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When (and how) Do Companies Perform Drug Tests for Applicants and Employees

When (and how) Do Companies Perform Drug Tests for Applicants and Employees

by Leon Reingold 13/02/2020

Given the worrying statistics on drug abuse in many countries around the globe, employers are now keen to understand how and when applicant/employee drug testing is conducted. Employees too lack clarity on how various companies drug test their workers. Here in this post, we will shed light on when and how do companies perform drug tests for applicants and employees. Read on! 



When Do Companies Perform Drug Tests for Job Applicants?


Commonly referred to as applicant testing or pre-employment drug testing, it is conducted at a time employers hire new employees.

In most jurisdictions in the US and Europe, applicant testing is either ‘authorized’ with certain terms and conditions or not ‘subject to restriction.’ Pre-employment drug testing laws in the US, for instance vary across the states, counties, and municipalities.

Consider the following examples:

  • In the state of Nevada (US), pre-employment drug testing is authorized for jobs involving public safety.
  • In the state of Oregon (US), pre-employment drug testing is authorized if there is reasonable suspicion an applicant is under the influence of controlled substances or alcohol.
  • In the state of Idaho (US), all employers are authorized to conduct drug tests as a condition of employment.
  • In the state of Delaware (US), drug testing is a legal requirement for certifying school bus drivers.
  • In Germany (Europe), blanket screening on all applicants is not permitted.
  • In Italy (Europe), drug testing is mandatory for safety-sensitive job roles but employers do not have any discretionary powers.

Therefore, it is advisable, especially for multi-state employers, to institute a solid drug testing policy that factors in the variations in workplace drug testing laws and regulations.

In most states, employers are required by the law to make a ‘conditional’ offer of employment to a candidate before a drug test is performed. Employers are generally required to give applicants an advance notice about drug screening. Companies cannot discriminate against certain candidates; all applicants applying for the same job should be tested in an identical manner.

Thus, applicant drug testing takes place ‘after’ a candidate has:

  • Furnished all necessary documentation to prove his or her eligibility for a vacant position
  • Qualified the written examination (if any) and the interview


When Do Companies Perform Employee Drug Testing?


Can a company drug test you after you are hired?  Yes. Even if a candidate has passed the applicant drug test during a recruitment drive and joined the workforce, he or she may still need to participate in an organization-wide employee drug screening exercise.

Many private and public employers in the United States now conduct employee drug testing for various reasons. While some employers are required by the federal and state laws to drug screen their workforce, others do so in order to:

  • Ensure the safety of employees, customers, and the general public
  • Preempt the possibility of illegal sale, purchase, and distribution of illicit drugs in the workplace
  • Enhance employee productivity
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Reduce healthcare costs arising from workplace accidents and illnesses resulting from workplace drug abuse

Depending upon the employee drug testing schedule, a company may perform drug tests on various occasions. Can an employer drug test without advance notice? In most cases, employers need to inform workers in advance about its drug testing policy upon implementation or on hire.

Some of the most common examples when companies perform employee drug testing are:

  • When companies periodically drug-test their employees: Known as periodic drug testing, it can be conducted monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly. Companies that employ people in safety-sensitive positions generally prefer to drug test their workers on a regular basis. Some workers may relapse or start taking drugs ‘after’ joining a company. Periodic drug testing helps companies identify such employees.
  • When companies randomly drugtest their employees:  Such drug tests are performed on a completely ‘random set’ of employees. With this approach, fewer workers are drug screened. Therefore, it allows companies to keep drug testing costs under control. Most employers hire third-party agencies to generate a random set and to preempt the possibility of targeted discrimination. Random drug testing is generally performed on a pre-determined day.
  • When companies drug test a worker based on reasonable suspicion:  Many companies train their managers and supervisors on how to determine and document reasonable suspicion of a possible violation of alcohol and drug-free workplace policy. Once reasonable suspicion of on-the-job impairment has been established on the basis of physical (related to walking, standing, face, eyes, speech, odor, movement, and appearance) and behavioral (demeanor and actions) indicators, the HR department can authorize a drug test. Companies get a reasonable suspicion drug testing consent form signed by an employee under suspicion. Such drug tests are performed on select employees from time to time.
  • When companies drug test workers after an accident: Known as incident-based drug screening, it enables employers to ascertain whether an employee involved in a workplace accident was under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. It helps discourage workplace alcohol and drug abuse as workers who tend to consume alcohol or drugs before coming to work or while on the job, tend to mend their ways once they know they’d be drug tested if they are involved in a workplace accident. Normally, a blood test is performed. Applicable laws for incident-based drug testing vary across the states.


How Do Companies Perform Drug Tests? 


The information such as applicant/employee drug testing procedures, drug testing methods, types of drugs tested, consequences that would follow if a worker tests positive, and whether a test positive employee can rebut test findings, request retesting or offer explanation (such as use of prescription drugs) for a positive test results, is included in a company’s alcohol and drug testing policy.

Employers, who understand the essentials of workplace drug testing, come up with effective policies and implementation plans for promoting alcohol and drug-free workplaces.

Most employers hire certified or state-licensed laboratories for conducting applicant/employee drug screening.

While the urine drug testing method is most popular (and economical), some employers may at times prefer other methods based on the testing of a specimen such as mouth-swab, hair follicle, blood, sweat, and breath.

In most states, employers are required by the law to assure privacy for workers in the collection of specimens.


by Leon Reingold 13/02/2020

I am writing to introduce myself as Leon Reingold. I am the Editor-in-Chief at, a nationwide supplier of drug and alcohol testing products online.

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