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What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Pre-employment drug testing is becoming more prevalent as prices for the most common drug tests for employment screening are becoming more and more affordable. Drug testing helps to identify potential substance abusers before permanent employment and can also deter current employees from abusing drugs in the future.

However, with the increasing frequency of recreational and medical marijuana use, the rules surrounding drug testing are constantly evolving. In this article, we will cover the basics of what you need to know about pre-employment drug screening—including the different types of tests, the substances involved, and what can happen when a job applicant fails the drug test.

What is Pre-Employment Drug Screening?

Pre-employment drug testing is used to determine whether job applicants are currently using drugs, medically prescribed or otherwise. Drug testing is an essential part of the hiring process, as it helps employers ensure that they are hiring the best candidates to keep their workplace safe and productive.

But how does a company enter the drug testing arena? First, they need to learn about the most common drug tests for employment screening—including when to conduct them, the types of drugs involved, and how physically invasive the procedures may be to the job applicant.

What Do Pre-Employment Drug Tests Look For?

Most employers conduct pre-employment drug tests involving a urine sample, which laboratory technicians analyze for the presence of various prohibited substances. The purpose of pre-employment drug screening is to protect employers from any liability associated with hiring someone who is using or has a history of using illegal drugs or pharmaceuticals.

By creating a drug-free workplace, employers can reduce absenteeism, workplace accidents, and the costs associated with drug-related employee issues. Consequently, more employers are instituting pre-employment drug testing as part of their standard hiring processes.

What Drug Test do Employers Use Most?

Before job applicants attend a pre-employment drug screening, it may be important to know the type of testing protocols that employers use most frequently to identify potential substance abusers. The most common types of drug tests are urine, saliva, and hair analysis—though some employers may also rely on blood tests.

Urine-based Drug Screening

When answering the question, “What type of drug test do employers use,” urinalysis is the most common drug test for pre-employment screening that organizations tend to prefer. Urine tests can detect the presence of drugs in the body for up to three days after ingestion. The process begins in a restroom that is specifically prepared for this type of procedure. A urinalysis involves the following steps:

  1. A doctor, nurse, or medical technician provides a pre-sterilized specimen cup and escorts you to the private restroom facilities.
  2. You will need to leave all personal belongings—like briefcases or purses— outside and in a separate room. You will also likely need to empty your pockets.
  3. Only in rare cases will an attendant (of the same gender) accompany you inside the restroom facilities. If this is the case, the attendant should be able to explain the reasons behind this protocol.
  4. You will then urinate into the specimen cup. You will need to produce at least 45 milliliters of urine for an adequate testing sample.
  5. After urinating, place the lid on the cup and exit the room.
  6. The technician will then measure the temperature of the sample to prove that it is recent.
  7. Both the job applicant and the medical technician will always maintain visual contact with the sample until it is sealed and labeled with the patient’s name. The job applicant may be asked to sign or provide their initials directly onto the specimen label. This process protects the applicant and the testing facility from possibly misidentifying the urine specimen. The last thing you want to happen is losing the chance to hire the perfect candidate because of inaccurate test results.
Saliva-based Drug Screening

Saliva tests detect drugs in the body up to one day after ingestion. Instead of using a specimen cup, this process involves a small, plastic swab placed inside the mouth. Some saliva tests require gently coughing onto the swab instead. The remaining testing procedures closely mimic the urine screens, but there are some important considerations to note before taking the saliva-based test.

  • Avoid using steroid inhalers 24 hours before the collection of the saliva sample.
  • Avoid using creams or lotions that contain steroids, such as hydrocortisone.
  • Avoid brushing your teeth or using mouthwash before the test.
  • Avoid eating or drinking 30 minutes before the test.
  • Avoid touching the swab with your fingers.
Hair-based Testing

One of the most common drug tests for employment screening for long-term use of contraband substances is the hair-based test. This method often tests for the prior use of certain substances dating back as much as several months.

Hair-based tests involve removing a strand of hair from the applicant’s scalp before sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Hair testing is often more reliable than other forms of drug testing—when the proper precautions are followed—although it can be more expensive.


Because human hair grows so slowly and is difficult to manipulate chemically, hair-based screening provides a more accurate depiction of potential drug use over a longer timeframe.


Hair testing can only determine what substances were ingested when that hair grew back. It is unable to identify any substances ingested shortly preceding the test.

Blood-based Testing

One of the least common drug test employment screening methods involves a blood sample. This test is more often requested of current employees suspected of using contraband substances or being exposed to toxic substances within the workplace. However, on rare occasions, Human Resource Departments may also request a blood-based drug test of prospective job applicants. Many labs use enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) to conduct this type of screening.

Sometimes, workers are asked to provide two samples—one before starting their shift and another after completing their shift. If they are positive for drugs in both samples, the employer might consider disciplinary action, including termination. The results of blood-based testing can take between 24 hours and three days, depending on the laboratory.

An acute blood screen is often administered to individuals possibly exposed to toxic chemicals during a workplace accident. During an acute drug test, the technician or nurse takes a blood sample from the subject’s arm and then analyzes it immediately to determine whether the person was exposed to a harmful chemical.

It is important to note that when conducting an acute drug test, the employer must have a valid reason for conducting such an invasive procedure. Most legal experts consider a work accident to be a legitimate reason.

What Happens if You Fail a Pre-employment Drug Test?

In most cases, if a job applicant fails a pre-employment drug test, the employers may no longer consider them eligible for hire. However, employers requiring pre-employment drug tests must state clearly in their application process that a potential offer of employment is contingent upon successfully passing a drug screening test. This prerequisite for hire will usually be stated in:

  • The job postings
  • Offer letters
  • Other official documents


Some businesses may require the prospective employee to submit a pre-employment drug test while simultaneously agreeing to random drug testing throughout their future employment. But the employer must apply this additional testing requirement to all employees working in that same position, or they may face legal consequences.

Can I See my Pre-Employment Drug Test Results?

Is the job applicant curious about the results of their drug test? Many people wonder if they can find out their testing results. The answer is yes, but it depends on certain factors.

When it comes to pre-employment drug testing, employers are typically responsible for arranging and reviewing the results. If an employer uses a third-party vendor to handle the testing and reporting, then the individual being tested may not have instant access to his or her own results. However, if an employer chooses to handle testing in-house, then it is recommended that Human Resources have protocols in place that allow the person being tested to review their own results.

Which Pre-Employment Drug Screening Test is Best?

What drug test do most employers use? The most common pre-employment drug test is urinalysis because it requires less preparation time for the applicant than other methods. It’s also usually faster and cheaper for the employer.

There are a few things to consider when conducting drug tests. First, there is no universal standard for performing the test. Second, each company employs a different set of rules for screening job applicants. Third, it is important to know what kind of drug test is appropriate for your unique organization.

Employees that are facing criminal charges should not apply for any job involving a risk assessment. They should also avoid taking part in any activities that involve high-risk work. Furthermore, employees who are pregnant must avoid taking part in drug tests. And finally, the applicant should  seek legal advice if they have been accused of abusing drugs. A lawyer can help them understand the potential legal consequences of failing a drug test.

What Should a Drug Testing Policy Include?

Are you an employer looking to create a drug testing policy? Drug abuse in the workplace can be damaging and costly. It can decrease productivity, increase employer insurance rates, and jeopardize the health and welfare of your other employees. No matter the size of your staff, creating a safe environment with a comprehensive drug testing policy is important

Covering all bases is critical when creating your drug testing policy. Employers should include:

  • The types of drugs for screening
  • Who will be tested
  • When and how frequently will employees and job applicants be tested
  • How samples are collected and tested
  • Potential consequences for failing tests
  • Details about employee privacy
  • Confidentiality rules
  • And the availability of resources and educational materials for those affected by substance abuse


Drug testing policies can help prevent workplace accidents due to impairment by drugs, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals. With a well-defined plan in place, employers will ensure their business remains productive and respected within their community.

When creating and planning for future drug screening policies, Human Resource Departments may want to consider conducting these tests in accordance with their education verification protocols and the interviewing of past employers. Coordinating multiple aspects of the job hiring process saves time, money, and potential delays in proper staffing.


For many business sectors and industries today, pre-employment drug testing is becoming a critical part of the job applicant hiring process. Drug screening helps employers identify the best candidates and weed out those unfit for the job.

While the urine test is the most common type of drug test for employment applicants, there are specific advantages to the hair, saliva, and blood testing processes that a standard urinalysis may not be able to provide. Before an employer decides on which method to use, it is recommended that they speak with a medical professional with expertise in drug screening.

If you have any questions about typical drug screening for employment staffing, an expert will help answer questions about cost, testing accuracy, and even the approximate retrieval time of testing results. CEOs and Directors of Operations should also consult with their Human Resources Department before making final decisions. For more information about the most common drug tests for employment screening, contact KarmaCheck today.


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