Should You Drug Test or Background Check First?

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

Background checks for employment usually include a criminal record check, verification of resume data, and reference checks. Many employers also do a pre-employment drug test on new employees to confirm sober habits to responsibly manage potentially dangerous work – such as operating heavy machinery – or maintain a drug-free workplace policy. However, what comes first? The criminal background check or the drug test

The answer depends on the employer, location, and the state and local laws for background checks. In most cases, the background screening will occur before the drug test or at the same time. Employers must abide by all federal, state, and local laws when designing employment screening policies and deciding when to run specific checks. 

Does a Background Check Include a Drug Test?

It is not uncommon for employers to conduct background checks and drug tests before offering employment. A “conditional” offer depends on the candidate agreeing to (and passing) a criminal record check and a drug test, where applicable. In both scenarios, the drug test and the criminal background checks occur simultaneously as part of the pre-employment screenings. 

In areas with ban the box laws, these practices are not permitted, and employers must delay them until after making a conditional employment offer. In some states where marijuana is not illegal, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prescribes nullifying a criminal record for drug possession regarding marijuana.

Naturally, where employment involves operating a motor vehicle, the background check process includes various drug tests and driving record checks.

What Drug Tests Can You Expect?

It depends on the lab used and the screening, also called panels, offered. Some panels screen for several drugs simultaneously or test a sample for one significant drug category. What substances can these tests detect?

Nowadays, most employers test for the following common substances:

  • Amphetamines, such as the illicit drugs meth and prescription amphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Cocaine or crack cocaine
  • Phencyclidine, also known as PCP
  • Recreational Marijuana is not tested as a rule. Employers can find more information about states where marijuana is illegal here.

Sometimes, broad panel drug tests are necessary for more controlled and illicit substances. They are usually required to meet regulations stipulating the types of prohibited drugs, such as the following:

  • Ecstasy, also called Molly
  • Barbiturates such as Pentobarbital—sometimes used for insomnia
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Alprazolam (Xanax) and Clonazepam
  • Methadone—a synthetic opioid
  • Propoxylene—a type of opioid
  • Methaqualone

Remember that some applicants return positive tests for legitimate medical reasons. For instance, someone with an anxiety disorder will have a controlled, legal prescription for benzodiazepine medicine. Industries such as transportation would be well-advised to seek partnerships with a medical officer for drug testing.

Do Companies Drug Test After a Background Check

Usually, a potential employer conducts the background check before finalizing hiring decisions but waits to run the drug test closer to their first day of work. Should the hiring and employee screening process occur weeks or months before the start date, this strategy ensures more accurate and relevant drug testing results. 

Finally, many employers conduct ongoing random drug testing on existing employees. For-cause drug testing, such as urine testing for controlled substances, 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 familiarity with the background check laws in your area and industry will help you understand what to expect from the hiring process. Browse our Learning Center to discover more about criminal background checks.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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