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What Happens If You Fail a Drug Test?

In this guide, we’ll tell you what happens if you fail a drug test in a variety of situations, and we’ll outline some steps you can take if you feel that the result is a false positive.

When you’re faced with the prospect of having to take a drug test, you’ll quite rightly be concerned about the consequences of a positive test result.

Outcomes and procedures following a positive drug test will vary depending on the reason the test was carried out and the setting.

A positive pre-employment drug test could mean that you don’t get the job that you need, but the result won’t, in most cases, follow you around and cause you ongoing problems.

But if you test positive on a DOT drug test or on a drug test as a medical professional, that positive result will have more serious and long-lasting consequences.

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The Reasons You May Be Tested

The Reasons You May Be Tested

Pre-employment Drug Test

Often when you apply for a new job, your prospective employer will make passing a pre-employment drug test a condition of employment. In most cases, these drug tests are required after they have made a conditional offer of employment.

Once you accept the job, they will give you a short amount of time (usually up to 48 hours) to submit your test sample.

Employee Random Drug Test

If your company has an employee drug testing policy in place, you will have consented to random drug testing when you signed your contract paperwork.

Random drug tests are given without warning and you may have to take a test immediately or attend a clinic within 24 hours for your sample collection.

Employee Reasonable Cause Drug Test

When you’re at work, if your supervisor or manager suspects that you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can require you to take a drug test.

If your company drug tests in-house, the test can be done right away, otherwise you will be directed to a clinic to give your sample.

Employee Post Incident Drug Test

If you’re involved in an accident or other incident at work, you could be asked to take a drug test if your employer has reason to suspect that drug use may have been a causal factor. A test sample will normally need to be given within 12 hours of the incident occurring.

Employee Annual Physical Drug Test

If your employer sends you for an annual physical, taking a saliva or urine sample for drug screening is sometimes part of the exam. You’ll have plenty of time to schedule your physical appointment.

Roadside Drug Test

A police officer can stop you and administer a roadside drug test if they have reason to suspect that you are driving while impaired. The test is administered and processed immediately. These tests take an oral sample and the results are ready in about 5 minutes.

Sports Drug Testing

If you’re involved in any competitive sport (even at the recreational level), you may have to undergo testing as a requirement to stay on your team or when you’re playing in certain tournaments. Testing can be carried out during competitions and for some classes of athletes, random testing outside of events is required.

Athletes testing positive for common drugs or steroids will be barred from the current competition and could be suspended for longer periods of time.

Professional athletes will face the disciplinary procedures instituted by their governing body.

Highschool Drug Testing

Some high schools have drug testing policies in place. While the majority of schools that carry out student testing limit the requirement to student-athletes, some schools have a policy for randomly testing all students.

Student-athletes could be suspended from their sport after a positive test, and all students testing positive will be given counseling. Students may also face a period of suspension from school.

Types of Drug Test

The most common types of drug tests are mouth swab saliva tests and urine tests.

Usually these tests screen for the most commonly abused recreational drugs, but sometimes a more thorough drug test is carried out.

A 5-panel drug test looks for:

  • Opiates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Marijuana

An extended panel or 10-panel drug screen includes these additional substances:

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What Happens If You Fail A Pre-Employment Drug Test?

What Happens If You Fail A Pre-Employment Drug Test?

When an employer asks for a pre-employment drug test, they’re testing because they want to hire the best candidate for the job. Staff that uses drugs cost employers a lot of money through increased absenteeism, lateness, lower productivity, increased rates of workplace accidents, more frequent workers’ comp claims, and an increased likelihood to move jobs more frequently.

As such, if you fail a pre-hire drug test, they are at liberty to withdraw your job offer. You may get a chance to explain your test results if the test shows a positive for certain substances that may be present because of the use of legitimate prescription medication.

Losing a job offer is obviously disappointing, but in most cases not getting the job is the only consequence of a failed pre-employment drug test.

If the pre-employment drug test is a Department Of Transportation (DOT) test for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder or a test for a licensed medical professional, the results may go on your record.

What Happens If You Fail An Employee Random Drug Test?

The first thing that happens when you fail a random drug test at work is the retesting of your sample using a more sophisticated test. This test will be a gas chromatography and mass spectrometer test. If that test returns a positive result, you will be subject to the disciplinary process outlined in your employer’s drug testing policy.

The consequences of a failed drug test can be fairly minor and these can include a written warning or a suspension. You may also be asked to go through a treatment program and submit to more testing at a later date.

More severe consequences include being demoted or fired.

For CDL holders, other DOT-regulated professionals, and licensed medical professionals, you will be suspended from your duties and may be dismissed. Your employer is also required to report your result to the relevant authority. In the case of CDL holders and other DOT-regulated professionals, this is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Licensed medical professionals will have their test results reported to the relevant board overseeing their occupation.

In both cases, there is a lengthy procedure involved before you can return to work.

What Happens If You Fail A Reasonable Cause Drug Test?

The consequences for failing a reasonable drug test are usually more severe. To undergo a reasonable cause drug test, you must observably be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while you’re at work.

Most employers will have a clear policy forbidding workplace intoxication and if a drug test result proves that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and therefore impaired on the job, they will most likely dismiss you right away.

They may give you the chance to go through a treatment program, but there’s no guarantee of this.

While your employer cannot disclose your private medical information to outside parties during background and reference checks for the jobs you apply for in the future, they may hint at your failed drug test. They can use words like “failed to maintain company standards” which background checkers and human resources departments know is code for, “was taking drugs”.

Again, a failed drug test is reportable to the appropriate body for some professions.

What Happens If You Fail A Post-Incident Drug Test?

A post-incident drug test can take place after a workplace accident or other incident that causes harm to a person or damage to company property. But there have to be grounds for reasonable suspicion that drugs were a factor in causing the accident.

The consequence of failing this test is usually dismissal.

You could also be denied workers’ compensation insurance for any injury you sustain. Although it must be proven that the drugs found were responsible for causing the accident or injury and not merely present in your system at the time.

What Happens If You Fail A Roadside Drug Test?

A roadside drug test can be administered if an officer suspects impairment due to substance abuse.

A positive result combined with other clear signs of impairment can lead to your arrest and prosecution, a fine, loss of your driver’s license, and a negative entry on your driving record.

When a result of a roadside test is positive, a second sample should be submitted to a lab for confirmation.

What To Do If You Fail A Drug Test

The first step to take after a positive drug test result is to request a copy of your test report.

Then, if you know that you didn’t have any drugs in your system, and are sure that the result is a false positive, ask for the sample to be tested again.

Next, if you’re a union member, contact your union representative for advice.

If your drug test was carried out and the results were reported to you the same day, you should absolutely ask to submit another sample. You may have to pay for this yourself.

If you took a urine test and the results took a few days to come back, you could still be able to submit a new sample because some drugs can be detected for several weeks in urine. Having a negative result from a sample taken within a short time of the first sample could introduce enough doubt to protect you from the more severe consequences.

You may also wish to seek urgent legal advice to learn of your best course of action. This is especially the case if your job or professional license is at stake.

A lawyer may advise you to submit a hair sample for independent testing. The detection window for hair drug tests can be as long as 90 days, depending on the substances involved. If you’re certain your test result is false, a hair test can prove that you had nothing in your system.

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FAQs on What Happens If You Fail a Drug Test?

What Happens If You Fail a Drug Test

What happens if a drug test comes back positive?

If you’re applying for a job and you test positive, your job offer could be withdrawn. As an employee testing positive after a random drug test, or a reasonable cause drug test, you could be asked to undergo treatment, be suspended from your job, be demoted, or be dismissed.

If your test took place following a workplace injury, you could be denied workers’ compensation and you may lose your job. If you fail a DOT drug test, you’ll be suspended from your position or dismissed and required to complete a Return To Duty process before you can return to work.

Your test result will also be logged in the FMCSA clearinghouse. The positive result will remain on your CDL driving record for 5 years.

What is a good excuse for failing a drug test?

Possible excuses you could give include eating a poppy seed bagel (opiates), being in a room where others were smoking marijuana (THC) taking over-the-counter cough syrup or hay-fever medication (amphetamines) using diet pills (amphetamines) taking hemp seed supplements (THC) using sleeping pills (barbiturates) or taking ibuprofen (benzodiazepines, barbiturates, THC).

Can you retest if you fail a drug test?

Yes, you can. If you’re certain that you haven’t taken any drugs and the test result is a false positive, you can ask for the same sample to be retested. You can also submit a new sample for a urine test if you are still in the detection window for the drug that gave a positive result.

Summing Up

The consequences of failing a drug test can range from relatively minor disciplinary action like a written warning or a short, unpaid suspension, to more serious action including demotion, dismissal, and the suspension of professional licenses.

If you receive a positive test and you know you haven’t used drugs, you should obtain a copy of the report, ask for the sample to be retested, and find out if you can submit another sample.

When a legitimate positive result or a false positive result puts your job at risk or threatens the removal of your professional license, you should seek legal advice right away to help you fight the allegation of drug use.

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