What is drug testing?

What is Drug Testing?

What you need to know about drug testing, and what to expect at your test 
For many jobs, drug tests are a part of the pre-employment hiring process, and the job may be contingent on passing the test. In some states, the law even requires drug testing for certain industries.

Companies screen potential new hires for illegal drugs, typically through a drug test taken at a testing center. Most employers prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol, test for drug use, and can choose not to hire an employee who tests positive for illegal drugs.

You should know whether or not you’ll pass a drug test, but even if you know you haven't been participating in any illegal activities, drug testing can be stressful and nerve-wracking. Here is some information about drug tests, including what you should know and what to expect at the test.
When do employers drug test?
Typically you’ll have to take a drug test after you’re offered a job. If you receive your offer over the phone, the hiring manager may request you come to the job location to pick up your paperwork, or they may email it to you. Or, if you’re offered in person, they may share your paperwork and testing facility information with you right away.

Your employer may also require random employee drug testing to identify on-the-job drug use.

In most cases, you’ll have only 24-48 hours to complete your drug test. This is to give the employee enough time to arrange their schedule, but also not enough time for any illegal drugs to clear their system.
Types of drug tests
Employers will typically require either a 5-panel drug test or a 10-panel drug test, each of which tests for different types of drugs in the system.

5 Panel Drug Test

Marijuana
Cocaine
PCP
Opiates
Amphetamines, methamphetamine
MDMA

10 Panel Drug Test

In addition to the drugs in a 5-panel drug test, 10-panel drug tests also include:

Methadone or other narcotics
Benzodiazepines
Barbiturates
Methaqualone
Propoxyphene

Then, there are four common types of drug tests used for employment: urine, saliva, blood, and hair.
Urine Test
This is the most commonly used test for job applicants or employer drug screening. You’ll be given a collection cup and escorted to the bathroom. While no one will be in the room with you, someone will stand outside the door to collect your sample when you’re finished.

These tests show the presence of drug residues that remain in the body after the effects of a drug have worn off.
Saliva Test
After urine tests, these are typically the second most common. However, most saliva tests can detect usage within a few hours to up to two days, and can’t detect long-term use of drugs.

To prepare for this test, avoid any food or beverages for at least 10 minutes before your sample being collected.
Blood Test
A nurse or medical assistant will take your blood. The blood test measures the amount of alcohol or drugs in the blood at the time it’s drawn.
Hair Test
They will cut a small amount of hair from somewhere on your body. In most cases, it’s from your head, but other options include leg hair and armpit hair. The hair drug test provides a 90-day window of drug use; it doesn’t indicate current drug impairment, but instead only past use.
What is a DOT drug test?
DOT drug tests are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT is required to implement drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive employees to maintain the ultimate safety of the public and other workers.

Anyone designated by DOT as a “safety-sensitive” employee is required to DOT drug and alcohol testing. This includes those working for the Federal Aviation Administration, CDL holders, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and others.

These drug tests use the same 5-panel tests, and the drug tests must use urine samples. You’ll be asked to take a DOT test pre-employment, during random testing, if there is reasonable suspicion or cause, or under other circumstances designated by DOT.
How to prepare for a drug test
Generally, taking a drug test requires no preparation. The only thing you’ll need to do is schedule your test within the designated time frame, and get there on time with your employment paperwork.

However, you may want to bring a list of any prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal medications you’re taking. Some medications can affect the results of the test, so you should let your testing facilitator know if this applies to you. You may even need proof of a valid prescription and prescriber information, so bring that as well.
What companies perform drug testing?
The main companies are Laboratory Corp of America Holdings (LabCorp), Quest Diagnostics Inc., National Toxicology Labs Inc., and Pharmatech Inc. However, your state may have other companies used for federal workplace drug testing, so visit SAMHSA.gov for more information.
What to expect at your test
After you pick up the paperwork from your new employer, you’ll have to call and schedule an appointment at the testing site. Again, in most cases, it will have to be within 24-48 hours of accepting the job.

When you show up at the testing facility, you’ll be required to check-in. Most facilities require at least one form of identification (such as a driver's license or another form of photo i.d.), and you’ll give them the testing paperwork from your employer. They will verify that you’re the person who is supposed to be getting the drug test.

When they are ready for you, they will escort you to a private room (like at the doctor’s office) and conduct the test. Once the test is complete, they have checked your specimen and logged the information they need, you’ll be asked to sign paperwork and then you’re free to go. The testing facility will then follow strict chain-of-custody practices and standards to ensure the sample is protected, and send it off to the lab.
Drug test results
Typically, you won’t get the results of your test while you’re at the testing facility. The testing site will send the specimens off to a lab where they will be analyzed, and the results are sent directly to your employer within a few days.
What employers do with drug test results
When your employer gets the results, they will follow up with you letting you know whether your job offer still stands, or if it’s rescinded (due to failing the test). In most cases, they will only see a “pass” or “fail” designation, not the exact details of your test. If the results are “inconclusive,” the employer may ask you to retake the test, or they may take back their job offer. (Inconclusive tests usually only occur for urine tests, and means the test is too diluted and must be retaken.)

Note: If you test positive, you may be contacted by a medical review officer from the lab or testing facility for further questioning.
Can employers drug tests in states where marijuana is legal?
Yes, and you can still be denied employment if you test positive. Legal rules vary from state to state for legal and/or recreational use, but typically still support employers in drug testing for marijuana use and firing (or not hiring) people for it.

Technically, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and most employers prefer to maintain a drug-free workplace policy. Seek legal advice to discuss specific marijuana testing laws before employment or testing.

Amy Culver |
Amy is our Lead Copywriter at Snagajob, where she loves to use her word nerd powers to help workers and employers connect. Her first hourly job was as a cashier at Chick-fil-a.