Conducting Drug Tests for Job Candidates at Your Business

How Do I Conduct Drug Tests for Job Candidates?

Workplace drug use costs employers anywhere from $75 to 100 billion dollars a year in lost time, accidents, health care, and workers’ compensation costs, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. By drug testing job candidates, you can help decrease the chance of hiring a drug user. Here are some common questions you may have about pre-employment drug testing.

How do I start the pre-employment drug tests for job candidates?

If you are a private employer, develop your company policy for pre-employment drug screening. Then, contact your state for their guidelines. Many states recommend following federal guidelines for drug testing: the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Omnibus Transportation Employee Act of 1991.

How much does a drug screen cost?

Standard urine tests typically cost between $25-75. The costs of pre-employment drug screens can vary depending on what substances are being screened.

Who pays for the drug screen?

The employer generally pays for the test. In some cases, employers may ask job candidates to foot the bill, and then reimburse the employee in their first paycheck.

How do I choose the type of drug test?

Most employers who perform pre-employment drug screening choose a five-panel test of street drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, PCP, opiates, and amphetamines. These categories are known as the SAMSHA 5, required by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for federal employees and contractors.

Some employers opt for a more extensive nine or 10-panel test for substances such as alcohol, MDMA (ecstasy), hydrocodone (Vicodin, etc.), benzodiazepines (valium or rohypnol, for example). Employers can also select a hair or saliva test.

Are drug tests accurate?

It’s getting more difficult for people to cheat at a drug test. Laboratories take a sophisticated approach to analyzing specimens and are constantly on the lookout for attempts to substitute or alter specimens.

How do I choose a drug testing company?

Federally certified labs are considered the “gold standard” for drug testing. While not required for private employers, you can choose from a list of federally certified labs on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

At what stage of hiring should I order a pre-employment drug test?

An employer generally sends a candidate for drug testing after they extend a job offer; the job offer is contingent upon the results of the pre-employment drug test and a background check. Most employers insist that pre-employment drug screens be conducted within a short time frame to ensure accuracy.

What is the usual procedure of pre-employment drug testing?

  • The employer orders the drug screen to occur, and gives the candidate a Chain of Custody form, which will accompany the specimen from the collection site to the lab.
  • The candidate will visit the collection site, show a photo identification, and sign the Chain of Custody form authorizing the drug screen.
  • The candidate will follow strict rules for leaving a specimen, which is sent to the lab for analysis.
  • The lab or third-party testing company will contact the employer with a negative or positive result.

How long does it take to get results from a drug screen?

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get the results of a drug screen.

What if the candidate tests positive?

If an initial drug screen is positive, the lab will most likely perform further tests to rule out a false-positive result. A medical review officer (MRO) may contact the candidate for a valid reason for the positive result, such as a medically necessary prescription, and may ask for proof. If the candidate proves their case, the MRO can negate the test and present a negative result to the employer.

If the candidate fails the test completely, the drug screening company or lab will inform the employer. The employer should contact the job candidate following the steps in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. (For more information, read the article Following the Fair Credit Reporting Act.)

Where can I find more information on drug testing job candidates?

To find out more about establishing pre-employment drug screening, visit the SAMHSA Dept. of Workplace Programs, or call 1-800-WORKPLACE.

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