What happens if you fail a pre-employment drug test?


Creating a safe and effective workforce is a top priority for employers of all kinds, both public and private. They are constantly looking for ways to improve productivity, reduce liability, and avoid workplace injuries. That’s why a pre-employment drug test is required by so many companies and government agencies.

If you’re dealing with a drug problem, this screening process is a source of real worry for you. Your efforts to improve your life and support yourself and your family finances are in real danger if you fail a drug test. If you can’t get a job, you may find your addiction spiraling further out of control. At the same time, getting hired while still actively using could financially enable you to deepen your addiction or, even worse, to cause an incident at work that gets someone seriously hurt or even killed.

You may have questions like these about how the drug test will impact you. Let’s review the likely answers.

What Will Happen If I Fail the Test?

The first and most obvious thing that will happen is that you will not get the job. If you had applied in hopes of moving away from your current job into something better, you would be forced to stay in the old position. If you were unemployed, you would still be without work after testing positive.

Perhaps the worst career outcome you may encounter is when the test was administered as you applied for a promotion or transfer. Failing will mean not only that you don’t get a new position but also that you are likely to lose the old position. If you have managed to keep your job despite a drug problem, you would be wise not to do anything that will require a test until you’ve eliminated your addiction.

Why Did I Fail?

In some cases, a failed drug test is no surprise. If you are tested shortly after use, you will already know the outcome before you get the official results. In other cases, you may be shocked to find out that you had a positive result.

Illicit drugs have varying lifespans in your body. THC can show up for weeks after use, while other substances break down sooner. Depending on the test that you take, you may fall into the window where these products are still present in your body.

Another potential issue is legitimate medication use. Because prescription drugs are so widely abused, most employers test for things that are perfectly legal to possess and use. The question, in this case, is whether the amount in your body is at a therapeutic level (that is, the test finds an amount consistent with what would be present when you have taken a dose that the doctor prescribes) and, of course, whether the prescription was written for you.

If your test shows a level above a prescribed rate, or if the rate is acceptable, but you cannot provide proof that you are supposed to be taking the drug, you will fail the test.

drug test

Will I Be Allowed to Test Again?

The answer to this question depends on why you want another test. If you tested positive for an illicit substance, the employer is unlikely to allow you to test again. If your test showed a prescription drug at too high of a concentration, you might have options. There is always the possibility that you accidentally took two doses too close together or some other honest mistake. If you can make a case for that and have evidence to back it up, you might get another chance.

However, if the employer has a policy against re-testing or if they simply have enough people who passed that it’s not necessary to give you another chance, you will probably not be tested again.

Another potential scenario where a new test is possible is in the case of legalized recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. If you live in a state where one or both are legal, you might have some leverage to get the chance to test again. However, you may have to wait so long that the employer will not be interested in holding the job. Marijuana use is legal throughout most of New England, so the issue is not whether you’ve been using it but whether you may allow it to impair you at work.

Will Records Be Kept?

If you fail a drug test while applying for a job, those records will stay with that employer. However, you need to keep in mind just how big that employer might be. If you fail a drug test administered by a state agency, for example, future applications at any other state agency could be linked to the failed test. The same may be true in the corporate world as companies buy out other companies, pooling their applicant data. A positive test has the potential to impact your employability for years to come.

How Many People Fail?

In 2019, roughly 4.5% of people failed pre-employment drug screenings. Because so many states have legalized recreational marijuana, that number will likely continue to rise. The bad news in that statistic is that employers are likely to double down on testing because it’s working; if nobody was failing, the tests might slowly be phased out.

The good news is that getting clean will become more and more beneficial as other applicants are eliminated from the competition, giving the clean and sober applicant a better chance of getting hired. So don’t look at increasing rates as evidence that you’re not alone as a user. Instead, view them as an opportunity to set yourself apart in the workforce.

Where Can I Get Help?

Whether you’re dealing with illicit drugs or a prescription medication problem, Long Island Treatment Center can help. Our team is trained and experienced in dealing with all phases of the recovery process, from detox to long-term support and care.

Missing out on a good employment opportunity is just one more way that drug use can hurt your future. Call us today to get started on your sobriety.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center

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