Solving the labyrinth of Drug Test Screening: A Guide to Pre-Employment Drug test screening (Part 1)


Why is Drug Test required? Who has to go through drug testing? How can employers conduct drug tests on their prospective employees? Can someone be hired even if they fail to clear the drug test?

There are various questions, misconceptions & illusions that are there among a lot of people. There have been many instances where both applicant and the employer have misunderstood the concept of Drug test screening. This article focuses on clearing out these misconceptions to promote better understanding of drug testing in pre-employment screening. Let’s dig deep into Drug testing/Screening?

Why a Drug test is conducted?

The use of illegal drugs or alcohol for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, or in excessive amounts is not correct and it is known as “Substance abuse”. It leads to social, physical, emotional, and job-related problems.

A drug test or screening is the collection and analysis of blood / urine / hair / saliva of the candidate or subject in question; to detect the presence of the contaminants and chemicals left behind in the body due to drug use. It may happen that a person is on medication which can cause specific drug levels to increase, however, if there is no such reason then that’s considered as “Substance abuse”.

Drug testing as a part of Pre-employment screening:

The inclusion of Drug test in pre-employment screening is completely up to the discretion of the employer. Previously, drug testing was something that was done only for relatable jobs and position. However, now all employers are opting for Drug tests as they are promoting drug free environment.

The benefits that an employer gets by implementing drug testing in their background screening programs are:

A safer and healthier workplace

– Save monetary benefits

– Low probability of crime

– Increased productivity

– Healthier employees

Moreover, substance abuse directly costs employers billions of dollars per year and results in:

1. Higher rates of absenteeism

2. Reductions in job productivity and performance

3. Negative influence on other employees

4. Safety and other risks for employers

In fact, even employees with substance abuse issues often deal with the below problems:

Unable to fulfil major role obligations at work

Substance abuse in situations where it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use)

Have recurrent substance-related legal or financial problems

Which are the common drug tests conducted in Pre-Employment Screening and what it includes?

The types of drug tests are often differentiated by “Number of Panels”. So, the number of panels are nothing but number of components being checked under the drug test. Employer needs to understand the requirement of number of components depending upon the sector they belong to and the role for which they are hiring the candidate.

Table 1 will help you understand what components are typically covered under panels commonly offered in the market. There can be variations in these at country level considering laws of the motherland.

Table 1


Within how much time are substances detectable in a human body?

It is also important to understand that the drugs used are not going to stay in a human being’s body for longer time, it has limited period. So, conducting these with right frequency for employer specific sector may have different requirements. Eg. An organization into transportation sector or a teacher in a school who closely works with children may have to go through such tests on monthly basis or on random frequency.

Employers should know for how long drug content can be detected in a human being’s body and table 2 will help you understand the same.

Table 2

Sectors where there is a need of performing drug test:

In the present-day scenario, there is no sector typically that does not need to perform a drug test, but due to the high cost associated with the test, companies sometimes choose to bypass it. Conventionally, few of the industries that require regular drug screenings are:

– Health Care & Hospitals

– Transportation & Logistics

– Government

– People dealing with children (Schools, Kindergarten, Daycares etc.)

Is there a specific frequency for conducting drug testing?

When it comes to drug test there is no fixed rule or mandate that states which sector needs to do a drug test at what interval. It is at the discretion of the companies to determine the frequency based on the criticality, functionality and viability. Any role that has a high criticality and can affect other users at large needs to go through a mandatory drug test irrespective of the sector. For example: – A Pilot has the responsibility of hundreds of lives while flying a plane. In this role, one needs to stay miles away from drug abuse. Hence, in this occupation it is mandatory to conduct frequent drug testing. The same goes for anyone working in a transport department (bus drivers, taxi drivers, tow truck/U-haul drivers etc), Health industry workers (doctors, nurses, surgeons), Education Industry (teachers, School bus drivers, etc)

Examples of countries which have strict regulations when it comes to drug testing:

There are 3 main countries that have strict regulation when it comes to drug test. Those 3 countries are UK, USA & Australia.

Australia mandates that everyone in the workplace needs to go through workplace alcohol and drug test. Another mandate in Australia states “All Australian workplace drug testing must comply with Australian standard AS/NZS4308:2008.”

USA has state specific laws which one needs to study before conducting drug tests and making hiring decisions based on the same.

However, there are various regulations that exist in other countries across the globe. We can touch upon these in our next series.

In this article, we learnt basics of drug test and its applicability to pre-employment background screening. We would be coming up with detailed explanation about various methods of conducting drug test and elaborate on benefits of Urine vs. Hair vs. oral saliva drug test.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article!

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