do you have that at yours, too?”

Pre-Employment Drug Test Procedure

If you failed at due diligence, they should inform you in the middle of the interview if they require a drug test. They will not spring it on you right at the very end. They usually ask if YOU have any questions, so that’ll be your cue.

  • Ask what else is expected of you in the hiring process, like “will there be a second interview - a panel interview perhaps, a medical exam, a psychological exam etc. By then they would know you’re fishing, so if they do drug tests, they should inform you at this point.
  • Ask if you may be allowed to browse thru their Employee Handbook while in the process of being hired. It should include a section for their Drug Testing Policy if any.

Understand that state laws do require employers to notify their employees (current and potential) in advance if they have a drug-free workplace policy and if it includes drug testing. Some companies actually include a standard form stating the applicant’s agreement to such testing in the job posting or require candidates to attach said form in their application. Many states do allow job applicant testing only under the following circumstances:

  • All applicants are aware that drug testing is included in the hiring process as mentioned in the job posting
  • All applicants for the same position have to undergo the same test
  • There is already a job offer, subject to the passing of the drug test.
  • A state-certified laboratory will examine the tests.

If you’re asked to undergo a drug test without prior notice, it will be your decision to continue or drop out of the selection process.

So what else do you need to know about workplace drug testing in general? You will have to know these things because if you happen to get hired, you can expect quite a few more testing for the duration of your employment.

What drugs will my potential employer test for?

For pre-employment drug screening, most employers request the standard 5-Panel Drug Screen or what is sometimes referred to as the SAMHSA-5. This will test for the following substances:

  • Amphetamine/Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates (heroin, codeine, morphine)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • THC (the main psychoactive component in cannabis)

The 10-panel drug test is also widely used by many employers. It tests for more recreational drugs and prescription meds like Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Rohypnol and some weight-loss drugs.

  • Amphetamine
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opiates (heroin, codeine, morphine)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Propoxyphene
  • THC

There are plenty of other tests or substances that employers may ask to test for, but these depend mostly on the position being filled. Safety or security sensitive positions may entail more extensive drug testing, but none of these may be done without informing the candidate beforehand.

When are workplace drug tests administered?

The purpose of a clearly written drug testing policy is to outline, among other things, just exactly under what circumstances employee drug testing is to be done. Employers cannot indiscriminately order drug tests on any or all of their employees unless they explicitly state it in their drug-free workplace policy, lest they are sued for discrimination.

  • Pre-employment Drug Screening – As a job applicant, this is the test that you will have to pass as a condition of your employment. Worry about this one first before getting concerned about the lot below.
  • Random Drug Testing– These tests help ensure that employees remain drug and/or alcohol-free during the course of their employment. A random selection process makes sure that every employee has the same chance of being selected (or not selected – you know glass half full or half empty kind of thing).
  • Reasonable Suspicion Testing – Should an employee show up for work looking, smelling or acting like he may be intoxicated or high, a drug screen may be required in accordance with the provisions of the organization’s drug-free workplace policy. So if you think you can party-all-night and then come straight to work the next day, you can’t. So don’t. At least shower first. Get rid of the look or the smell.  
  • Post-accident Testing – If there is enough reason to believe that a workplace accident or incident may have been related to drugs or alcohol, a drug screen may be conducted on the spot, again in accordance with the procedures as written in the drug-free workplace policy.
  • Return to Work Testing - Employees who may have been suspended or undergoing treatment for substance abuse may be required to submit to a drug test prior to returning to work.
  • Follow-up Testing – A return-to-work agreement for an employee who has previously violated the organization’s drug-free workplace policy normally includes a pre-defined schedule of follow-up drug testing in an effort to monitor the employee’s continued progress.

Drug Testing Methods Used in the Workplace

  • Urine Test – This is what you, as a job applicant will likely encounter the most while you’re job hunting. It is the most widely-used method. You’re given a pee cup and you’re directed towards the restrooms with blue toilet water, minus all your belongings. You may be asked not to wash your hands nor flush the toilet before handing in your sample. What does a urine test look for?
  • Saliva Test – This test offers a few advantages over urine testing but perhaps not in the context of a pre-employment drug screen. For one, saliva testing allows for an early detection window. That may be useful for reasonable suspicion or post-accident testing, but a job applicant going in for a drug test will have the common sense not to use anything just prior to the test. Its other advantages include faster turnaround, a deeper insight into drug levels and impairment, practically adulteration-proof and least invasive collection process.  
  • Hair Test – At least 1.5 inches of hair cut close to the scalp will provide a substance use profile for the past 90 days. This is useful for a hiring manager who’s interested to know if a candidate is a chronic or occasional user. Following is a humorous look at hair follicle testing that even mentions popular myths about passing a drug test.

How long do drugs stay in the system?

Different substances have different detection times in the body, depending on the following factors:

  • Metabolism – People with faster metabolic rates are able to expel toxins faster so the window of time any drug may be detected in their system is generally shorter. Conversely, the drug detection time for a person with slow metabolism tends to be longer. Metabolism is a factor of age, body type and physical activities (sedentary vs. active) and physical condition (illness/wellness). Older people tend to retain drug residues longer.
  • Body fat – Fat tissue stores some drug metabolites like THC and PCP. And a person with more fat tissue tends to have a slower metabolism as well. Longer drug detection times can be expected.
  • Intake method – How long any drug stays in the body is also a factor of the manner by which that drug was taken. For example, marijuana that was eaten takes longer to flush out than if it was ingested thru smoking.
  • Urine pH – Human urine is naturally acidic but the lower the urine’s pH value the shorter the drug detection times.
  • Chronic vs. Occasional use – Chronic users will have developed some tolerance to their drug of choice and therefore are able to flush the toxins out faster, resulting in shorter detection times.

Approximate Drug Detection Times






3-5 days

Up to 90 days


2-4 days

1-3 days

7-90 days


3-5 days

1-3 days

7-90 days


2-4 days

1-3 days

7-90 days


2-4 days

1-3 days

7-90 days

Ecstasy (MDMA)

1-3 days


15-30 days

6-12 hours

7-90 days


7-14 days

1-3 days

7-90 days


2-4 days

7-90 days


4-7 days


3-7 days


3-5 days


1-2 days


2-4 days


2-4 days


2-4 days


2-4 days

Legal Limits on Drug Testing

So now you know you will probably have to go for a 5-panel urine drug test after interviewing at that company. You realize now that because you have been smoking weed like there’s no tomorrow, you will fall under the chronic user category and will need to stop cold turkey and do a detox to flush out as much of the THC before the dreaded test. You probably don’t have the 30 or so days you need to do a complete cleanse, but you can sure try. Be a little more active, take up running and burn those THC-laden fats. Eat healthy, drink plenty of water and try those detox drinks that some people swear by.

Why do employers drug test in the first place? Unless they’re under DOT or other safety-sensitive industry or a federal contractor, they’re not actually required by law to do it so why bother?

  • Workers’ Compensation discounts –Employers in certain states get discounts on their compensation insurance premiums if they promote a drug-free workplace.
  • Legal liabilities –Employers want to avoid the legal liabilities that result from alcohol or drug-related workplace accidents. Besides, substance use in the workplace likely violates state occupational safety laws and OSHA laws.
  • Lost Productivity – Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace cost over $120 billion in lost productivity per year. Lost productivity, in this case, refers to reduced labor participation (when workers are late or absent), hospitalization, incarceration, premature death and rehab stints. Reduced work days alone equate to approximately $49 billion. Incarceration expenses amount to some $48 billion, and premature deaths $4 billion.

Our laws do recognize that there are some very serious “right to privacy” issues with drug testing, especially since they do not only reveal current level of intoxication when the test is taken, they also show a glimpse into a person’s past drug use, on days when the employee is on his own time. The collection process itself is often considered by many as intrusive because one has to surrender their own bodily fluids and sometimes under the watchful eyes of strangers.

It is precisely for these reasons that state and federal laws have put some limits as to when a drug test can be done, how it is to be done or if it can be done at all. Regular employees hold greater rights compared to job applicants because losing a job over a drug test is definitely worse than losing an opportunity to get a job. A job applicant cannot be forced to take a drug test, even if employers make it a condition of employment. One simply has to refuse and drop out of the running.

Now, job applicants may seem to have fewer rights but it doesn’t mean they don’t have any. There are some legal limits to what job applicants have to “take” when it comes to drug testing:

  • American with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Any applicant who is under medication for a disability is protected by the ADA from discrimination. Some prescription meds are tested and actually show up on drug tests. If an applicant loses the chance to get hired because they tested positive for a medication that was legally prescribed, the hiring company will be liable for discrimination.
  • Other forms of discrimination – a hiring company cannot single out applicants - by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. – for drug testing. However, certain job positions may be “singled-out” for testing, like safety-sensitive positions. In this case, all applicants for that job position should be tested.
  • Invasion of privacy – There are pretty standard procedures that are followed when performing a drug test. A person’s privacy may be violated if they are asked to deviate from these procedures, for example, a female subject being frisked by a male collector without so much as a warning or being asked to strip completely and pee while in full view of said collector.
  • State-mandated procedures – Applicant drug testing is allowed in practically all states but they do impose certain procedural requirements. For example, some states require companies to have a job offer first before asking a candidate to submit to a drug test. Some states also require hiring companies to notify candidates or indicate in their job postings that they require drug tests.

There’s quite a bit more information about pre-employment drug testing and the entire Drug-free Workplace Program on the internet that job applicants will find helpful when preparing to join the American workforce. Drug testing doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. With the legalization of marijuana in more than half the states, employers are actually testing more. The key is to learn as much as you can and be prepared.

What Can Cause a False Positive Drug Test?

If you Google on how to tell if someone is lying about using drugs, the best thing you can get is to watch out how they behave. The sad truth about it is most drug abusers are so used to hiding their addiction that lying about not using -- right in your face -- becomes second nature. It's no different when it comes to lying about why their drug tests turned out positive.

Excuse #1: It must be something I ate!

Yes, what we take in can affect what comes out in the drug tests. For example, eating a couple of bagels with poppy seeds in them may cause you to fail a drug test-- but do you think saying that you passed by a bagel store for breakfast would really save you from being investigated over drug abuse? Come on, times have changed, technologies have improved and standards have been modified. You surely didn't think drug laboratories just stood idly while people claim one after another that their positive results are due to poppy seeds, did you?

Excuse #2: I had a headache and took some Ibuprofen and Advil.

Over-the-counter drugs may actually help mask some drugs and can even be a valid excuse when someone tested positive in a drug test. Ibuprofen or Advil can produce false positives, along with a long list of drugs that can also mask other drugs like cocaine, opiates, ecstasy or LSD. This is why laboratory staff ask patients to fill out long forms, where you can declare right before the drug tests what kinds of medication you are currently taking. This way, laboratory analysts are able to put these into consideration.

Excuse #3: There must have been a mix-up with the samples!

Laboratories are supervised and monitored closely plus positive drug tests are subjected to automatic confirmatory tests, but it does not mean the system is perfect. So, if you honestly think you haven't taken drugs yet tested positive on the drug test, ask for a re-testing. Just be sure you really are drug-free. Otherwise, you would just have caused a lot of trouble and a waste of time, effort, and money for everyone involved.

Is a Faint Line on a Drug Test Still Negative?

Faint lines on drug tests are very common no matter what method of screening is being used. It's crucial to understand how to interpret drug test results, including faint lines, in order to make confident decisions and prevent liability claims for inaccurate results.

What does a faint line on a drug test mean?

If a faint line appears in the Test Region of a drug test, this still counts as a NEGATIVE TEST RESULT. Drug test results do not vary based on the intensity of the colored lines. This means that even if the line is very faint, the test has not found any trace of that specific substance.

What does a negative drug test mean?

A negative drug test does not necessarily mean the donor has never used any of the substances being screened. If a preliminary drug test result is negative, this could mean that drug metabolites in the donor's system did not meet or exceed the cutoff concentration levels established by SAMHSA. In order for a test result to be positive, a certain quantity of metabolites is required to react with the built-in test strip reagents.

How accurate are at home drug tests?

Most home drug tests are FDA Approved to perform just as well as corporate drug tests. A very faint line on a home drug test is indicative of a negative test result, as mentioned above.

How to read drug test results

Instant drug tests are designed for easy interpretation. Both integrated urine test cups and saliva drug tests contain built-in strips that react to drug metabolites present in a donor's sample. Each test strip features a Control line, to indicate the test is functioning properly; and a Test line, which will only appear if drugs have NOT been found for a particular substance. For further assistance, learn how to read a drug test cup.