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Can I be required to take a drug test when accepting a job?

Your question is very relevant as employers are requiring tests from job candidates more often. With so many people applying for the same positions, companies can pick and choose. Part of this process may involve screening everyone as a condition of employment, so you might not be the only one. Where you stand legally varies from state to state and depends on the industry or the nature of your job.

Most applicants and employees will be requested to take a drug test at least once in their working lives. In many cases, testing is a condition of actually getting the job so you may not have a choice. The organization may test for a number of reasons, such as illicit drug use by staff leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and other negative factors.

You do have the right to decline a drug test but be aware that it could mean the end of your job offer. The big question the company will ask is why, and they will draw their own obvious conclusions. Pre-employment drug testing cannot be mandated by job safety concerns or job specific issues, you are not working for them yet.

Legally, it is a bit of a grey area and will depend on the state where you live and work. Federal law does not have much to say on workplace drug testing unless the industry is heavily regulated such as transportation, construction or military. Some states do regulate testing and these also vary between job candidates and actual employees. Recently, politicians floated the idea of drug testing Medicare recipients. According to Mark Prip at MyMedigapPlans, the failure of drug testing programs for welfare recipients quickly quashed the new plan.

Employers are generally required to follow rules and guidelines for drug testing to prevent discrimination and inaccurate samples. These include informing the applicant that it is used as part of a screening process, as you will already be aware, your job offer depends on the results of the test, and results are analyzed by state certified laboratories. If you agreed to the test when you applied for the job, then you are generally obligated to take it when you get the offer.

Be aware and do not panic if your drug test indicates a false positive result. Dietary supplements, caffeine from soda or coffee, even Advil PM can cause you to test positive. It is estimated that 15% of drug tests come back with false positive results. Most companies will allow you to take the test again.

Slightly different rules apply to existing employees. Random or blanket drug testing by companies is legally unacceptable in many states. To test an individual the organization must have reasonable suspicion that they are using illicit substances which could pose a danger to themselves or fellow co-workers. This is especially relevant in jobs that involve a high risk of injury such as a heavy machinery or vehicle operator.

Even as an employee you can refuse to take a drug test, but you are likely to lose your job. You may also be denied unemployment benefits in some states for refusal to take a drug test. If your boss can prove that you were a safety hazard in the workplace their actions can be fully justified.

There have been challenges to drug testing in the workplace on privacy violation grounds but they have been largely unsuccessful. At the end of the day it is your choice.

A miracle drug is any drug that will do what the label says it will do… Eric Hodgins.

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times