Employer Drug Test: Complete Guide for Employers

Uritox Drug Test Drug Test Guidelines

A drug is a chemical prescribed by health care professionals to treat people, who are suffering from some disease or ailments, this is totally a legal procedure, on the other hand some people use the drug, the way they are not permitted to. 

Substances can be abused in many different forms and can happen for different reasons.  While every addiction is different, the intensity can vary from substance to substance.


Main reasons for drug abuse/addictions:

  • Legality:  Alcohol and nicotine are legal and slackly regulated to prevent addiction.  People tend to abuse these substances by self-medicating for stress, anxiety, trauma, etc.
  • Prescribed Medication:  Some people think drugs prescribed by the doctors are safe to consume without consequences and end up taking it frequently for symptom relief.  The opiate-based drugs are extremely addictive in nature.
  • Depression:  People struggling with depression do not undergo proper treatment or diagnosis.  They try to handle their depressive symptoms by self-medicating with Nicotine, Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, and various other mind-altering substances.
  • Fitting in/Peer Pressure:  Peer pressure causes people to do things they would not have done to either impress people or trying to feel valued.
  • To Feel Good:  Many people start to abuse drugs and alcohol just to feel better than they do.  Using drugs or alcohol to feel better whether stressed, anxious or enhancing their fun is a gateway to a severe addiction.
  • Availability:  Nicotine, Alcohol and Prescription drugs can be easily acquired because they are readily available.
  • Experimenting:  Young adults and teenagers tend to experiment with mind-altering substances like Cocaine and Alcohol.  Drugs like Ecstasy, Heroin and Meth are so addictive that the person will begin a pattern of abuse, which would eventually lead to addiction.
  • Self-Medicating:  Self-medicating is one of the reasons people abuse drugs and Alcohol.  People under stress, anxiety, recurring pain, severe depression, trauma, loneliness, undiagnosed mental illnesses, etc., would self-medicate with mind-altering substances to cope with what they are feeling or what they do not want to feel.

The drug industry is a billion-dollar industry and it offers quick money (The only investment is befriending a devil).    The street drug sellers scout for their targets in and around schools, colleges, social gatherings, universities and workplaces.  The drug trade is a thriving business not only across the United States, but across the continents.

Drug abuse is a global phenomenon.  Some countries have stringent laws like the death penalty to prevent drug abuse.  It is mandatory in the US to conduct drug tests in several departments and agencies on occasions befitting the purpose.

What are the most commonly used drugs?

  • Opioids
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine

Despite all the measures the US Governments have taken over the decades to prevent drug abuse, the menace of drug trade continues to thrive across the United States.

Why people go for drugs?

Often times we hear that sports celebs fail a drug test and are barred from participating in sports events for a specified length of time.  High school athletes and football players abuse prescription pain killers to outperform their rivals.

Abuse of drugs influences the quality of health and hence productivity.  Drug addicts are involved in home conflicts, accidents on roads and factories, and in sports frauds.  The Substance Abuse Authorities go for the drug test if they suspect drug abuse.  The drug tests are common in places like:
  • Workplace (Pre-Employment Screening)
  • Police
  • Army
  • Network Rail
  • Court
  • Social Services
  • Sports Authorities
  • Transport Department

Genuine people/employees under medication too are prone to drug side effects as the phrase “anything taken in excess is not good.”  In addition, some foods also interfere with the drugs and produce adverse effects.

Drug Test Vs Drug Screening

Though drug testing and drug screening are synonymous, there lies is a vast difference between them.  The procedure adopted in each procedure is totally different, but the aim of both the procedures is to determine the traces of the drug in the samples taken from individuals.

The main differences are given below:

Drug Test

Drug Screening

Much more accurate

Less accurate

More expensive (Around 200$)

Cost around 10$

Takes longer time (1 to 7 days)

Takes minutes

Can be done only in Labs

Can be done anywhere

Test kits are not available in pharmacy

Test kits are available in pharmacy

The confirmatory test is not required

The confirmatory test is required in Labs

Why the companies should opt for the Periodical Drug Test?

The companies in the US incur huge losses to the tune of billions of dollars each year due to the drug abuse menace by their employees.  The drug abuse translates to:

  • Absenteeism
  • Late reporting
  • Violent behaviors at workplaces
  • Compensation claims
  • Low productivity
  • Getting fired or quit within a few months of employment

Why are Companies losing Billions of Dollars?

  • National Safety Council has reported that employees who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to be late for work, take unexcused absences, be violent or get injured at work, file workers’ compensation claims, quit or be fired within one year of employment.
  • According to the report by the US Department of Justice, nearly 40% of employees theft and 50% of the accidents at the workplace happen due to the drug abuse.
  • As per the report released by the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance (NDWA), around 74% of all current illegal drug abusers are employed and they cause around 40% of all industrial fatalities.

Benefits of Drug Test

75% of fortune 500 companies conduct drug test and drug screening of their employees periodically.  They understand that implementing drug testing program significantly results in financial savings and makes workplace more productive and safer for others.

Advantages are:

  • Improves employees morale, performance, productivity
  • Considerable reduction in health care costs
  • Promoting social well-being
  • Prevention of accidents, downtime, thefts, and crimes
  • Compliance with state or federal rules
  • Providing safe workplace
  • Identify and refer employees with drug and/or alcohol problems

Use the following calculator to assess the cost of drug abuse at your workplace


When is the drug test administrated?

Different government departments, agencies and companies in the US follow different protocols to drug test their employees, however, there are some common instances in which drug test is administrated by most of the companies:

The department of Transportation has mandated drug test for some occupations and industries like truck operation, pipelines, railroad, aviation, maritime and safety-centric occupations.

Pre-Employment Drug Test:  After getting conditional offer letters, employees are asked to undergo a mandatory drug test.  Employees are absorbed into the job if they test negative in the drug test.  Every state has its unique set of laws that regulates the pre-employment drug testing.  Some states have laws that protect certain personal health information of the individuals, thus limiting the company’s access to the information.

Post-Accident Drug Test:  This test is conducted after the occurrence of accident in a workplace.  The employee involved in the accident is removed from the scene for medical attention.  The possible consequences are damage to life, property and citation by the police.  The employer who has framed the drug test guideline for such incidents should plan to conduct the drug test within a reasonable timeframe, as the effect of the alcohol and/or drug remains in the human system from 2 to 8 hours.  Examination within 2 hours is always better.

Return-To-Work Testing:  This type of drug test is administrated on the employees who were tested positive or were absent from the work for a long time.  As per Federally established guidelines, employees who return to work can be subjected to the drug test in the following circumstances:

  • Having tested positive
  • Involved in the violation of the drug rule or specific alcohol rule

Prior to taking the return-to-work drug test, the employee must have been examined by the Substances Abuse Professional (SAP) and should have undergone treatment for the prescribed treatment. This test is also referred to as a 'follow up test". 

To know more about Substance Abuse Professional and Services, Please visit


Random Drug Testing:  The employees for the test are selected randomly by a lottery-like system, sometimes computer-generated random numbers (Employees Identification or Social Security number).  This system ensures unbiased procedure.  It is the most effective deterrence against drug abuse by the employees.

Periodical Drug Testing:  It is a scheduled drug test done on employees currently working with the company.  Some employers make it as a part of annual physical.  The schedule may be yearly or half-yearly or quarterly.  The only drawback of the test is it gives enough time for the employees to get rid of the effects of the drug before the scheduled drug test.

Drug Testing Under Reasonable Suspicion:  This testing is carried out based on suspicious behavior or actions of an employee for a reasonable length of time at the workplace.  The supervisor should have solid evidence based on observations and seconded by the coworkers.  The employer should lay down a comprehensive type of behaviors that warrant drug or alcohol testing.  The supervisor needs to be doubly cautious before ordering such a test, as it involves the dignity of the employee.  This type of testing is also termed as “probable cause” or “for cause” testing.

Pros and Cons of Workplace Drug Testing

There are always two arguments for the same situation.  We have listed the pros and cons of the situation at hand “drug test at workplace.”


  • It is the primary responsibility of an employer to keep the workplace safe, secure and healthy or else the employer may find them self in a soup if something goes wrong in the workplace.  It's also obligatory on the part of an employer to check if all the preventive measures are updated.
  • Periodical and scheduled drug tests ensure near total compliance on the part of the employees, thus enhancing the productivity and efficiency at the workplace.  The company’s reputation soars to the sky.  This lifts the spirits of the employees and encourages them to double up their efforts.
  • Companies that are serious about their business tend to have a highly effective policy on drug screening and testing.  These companies hold a series of seminars, counseling and workshops for the employees irrespective of their liking or disliking of drugs, thus keeping the employees safe, healthy and happy.
  • It ensures a considerable reduction in the cost of hiring and training the new employees, besides enormous time spent in hiring and training the new employees.
  • Employees tend to work efficiently without a reasonable absence from the work. This ensures uninterrupted productivity.
  • It creates a safe and healthy environment at the workplace and ensures the safety and security of all the employees.  Employees will have no reasons for excuses.
  • It eliminates accidents, damage, fatalities in workplaces especially with heavy machinery, hazardous chemicals and crude oil refineries.
  • Employer turns a Good Samaritan when he refers a drug-addicted employee to the EAP (employee assistance program).  EAP, in turn, refers the concerned employee to a certified rehabilitation center.  This center turns the drug-addicted employee to a healthy and happy individual that is synonymous to offering an employee a new lease on life.
  • Employees who abuse the drug despite all the preventive measures, like periodical drug testing and rehabilitation, adopted by the employer cannot claim compensation in case of accident or injury, as the employer is not liable to pay anything.
  • Absenteeism, poor performance, and low productivity are the signs of employees who are drug users. Periodical drug testing or drug screening helps the employer to detect such employees and retain efficient employees. No employer would compromise on productivity and profits.
  • Crimes like shooting, stabbing and violence can be eliminated to a great extent at workplaces if drug tests are carried out quite often.
  • Random drug testing instills a sense of discipline among the employees at workplace and refrain them from using drugs successively leading to well being and healthy lifestyle.


  • Employees might go for unfair dismissal suits on account of their failing the drug test.  Employees often file suit arguing they have been terminated wrongfully and without any valid reason.  The company will still lose money even if the plaintiff loses the case.  Lawsuits of any sort are costly and take away time and focus from staff involved in the case.
  • The cost of running a drug testing program is expensive.  Being a preventive measure, most employers feel this is an extra burden.
  • Mild traces of drugs like Cannabinoids if found during the drug screening disqualifies even a potential employee from being hired, but the legislation has permitted the use of some drugs like Marijuana out of the working hours.  Some individuals feel that they have the freedom to do whatever they like and feel it’s none’s business to intrude into their privacy.
  • Pre-hiring drug tests or drug screening is a mandatory routine in the US.  Drug test result reveals just the presence or absence of a drug and not the time-span of an individual who has been under the drug influence.
  • Sometimes employers tend to lose potential candidates or employees when they fail the drug test.  Hiring fresh candidates and training them again will cost the employer additionally.

Types of Drug Tests

  • Hair testing
  • Oral testing
  • Urine testing
  • Breath testing

Hair Testing:  It is an apt pre-employment and random drug test available for the employers.  Human hair is a perfect recorder of drug usage over a period of time, normally three months.  Drug test on hair also reveals:

  • When was the drug used?
  • How long has the drug been used?
  • When was the drug discarded?

Hair drug test identifies the following drugs:

    • Cocaine
    • Amphetamines and Methamphetamines
    • PCP
    • Marijuana
    • Opioids
    • Phencyclidine

Oral Testing:  In this test, saliva is taken from inside of a person’s mouth.  Oral testing is also known as mouth swab testing or fluid testing.  It is the most preferable among the employers for the following reasons:

  • Almost all the drugs take time to metabolize and manifest in the human system.  The saliva can test the most recently used drug (the time span can be a few minutes to two days).
  • It is a tamper-proof test.
  • Sample can be collected on-site.  This eliminates the possibility of cheating.
  • It is cost-effective.
  • Quick and efficient administration of the test.
  • Suitable for a range of drug testing.

Urine Testing:  A urine drug test is done under a specific protocol.  Urine drug test is commonly known as UDS and is a totally painless procedure.  This test detects the presence of substances that are declared illegal.  The test also reveals if the person in question is under the prescribed drugs.

The person who tests positive is advised to undergo treatment under the supervision of Substance Abuse Professionals.   A urine drug test is performed in steps:

  • On-site screening test is carried out immediately after obtaining the specimen that gives results in minutes.
  • Based on reasonable suspicion, the sample is sent to SAMHSA certified laboratories for a confirmatory test.

Breath Testing:  Alcohol tests are limited to testing the level of impairment or intoxication caused due to the consumption of alcohol.  This drug test doesn’t reveal the history of alcohol consumption in the past.  Breath analyzers are the most common form of alcohol test at the workplace.  A person in question blows air into the breath analyzer for alcohol detection.  The level of intoxication is determined by reading the numbers displayed by the analyzer.  Employees who get the numbers between 0.02 to 0.039 on breath analyzers are removed from sensitive operations sites or types of machinery.

Why is Urine Drug Test popular – Features?

Urine drug tests are popular for the following reasons:

  • Can be done instantly onsite or at home setting.
  • Serves the purposes like pre-employment test, return-to-work test, random test, scheduled test.
  • Urine test cups are available in varying panel configuration to test up to 16 or sometimes 20 drugs at a time, and the drug testing time lasts a few minutes.
  • Some companies offer advanced features like detecting the combination of drugs.
  • This form of test is the most convenient tool for the medical service professionals, employers, and compliance enforcement agents.
  • Come manufacturers offer features like:
  1. CLIA waived
  2. FDA Cleared
  3. DOT Approved

How long does urine drug testing take?

From beginning to the end, it takes not more than a few minutes to read the result on the instant urine test cups.

What drugs can a urine test detect?

A urine drug test can detect almost all the drug metabolites derived from alcohol, prescribed medicines and synthetic drugs.  A urine drug test can reveal the usage of the following drugs, besides common drugs.

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Amphetamine
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Tricyclic Antidepressant
  • Phencyclidine
  • Propoxyphene
  • Methamphetamine
  • Bath Salts (Stimulant)
  • High Potency Opioids
  • Ketamine
  • Meperidine
  • Dextromethorphan
  • Carisoprodol
  • Cannabinoids (Synthetic)

This test also detects some common adulterants like pH number, SG Value, Colour, Odor, Glucose, Nitrite, Oxidants, Creatinine, etc., (commonly required by medical professionals for diagnostic purposes).

What are the steps in a Urine drug test?

The test is done in three steps:

  1. Collect 30 mL of urine sample in a urine test cup.
  2. Wait for five minutes (wait time should not go above 5 minutes since result may be inaccurate).
  3. Interpret lines to know the result (positive or negative).

You may watch this video that explains the result reading procedure:

Which drug panel should I choose?

Employers, individuals and agencies who want to undergo urine drug test can choose the urine drug testing panels as per their specific requirements like pre-employment test, random test, post-accident test, return-to-duty test, etc.  Each panel tests a specific set of drugs and its metabolites, the most common being the 5-panel drug test.

5-Panel Drug Test serves the purpose of most of the employer’s requirements and detects the following drugs:

  • Opioids/Opiates (oxycodone, oxymorphone, heroin, codeine, morphine, 6-MAM, hydrocodone)
  • Amphetamines (methamphetamine, MDA, MDMA, D-amphetamine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana (cannabinoids)

As the panel digit increases, more and more drugs and its metabolites are included for the test.

6-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Amphetamines
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Ecstasy (3,4-Methylenedioxy-N-ethylamphetamine)

Some of these drugs cause fatigue and dizziness. This test is common in workplaces where heavy types of machinery are operated.

7-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • PCP
  • Barbiturates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines

8-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • PCP
  • Barbiturates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines

9-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • PCP
  • Barbiturates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines

10-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • PCP
  • Barbiturates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methadone
  • Methaqualone
  • Propoxyphene
  • Benzodiazepines

11-Panel Drug Test detects:

  • Opiates
  • Oxycodone
  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Buprenorphine
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Methadone
  • PCP
  • THC

12-Panel Drug Test:  This is an exhaustive and the most comprehensive drug test that includes additional opiates besides abused prescription drugs.  This test detects:

  • Marijuana
  • Opiates
  • PCP
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Methadone
  • Methaqualone
  • Propoxyphene
  • Ecstasy
  • Oxycodone

Standardized Industry-Centric Drug Tests

  • Companies, agencies and organizations who what to have a strict drug-free workplace policy should go for the 12-panel test for all the employees.
  • Industries that employ heavy types of machinery and operate chemical plants and processes should go for 10-panel or more drug test.  These industries need a high level of alertness and fatigue-free workforce.  Construction industries too should follow these norms.
  • Some states have mandated a 5-panel drug test for civil servants and some have gone to the extent of conducting a 10-panel test for the civil servants.
  • Mobile health agencies recommend the 8-panel test for home health aides.

Drug test for Wealthy and White-Collar Workers

Corporate houses mainly recruit white-collar and wealthy workers.  They go for the designer drug test to suit their work culture.  Employees in the corporate environment tend to use a combination of drugs to increase focus and attention span.

Fast-changing corporate culture and expanding legislation on Marijuana and other such factors have limited the drug test in corporate houses to 4 or 5-panel test, but this excludes THC.

Employers should be well aware of the features, implications, benefits and disadvantages of implementing drug testing policies in their respective workplaces.  It is prudent on the part of employees and employers to know their rights, roles and responsibilities.

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