Monday, April 8, 2013

Standard Employment Drug Tests

Testing employees for drugs occurs during the application process, after a workplace accident, during regularly scheduled physical examinations or randomly. The U.S. Supreme Court protects the right of an employer to drug test prospective or current employees. Federal laws limit the extent of the employer's right to test and the legalities associated with testing differ by state. A clearly written drug testing policy, approved by an attorney, may protect employers from lawsuits related to wrongful discharge.

Testing Procedures

Collection centers conduct drug testing on applicants' or employees' urine, blood, hair or saliva. A certified laboratory analyzes the samples for specific legal and illegal drugs. Normal tests results are available within a day, but abnormal or positive results may be delayed and require further investigation. While accurate drug test kits are available for employers to administer their own testing to save costs, state laws may dictate a specific certified laboratory perform the testing.

Test Types

Testing of hair, urine, blood and saliva reveal the presence of drugs in an individual's system, whereas a breathalyzer test measures the percent of alcohol in the bloodstream. Drug testing of blood requires a chemical breakdown, which is not cost-effective for most employers. Hair drug testing remains more technically challenging and inaccurate, according to Northern Illinois University. Urinalysis is the most accurate, inexpensive and commonly performed test.

Time Frame

Variables such as weight, metabolism, sex and age of an individual all affect how long a drug remains in a person's system. The timeline or quantity of drugs used cannot be determined by drug testing. The potency remaining in the body at the time of the test is referred to as drug clearance.

Maximum drug detection and clearance times (based on blood, urine and saliva) for cocaine, LSD, Mescaline, methamphetamines, amphetamines are up to four days. Alcohol and the drugs rohypnol and GHB (referred to as date-rape drugs) remain in the system up to eight hours. Opiates, such as morphine, codeine and heroin can be detected for up to three days. Cannabinoids, such as THC and marijuana, have a clearance time dependent upon the frequency of the user; infrequent use is detected up to 3 days, frequent use can be detected up to 6 weeks. Infrequent use of nicotine can be detected up to 3 days and frequent use up to 14 days. Ecstasy remains in the system up to 3 days.


Hair drug testing reveals drug use or exposure that may have occurred recently or in the past few weeks or months. Hair tests are extremely sensitive and positive results can be misleading -- the employee or applicant may not have participated in drug use, but only absorbed the drug through inhalation of smoke in the air at a party or other setting.

Prescription and over-the counter drugs can produce false-positive results. Sample validity tests can determine if dilution, substitution or adulteration of a sample have taken place in an effort to avoid a positive test result. Retesting is usually at the expense of the employee or applicant, based on the laws of the state in which the business resides, according to (See References 1 and 4)

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