Pre-Employment Drug Testing: A Worker’s Guide in 2023

One Applicant Woman And Three Hiring Managers In The Room During The Pre-Employment Interview To The New Job

Pre-employment drug testing is a common practice in many companies across the US. Whether you’re applying for a job as medical staff, a truck driver, a construction worker, or even an office worker, your employer may require you to take a drug test.    

Companies want to hire the best job applicant for the role that their company has open. However, judging a candidate only based on their CV and interview may miss crucial details about their past or lifestyle. However, some jobs don’t require a drug test at all. 

Depending on the company, these requirements may differ. Pre-employment drug screening includes testing for various drugs and can assist in the hiring process to confirm that an applicant is fit for an organization. 

According to SAMHSA, “there is no requirement for most private employers to have a drug-free workplace policy of any kind. The exceptions to this are federal contractors and grantees, as well as safety and security-sensitive industries and positions.” 


In this article, we’ll go through what you need to know about pre-employment drug testing.n this article we'll answer these questions:


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What is a drug test for pre-employment?

Companies may request a pre-employment drug test before making a final offer to a potential applicant. An employee may also be asked to do a return to duty test, or their company may decide to undertake voluntary drug testing.

Drug screening test regulations vary from state to state. Also, depending on the work done by a company, these rules may compel applicants to submit to drug screening in some situations.

For example, jobs regulated by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) are covered by state and federal drug testing rules. These applicable laws work towards creating a drug-free workplace, mainly when jobs include constant driving.

On the other hand, some states significantly restrict employers' options for pre-employment drug screenings in general. Whether it's for privacy protection or other legal reasons, they limit the types of pre-employment drug screening that can be done and when they are conducted.

The standard pre-employment drug test, tests for the following drugs: 

  • Amphetamines, including methamphetamines 
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana/THC
  • Phencyclidine
  • Opiates

Pre-employment drug testing is a standard protocol for reputable companies and is part of the application process. A company may offer a job to anybody who has passed a pre-employment drug test with a clean result. But why is it so important? Keep reading to find out. 

Why is drug testing necessary for employment?

A pre-employment drug test is an essential service that ensures and maintains workplace safety. Illegal drug use and other substance abuse have become a significant concern throughout the United States.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), employers pay about $81 billion per year because of drug abuse. They spend more on fixing drug-related problems than they do on health exams. Therefore investing in drug tests has been demonstrated to help cut company spending.

By reducing the risk of substance abuse through drug testing, companies tend to work with a lab to get and verify results. It's essential to keep in mind that many types of jobs require drug testing because illegal or illicit use of drugs can harm an employee's performance and the lives of others. 

Using drugs can alter employees' concentration and influence their judgment. Drug testing can help avoid this. It's also an effective strategy to mitigate the risks of hiring a hazard like absenteeism.

So, how is a pre-employment drug screen performed? Let's get into those methods right away.

What methods are used in drug testing programs?

Methods of Drug Testing Infographic by Exploro Products

Urine tests are the most common pre-employment drug testing procedure recommended by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT drug tests are done in several forms: saliva, blood, and hair sample testing are examples of other pre-employment drug tests.

Cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and opioids are just a few of the common drugs tested, ranging from illegal to harmless substances found in applicants' blood.

Urine test

In the United States, urine tests are the most often utilized method of pre-employment testing. It can detect drug residues in the applicant's system long after the effects of the medications have worn off.

Urine samples are used in drug and alcohol testing. They can show illicit drugs such as cocaine and opiates, methamphetamine, and marijuana. A urine drug test can also identify a wide range of chemicals used up to five days before the test.

Labs might also test the urine for other substances if the employer requests it or during random testing.

Saliva test

Another type of method often used during pre-employment testing is a saliva test. Some businesses utilize saliva testing to observe workers and applicants during pre-employment drug testing.

Professional healthcare workers can also collect saliva on-site in the workplace, which saves time and money. A swab is used to collect a sample, which is obtained from inside the mouth.

Within three days, a saliva test can identify any drug usage. As a result, it is difficult for the applicant or workers to falsify or distort the findings of any previous drug abuse.

Blood test

A licensed medical review officer will draw a blood sample, which is subsequently sent for testing. The results will later reveal the drug/alcohol concentrations and types present in the employees' or candidates' blood at the time of collection.

However, because it is so limited, blood tests are rarely used. Employers may be hesitant to utilize this method for initial screening as it is too time-consuming to check for past drug use.

Hair test

Hair testing can also uncover past drug consumption without revealing the presence of alcohol. Lab technicians will perform this by removing 100 strands of hair near the scalp from an employee or candidate.

The drug test results from hair samples offer a long detection period and can detect drug usage up to three months after consuming illegal drugs. The test may come out positive if the subject used drugs during this detection window.

Is it possible to test yourself at home?

Home Drug Test for Marijuana and Cup for Urine Specimen

Yes. Anyone can test themselves at home before an official drug screening to ensure that the body is clean from any substances. At-home drug tests from reliable sellers are reliable and give accurate results in just 5 minutes. For example, Exploro's THC urine drug test strips can give you results in five minutes.

It just takes three steps, and you'll find out the level of THC in your system. If employers require periodic testing, these test strips help identify the drug levels before each drug screening. All it takes is a urine sample, 5 minutes, and you'll have your answer right away. 


What drug test is most common for pre-employment?  

A urinalysis is the most common type of pre-employment testing. Essentially it’s a urine test usually done during the hiring process after a candidate receives a conditional offer of employment. Even after the drug's effects have worn off and the drug remains in the body for an extended period of time, a urine test can reveal signs of drug use.

What should you avoid before a drug test for a job? 

Ideally, you’d want to completely abstain from any drug use, including CBD and 0.3% THC products. If that’s not possible, as soon as you find out when your future employer plans on giving you a drug test, try different methods of THC detox

Can you still get hired if you fail a drug test?

It depends because each state has its drug-testing policies. The repercussions may not be the same for all states in the US. Companies in Alaska, for example, may refuse to hire someone who has tested positive for drugs. However, employers in other states may accept you if their drug testing policy allows it.

Note: this does not apply to jobs that require a high level of safety because the employer follows the DOT drug testing criteria during the drug test. That means if you fail your DOT drug test, you won't be able to get the job unless you complete the DOT Return-to-Duty Process successfully.

However, within ten days of receiving the results, the candidate has the right to explain the positive results. If your positive result is a false-positive, a company may ask the tester to repeat the test with the same sample you submitted. Furthermore, failing a DOT drug and alcohol test for three years is a permanent mark on your record.

What can I expect from a pre-employment drug test?

You can expect to be asked to give a urine, hair, saliva, or blood sample in order to evaluate the levels of drugs in your system. The most common drugs are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines, PCP, and opiates. Employers have the option to test for various other substances as well (for example drugs found in a 7-panel drug test).


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I live in Ohio where recreational pot was just legalized I just received an offer for a role that required a drug screen I went and took the test knowing I would pass but I’m going to tell the employer to take there job and shove it! They don’t respect what the voters in our state decided then I don’t respect them I was a little board because I’m retired but I’m not going to put up with the double standards if booze is OK so should weed in moderation of course and never on the job.


In my long career with the U.S. Government that has included officially working for 4 different Federal agencies, I only had pre-employment drug testing twice…when I worked for the Department of Defense (Air Force and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The processes were straightforward and largely harmless. After all, I had nothing to hide and I believe in a drug-free workplace. While I’ve only been screened as part of the onboarding in half of my jobs, I’ve been subject to random drug screenings at least twice a year for the last 10 years. That isn’t as comfortable.

Just Juan

Ah yes! I highly support this test….provided it’s done having obtained the proper consent of the person going to be tested.

Ntensibe Edgar

Great tips. I used to work in HR for a company and it’s good to know these things.

Thena Franssen

I agree to pre-employment drug testing. I did it once when I applied for a job, and everything was straightforward.


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