Many employers require potential employees to take drug tests before being hired or have ongoing periodic testing. These are typically urine tests, and they may screen for drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, opiates, nicotine, and alcohol. Drug testing only checks for recent use – it does not test for impairment or determine whether a person’s behavior is, or was, impacted by drugs.

Drug testing laws vary by state, but generally there is no requirement for private employers to have policies about drugs in the workplace, unless they’re government contractors or belong to industries that perform public safety and national security roles. Executive Order 12564, signed in 1986 by President Reagan, requires that all federal employees involved in “law enforcement, national security, the protection of life and property, public health or safety, or other functions requiring a high degree of public trust” are subject to mandatory drug testing. For example, in all industries regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Defense, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission both employees and employers are subject to drug testing requirements. Most state and local law enforcement officers and emergency service providers are also required to undergo drug testing, but the laws and regulations vary from state to state.

Under the federal rules, employers are required to test before hiring, if there is reasonable cause or suspicion of drug use, or if an employee has been involved in an accident. All drug testing must screen for marijuana metabolites, cocaine metabolites, amphetamines, opiate metabolites, and phencyclidine (PCP). Employees can be randomly screened, but the selection of who to test must be consistent and not show signs of bias- for example, testing all Latino people in an office.

Employees with substance abuse disorders are protected by discrimination and disability laws. People currently using illegal drugs aren’t protected, but under the Americans With Disabilities Act, employers can’t discriminate against recovering alcoholics and drug users who have already sought treatment for their addiction.

If you’re applying for a job or being tested while already employed, you can theoretically refuse to take a drug test, as long as you don’t fall within one of the federal requirements. However, the employer would be perfectly within their rights to fire or not hire you for failing to comply with company policy. In order to fire you, your employer need only show that they had a good reason to believe you were a safety risk or couldn’t adequately perform your duties, and the burden will be on you to disprove that. In some states, you can even be denied unemployment benefits if you’re fired for refusing to take a drug test.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.


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