Passing an Employment Drug Test

This illustration describes "How long drugs and alcohol show up on a drug test–Beer: 12-48 hours, Chronic use of marijuana: Several weeks, Casual marijuana use: Up to a week, Barbiturates: 1-3 weeks, methadone: 2-4 days, benzodiazepines: up to 30 days, amphetamines: 2-4 days"

Bailey Mariner / The Balance

Are you concerned about passing an employment drug test? Maybe you’re interviewing for a new job or you’re unsure of your current employer’s policies.

Employers might conduct drug and alcohol tests as a condition of employment, randomly, or because of an accident or injury. They might also perform tests because an employee appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job, if unexcused absence from work or lateness is an issue, or if performance appears to be impacted by drug or alcohol abuse.

So, what can you do if you are concerned about passing a drug test? First, you need to understand your rights as laid out by state and federal law and what you can expect if you’re screened for drug use.

Employer Drug Tests During an Employment Screenings

Most state laws allow private employers to screen job applicants for drug use, provided that they give notice that drug testing is part of the hiring process, use state-certified labs and screen all applicants for the same job.

However, state laws may restrict the way testing is carried out. For example, some states may allow screening only once the applicant has been given notice about the drug-testing policy and the employer has extended a conditional offer of employment. See your state’s laws to determine what’s allowed in your area.

Some employers may even be required to screen prospective employees for drug use before extending an offer of employment.

Federal agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense are required to conduct regular drug testing. And, the federal Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act (OTETA) mandates that all operators of aircraft, mass transportation vehicles, and commercial motor vehicles be tested for drug use.

Further, private-sector employees may also be tested for drugs or alcohol in the workplace, where permitted by state law.

Types of Drug Tests

The types of drug and alcohol tests which show the presence of drugs or alcohol include urine drug tests, blood drug tests, hair drug tests, breath alcohol tests, saliva drug screen and sweat drug screen.

Passing a Drug Test

The only way to be sure that you're going to pass a drug test is not to have drugs or alcohol in your system. With some drugs, including marijuana, a residue may show in drug tests for weeks.

If you don't believe the positive drug test results are accurate, you may be able to have the specimen retested at a lab of your choice at your expense. Check with the company for information on how to request a retest.

Here's information on how long drugs and alcohol may show up on a drug test:

  • Alcohol: 12-24 hours
  • Amphetamines: 2-4 days
  • Barbiturates: 1-4 days
  • Benzodiazepines: Up to 30 days
  • Cocaine: 1-3 days
  • Heroin (Opiates): 1-3 days
  • Marijuana: casual use, up to a week; chronic use, several weeks
  • Methamphetamine: 2-4 days
  • Methadone: 2-4 days
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): Up to 30 days

Note that hair drug testing may show results that go back farther than what would show up in blood or urine testing.

When Marijuana Is Legal in Your State

As of 2021, 36 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use. State laws restrict the amount users are legally allowed to possess. However, federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, sale, or use.

Employers can still screen job applicants and employees for marijuana use–even in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. That means it’s possible to lose your job (or an offer of employment) for testing positive for a substance that’s legal in your state.

How can you be fired for using a “legal” drug? It all comes down to employment at will. In every U.S. state except Montana, employees are presumed to be “at will” unless they’re covered by an employment contract that states otherwise. This means that your employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all, provided that they’re not discriminating against you based on a protected characteristic like race, ethnicity, sex, etc.

Your best bet as an applicant or employee is to learn about marijuana and employment drug testing, company policy, as well as state law, in order to protect yourself and your career.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1. ACLU. “State-by-State Workplace Drug Testing Laws.” Accessed May 19, 2021.

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Considerations for Safety- and Security-Sensitive Industries.” Accessed May 19, 2021.

  3. U.S. Department of Transportation. “Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991.” Accessed May 19, 2021.

  4. “Drug Testing—Marijuana Testing Tips.” Accessed May 19, 2021.

  5. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. “Appendix B. Urine Collection and Testing Procedures and Alternative Methods for Monitoring Drug Use.” Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 2006.

  6. National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Medical Marijuana Laws.” Accessed May 19, 2021.

  7. National Conference of State Legislatures. “At-Will Employment—Overview.” Accessed May 19, 2021.