Pre-Employment Drug Test: Everything You Need To Know

Pre-Employment Drug Test: Everything You Need To Know


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A Pre-Employment Drug Test is performed to determine if a prospective hire uses any legal or illicit substances. Pre-Employment drug test has become essential given the rapid increase in substance abuse post-covid given the risks and the liability associated with it. Learn what happens if you fail a pre-employment drug test below.

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It is common for a job candidate to undergo pre-employment drug test and a job may be offered depending on the applicant’s ability to pass. This testing tool enhances the chances of eliminating drug abusers in safety sensitive jobs.

Top 5 industries that do regular drug testing! 

1. Healthcare and Hospitals

2. Transportation and Logistics

3. Government

4. Automotive

5. Manufacturing

Most common Pre-Employment Drug testing is the Urine Drug Test.

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Pre-Employment General Assessment Test

Pre-Employment Tests

Employment tests are a valuable tool to understand a candidate’s ability to adjust with the job requirements as well as adaptability to the situation in the organization. Several tests are conducted to assess the capability of a candidate such as aptitude, analytical and logical reasoning, psychology and physical skills.

Pre-employment tests are standardized methods to evaluate candidates during the hiring process. Good hiring decisions made by an organization contribute towards higher productivity and lower turnover, which positively affects the bottom line. Hiring wrong people can negatively impact on employee morale, management time as well as waste of valuable training and money.

Well-validated and professionally developed pre-employment tests can be a reliable effective tool to gain insights about the prospective employees’ skills and traits. Hiring time can be minimized by using new screening tools along with technology to select well-qualified individuals to fit the organization.

It has become a lot easier for the jobseekers to apply for jobs via Internet and pre-employment tests have gotten more popular in recent years as a way to confidently and quickly filter out unqualified candidates.

Pre-employment tests can render enormous value for organizations looking for the right talent. Pre-employment assessments used during candidate selection process must be valid, reliable, legal, and equitable and technology also makes it much simpler to incorporate pre-employment testing into hiring process.

Why Do Employers Use Pre-Employment Testing?

Employment tests are generally designed to assess and document information about a candidate’s skills, intellect, personality, etc., during hiring process. Employers perform pre-employment tests to:

  • Quickly narrow down the number of job applicants and speed up the hiring process.
  • Check if the applicant’s skills match the job description requirements.
  • Conduct qualitative interviews related to their skills and work experience after gaining sufficient data on the applicants and their test results.

Types of Pre-Employment Testing Methods and Selection Tools

There are different types of pre-employment tests that generally fall into following categories

1. Aptitude Tests

Aptitude Test is usually conducted as part of an initial pre-employment hiring process to determine a candidate’s skills and competence to work on the job. Employers use different aptitude tests based on the job requirement. Aptitude tests can assess specific abilities such as manual dexterity, spatial ability, verbal and numerical abilities.

Every individual differ in their ability to do certain tasks and aptitude tests can be used to gauge or explore a candidate’s potential.

Aptitude tests can be applied in almost any mid and higher level occupations since it is difficult to assess abilities solely based on resumes and interviews. Aptitude test is considered to be most accurate predictor of job performance.

2. Cognitive Ability Tests

Cognitive ability tests are carried out to assess the general intelligence and correlate highly with overall job performance. The answers provided by the candidates help employers to predict their cognitive ability to perform on the respective jobs. This test is particularly needed in intellectually demanding jobs and to predict handling capabilities in intricate situations.

General Aptitude Test (GAT) is one of the commonly employed cognitive ability tests, which evaluates the ability to use logical thinking, verbal and numeric reasoning to handle tasks. Candidates with higher cognitive abilities tend to perform well on their jobs.

3. Personality Tests

Personality tests evaluate the candidate’s emotional stability, ability to perform on the job effectively and suitability within the company’s culture. After assessment, personality profile is compared with standard profile applicable for the job. The best suitable candidate for the standard profile is selected for the job.

Though personality and intelligence are closely related, personality is different from intelligence. Personality is distinctive and related more towards emotion that is reflected in behavior whereas intelligence is referred to cognitive factor or thought process.

Commonly used pre-employment personality tests include:

  • The Caliper Profile
  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • The SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire
  • The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI)
  • The DiSC Behavioral Inventory

4. Job Knowledge Tests

A job knowledge test is used to judge the knowledge of a candidate about various aspects of a specific job. It will evaluate the candidate’s factual knowledge about the role and the procedural knowledge. The questions are designed to assess the technical or professional expertise in specific job knowledge areas.

Job knowledge tests are mostly occupation or role specific. To pass the job knowledge test, the candidate should have knowledge related to the job applied for. This test may also be used by an employer to assess the candidate’s fitness for a specific job. It may also be used to rank applicants based on their performance for the desired role.

Job knowledge tests are also used for certification or credentialing purposes. For instance, an individual might pass a series of job knowledge tests to become certified in a particular skill set as well as mastery tests required by government agencies or self-governing trade organizations for an individual to be licensed to perform certain jobs.

5. Integrity Tests

An integrity test is applied to assess an applicant’s propensity to be honest, trustworthy and dependable. A lack of integrity is associated with counterproductive behaviors such as disciplinary problems, theft, lying, violence, absenteeism, etc. The questions are geared to the degree of integrity and ethical guidance when encountering certain situations in the workplace.

Integrity tests can also evaluate overall job performance since integrity is strongly linked to conscientiousness. When integrity test is administered along with cognitive ability test, it increases the amount of validity to the selection process.

There are studies suggesting that applicants who score poorly in these tests tend to be unsuitable and less productive. It also eliminates dishonesty or theft at work.

Some questions that an employer may ask in an integrity test include:

  • Do you have the similar core values inside and outside of the workplace?
  • How would you act if the manager or coworker gave you a task that violates company policy?
  • Is it ethical to publish work samples on to your website?
  • Have you lied to your manager in the previous role?
  • If a client asks you to do something illegal, would you do it?

There are two types of tests to assess honesty and integrity.

  • Overt Integrity Test:  Explicit questions are asked about honesty, attitudes and behavior regarding theft.
  • Covert Integrity Test:  Personality-oriented or Covert test use psychological concepts such as dependability and respect for authority.

It has been expressed that the above tools may cause invasion of privacy and self-incrimination. It is also claimed that applicants can interpret the purpose of the questions and provide politically correct answers. Some states have regulated these types of tests, so employers should consult before implementing these types of tests with legal counsel.

6. Emotional Intelligence Tests

Emotional intelligence tests analyze relationship-building skills and emotional knowledge. It measures an applicant’s ability to interpret their emotions and other people’s emotions. It is a basic skill needed to work in an office or in a team with other employees. It is a much needed skill in certain roles such as customer success or sales.

Having high emotional intelligence can defuse conflicts and alleviate coworkers’ anxiety if they are disappointed or frustrated.

Berke Assessment is used by some employers to measure the range of emotional skills in order to select suitable candidates for the position applied for.

Emotional Intelligence Test that can reveal few skills include:

  • Teamwork:  Teamwork skills can help collaborate with coworkers of different backgrounds and personalities. When working with team, there is a better chance of accomplishing goals and getting promotion to a higher level role.
  • Adaptability:  The ability to change in accordance to meet the current demands of the company. For example, if you are a project manager and the client needs to modify a project’s deadline, then you will need to reprioritize your tasks to meet their expectations.
  • Empathy:  Empathy is how one interprets the feelings of others in a given situation. This trait emphasizes one’s compassion and willingness to help coworkers improve their mind-set and achieve their goals.

7. Skills Assessment Tests

Skills assessment tests assess job-related competencies such as verbal, math and communication skills as well as typing and computer skills. These skills reflect acquired knowledge that the applicant has gained from previous experience.

Skills assessment tests evaluates soft and hard skills. During the later stages of hiring process, employers may analyze for these skills and hire the candidates who may qualify.

  • Soft Skills Tests:  Soft skills are a constellation of productive personality traits that include communication skills, people skills, social skills, attitudes, career attributes, social and emotional intelligence quotients, etc. These skills enable individuals to navigate through their environment, perform well, work well with others and achieve their goals by complementing their hard skills. Soft skills are difficult to quantify and are not job-specific.
  • Hard Skills Tests:  Hard skills are learned abilities that are acquired and enhanced through education and training. Hard or technical skills are typically job-specific. For instance, a software engineer should have extensive knowledge of programming languages whereas an accounts executive should be well-versed in sales strategy. Concisely, hard skill tests help judge a candidate’s ability to perform certain job roles.

Additional skills assessment tests may involve demonstrating research skills or leadership skills to move forward in the hiring process.

8. Physical Ability Tests

Physical ability tests typically measure physical abilities such as strength, endurance, muscular flexibility and stamina. Applicants are required to perform physical skill or manual labor related to specific job roles such as firefighter or a police officer.

Physical competency assessments may help in finding right candidates for certain job roles and may also reduce the chances of workplace accidents.

Using more than one type of test for each candidate can maximize the effectiveness of pre-employment testing. It also allows employers to assess more relevant aspects of an applicant, rendering more reliable factual information to streamline the hiring process, and support informed decision-making.

Pre-Employment Drug Test Requirements

Although it is not mandatory for all employers to conduct pre-employment drug testing, safety-sensitive industries including transportation, construction and sports are required to test all job applicants for both drug and alcohol use.

A Pre-Employment Drug Test is performed to determine if a prospective hire uses any legal or illicit substances or prescription medications. It is a common tool used as a part of hiring process where a job may be offered depending on the applicant’s ability to pass. Employers use standard drug testing panels according to their distinct business needs and typically screen for the most commonly used legal and illegal drugs.

Drug testing specimen types most prominently used are urine, hair, blood, and saliva. Urine is the most commonly used type and mandated for regulated drug tests. Urine drug testing has a shorter detection period when compared to other drug testing types. Hair testing can detect drug traces for up to 90 days, but is costlier.

Blood testing is very accurate, but has a shorter detection period; it is costly and invasive. Saliva or oral fluid test is less invasive, but has a shorter detection period than urine tests.

Why Employers Require Pre-Employment Drug Testing?

Employers may include drug testing as part of their hiring process (pre-employment drug testing) to mitigate risks associated with drug abuse. Drug testing laws vary state to state and there are restrictions in some states as to when and how drug testing can be conducted.

Pre-employment drug tests are often conducted in companies where workplace safety is of utmost importance and help bring down the number of costly workers’ compensation claims involving substance and alcohol use. An employer may deter substance abusers from applying by indicating on the job application that a job offer may be dependent on the drug test results.

Legality of Pre-Employment Drug Testing

The legality of drug testing varies from state to state and is evolving. Employers should seek legal advice regarding their drug testing program’s compliance with relevance to all state regulations. Some general practice guidelines include:

  • An applicant should know in advance that a pre-employment drug testing is a part of an employment screening process.
  • Applicants applying for the same job role should undergo the same type of drug test.
  • Drug tests must be administered in state certified labs.

Employment Drug Testing Policies

Companies that typically drug test will have written drug and alcohol policy explaining how and when job applicants may be tested for illicit substance and/or alcohol use. State and federal laws change frequently and applicants should be aware of their rights in their respective state. In some states, drug tests are subject to personal health information laws and therefore information may be protected from disclosure.

Any applicant who tests positive for illicit substance or alcohol use will not be hired.

Passing a Drug Test

Potential candidates may require drug and alcohol screening prior to being hired. If concerned about passing a drug test, the best way is to be drug and alcohol free.

A potential candidate will be notified about the pre-employment drug testing and may have to be present in the laboratory within a specified timeframe. Applicants will be directed to a specific laboratory to submit the specimen, which is usually urine. Other biologic samples (such as hair, saliva, sweat or blood) may also be used.

Chain-of-custody practices and standards are followed strictly to prevent adulteration of the specimen during lab evaluation. All the procedures are legally documented through the entire phase of testing.

Refusing a Pre-Employment Drug Test

An employer cannot force a prospective applicant to take a drug test and refusing to take a drug test may revoke job offer.

Failed Pre-Employment Drug Tests

Federal law does not prohibit an employer (other than Federal Government) from hiring a person who has failed a drug test.

Industries involving safety-sensitive jobs and federal contractors should follow federal drug testing rules that advocate employers to take necessary steps after an employee fails a drug test. Employers need to be cognizant about state-specific drug testing laws if operating in multiple states.

Steps That Can Be Taken If You Failed a Pre-Employment Drug Test

There are various reasons for a drug test to produce a false-positive result. One can request for a GC-MS test that is conducted in the event of a positive result. Although this test provides a more accurate reading, there is always a probability for another false positive.

On the other hand, an MRO may contact the applicant to find out the legitimate reason behind failed drug test, in which case applicant may disclose if using any prescription medication, dietary supplements, over-the-counter drugs, CBD or herbal products. The test may be declared negative if the MRO concludes the reason to be legitimate with supporting evidences.

There are a few states that provide employment protections for MMJ cardholders. If any applicant from this state gets fired or doesn’t get hired because of positive result for THC, then the firm can be sued legitimately.

On the other hand, if the applicant doesn’t have employment protection and tests positive for THC, then GC-MS test can be requested to confirm the false positive result.

People who use CBD products should be aware that it contains up to 0.3% THC. For instance, consuming 2000 mg of CBD with 0.3% THC every day may bring up 50 ng/mL threshold to test positive for THC. Depending on the CBD usage, the THC gets accumulated in the body and results in a positive test.

There are many firms that sell CBD oils with a greater amount of THC than advertised. There are cases where people sue CBD sellers for causing them to fail a drug screening test.

The consequences of a failed drug test are widely different and potentially life-altering. Apart from losing employment, legal issues could surface if believed to be using weed in a state where it is illegal.

Final Thoughts

Pre-employment tests should be chosen appropriately and monitored with care. Employers may chance upon litigation if a selection decision is challenged and found to be discriminatory or in violation of the federal or state rules.

Employers need to be transparent about their drug testing policies and consistently followed in all circumstances. There are a few companies that have stopped testing for weed or ignore initial positive tests in jobs that are not considered safety-sensitive.

Creating and maintaining a drug-free work environment is an employer’s responsibility and may act as a deterrent to applicants who abuse drugs or alcohol.

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