Job Search Tips

What to Expect When Getting Your Drug Test At Work

Written by Peter Jones

Pre-employment drug screening is definitely a practice you should be aware of. Depending on the job you get, your sobriety can affect your job performance—even the safety and lives of other people. Employers are eager to make sure they can trust you and your judgment.

Some employers are actually federally obligated to screen employees, such as the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Tests are much more likely in trucking industry, aviation, or mass transit, or for anyone hoping to work with NASA or the Department of Defense.

Test Types

There are two kinds of drug tests: the 5-panel test screen, and the 10-panel test. The 5-panel test screens for the following:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamine/Methamphetamine
  • Opiates (like heroin, codeine, and morphine)
  • Phencyclidine or PCP
  • THC (marijuana)

The 10-panel test screens for the following:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opiates such as heroin, codeine and morphine
  • Phencyclidine or PCP
  • THC (marijuana)
  • Propoxyphene
  • Methadone
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines

Some marijuana use might go undetected, particularly if the THC has been removed, as in medical marijuana). Other drugs, like prescription pain medication, might show up. If you’re using any prescription drugs, you should disclose this information before the test—particularly pain medications, certain weight-loss supplements, and drugs like Xanax, Valium, Rohypnol, and Ativan. And if you live in a state where recreational pot use is legal, or you have a prescription for medical marijuana, you might want to consider chatting with an employment lawyer about your options if a drug test scenario comes up.

Know the Rules and Your Rights

A lot of employers reserve the right to test again once you’re employed. They can ask for a test regularly or randomly, and can demand a test on short notice, giving employees no time to try and cheat.

There are limits to how much an employer is allowed to test, given the invasion of privacy. If you feel your rights have been violated, consult the employment laws of your state. Remember: you are also not required to take a test from a prospective employer. Just keep in mind, that might well cost you the job.

Know What You’re Getting Into

A few things to keep in mind to make sure you don’t lose a job to a failed drug test:

  • Most tests are urine tests, though this is changing. Saliva tests (easier to pass as they only go back three days), and hair tests (which go back 90 days) are also possible. Employers could even ask to test your blood or nails.
  • You can’t just drink an enormous quantity of water or exercise heavily to get a particular drug to clear your system—that’s mostly a myth.
  • Certain drugs will stay in different people’s systems for different lengths of time. This depends on a number of factors, including individual metabolism, rate and quantity of use, the concentration, etc. The sensitivity of the test is also variable.

About the author

Peter Jones