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What Comes First: The Background Check or the Drug Test?

By Michael Klazema on 12/20/2019

The background check process for a job opportunity often includes a criminal background check, verification checks to ensure the accuracy of resume information, and reference checks. Many employers also run drug tests on new employees, whether to make sure that new hires are sober enough to take on potentially dangerous work—such as operating heavy machinery—or to maintain a drug-free workplace policy. Which happens first: the criminal background check or the drug test

The answer depends on the employer, the employer’s location, and background check laws. In most cases, the background check will either occur before the drug test or around the same time. Employers must abide by all state and local laws in designing pre-employment screening policies and determining when to run specific checks. 

It is not uncommon for employers to conduct both background checks and drug tests before making an offer of employment. In areas where ban the box laws are in place, neither of these practices are allowed, and an employer must delay them until after making a conditional offer of employment. That offer is “conditional” because it depends on the candidate agreeing to (and passing) both the background check and the drug test. In both scenarios, the drug test and the criminal background check occur at the same time as part of the background screening process. 

In the third scenario, an employer conducts the background check before finalizing an applicant’s employment but waits to run the drug test until closer to his or her first day of work. If the hiring and employee screening process happens weeks or even months ahead of his or her start date, this strategy can ensure a more accurate and relevant drug test result. 

Finally, many employers conduct ongoing drug testing on existing employees. These checks may follow a general schedule (monthly or quarterly tests for each employee) or be random. For-cause drug testing is also conventional, especially if there has been an accident on the job and an employer believes that drugs or alcohol may have been a factor. 

While many employers do use repeat background checks or ongoing criminal monitoring, post-hire drug testing is more common than post-hire criminal background screening. 

If you are a job seeker, you should be prepared to undergo these checks at any point during the hiring process between your first interview and your first day of work. Knowing your rights and being familiar with the background check laws in your area and industry will help you to know what to expect from the hiring process. Browse our Learning Center to discover the background check laws in your area.


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