Drug Testing: How Does it Work?

Drug use and the workplace just don’t mix. In fact, workplace drug use accounts for $75 to $100 billion in lost revenue for U.S. employers annually thanks to lost time, accidents, healthcare, and workers’ compensation costs, according to the Department of Labor. While drug screening practices are currently in flux in locations where marijuana has been legalized, most Fortune 500 companies still require drug testing in their employee screening processes.

When is a Drug Test Typically Conducted?

Employers are generally required to obtain written consent from applicants before conducting a drug test. It should be clearly understood that their eligibility is contingent on the results of the test as well.

Employers outsource the drug screening portion of the hiring process to specimen collection sites, or drug testing vendors. Typically, the applicant is required to perform the testing within a couple days of their application to narrow the window of time they can “get clean,” as most drugs are detectable within 2-4 days of use, some for up to 14 days.

Which Drugs Do Employers Care About?

Never get drunk on the job; that’s a given. But if a job applicant has any of these drugs in their system, whether or not they’re impaired during the time of the test, it may be grounds for ineligibility:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • PCP
  • Opiates
  • Amphetamines

What Happens After the Test?

After the specimen (typically urine) is sent to the lab, the results are available pretty quickly, especially if the applicant is found to be drug-free. A positive test will take longer as it is re-verified before the employer and applicant are notified. The lab will keep samples of the positive test in the event that the findings are challenged.


Contact VICTIG if you have any questions about our role in employee screening.