When and How to Drug Test Employees

As of July 2019, the U.S. had approximately 7.2 million job openings. Most adults are familiar with the application process; although technology has changed the routine ever-so-slightly (i.e., online applications and a stringent focus on resume buzzwords), the basics have remained the same. In addition to the interview process, many companies and industries require that their applicants take — and pass — drug tests before they will offer the job.

That being said, there are several kinds of drug tests available for your business to choose from depending on what you’re interested in focusing on. Let’s take a look at some of your options and their associated costs.

  • Saliva/swab: Saliva tests are quite common among professional office settings. Their noninvasive nature makes them easy to both administer and tolerate; a simple swab (such as the Oral Cube offered by RapidExams) is run along the inside of the applicant’s cheek. Saliva drug tests are also relatively inexpensive, though accuracy can be compromised if they aren’t performed properly. 
  • Hair follicle: Hair follicle drug tests are exceptionally difficult to beat; they detect the presence of drug metabolites diffused from the bloodstream into the follicle. Not only can they reveal drug use that goes back several months (or longer, depending on how long the hair sample is), they can also show patterns of use. Unfortunately, it is one of the more expensive options and takes a while to be processed.
  • Urinalysis: Approximately 90% of the 55 million drug tests performed last year were urine tests via a drug test cup, making urinalysis the most popular form of drug testing. Urine tests focus on detecting the presence of non-psychoactive drug metabolites (for example, marijuana’s primary metabolite, THC-COOH, can be detected in urine for up to two weeks). In terms of cost, it falls precisely in the middle of the road.
  • Blood test: If you’re looking for unquestionable accuracy, a blood test is your best bet. Unfortunately, it is the most invasive and expensive type of drug test available and, as a result, is not relied upon very often by employers. Rather than detecting metabolites, blood tests look for the presence of parent drugs; most substances are quickly absorbed by the bloodstream, making them easily detectable. Most of the time, blood tests are only used if a lot of money or the law is in question.

Routine Tests

It’s quite common for employers to drug test potential employees, especially when the job requires great attention to detail (such as medical and heavy machinery positions). While most employers test during the application process, they are permitted to request further tests to current workers based on “reasonable suspicion;” for example, if a bulldozer operator swerves into an area populated with other employees for no discernible reason, a drug test may be demanded. In terms of random drug tests, the laws vary from state to state, although in most cases advanced notice is required.

Employers are well within their right to request a drug test thanks to the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, but the changing landscape in America regarding the legality of marijuana is definitely making things a bit more complicated. The drug is legally permitted in some form in 33 states, with 10 (as well as the District of Columbia) allowing recreational use; though a few states have protections in place prohibiting discrimination based on marijuana use, the laws change quite drastically depending on where you are. 

To ensure your business isn’t violating any discrimination laws or employee rights, do your research and read up on your state’s drug testing laws. The more you know, the safer and more protected your business — and its employees — will be.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.