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Can you lose your job if you fail a drug test?

Quick Answers

Yes, you can lose your job if you fail a drug test. Many employers require pre-employment, random, and post-accident drug testing. Failing a drug test violates most company policies and can lead to immediate termination. There are some exceptions – if you have a valid medical prescription for the substance, you may be able to keep your job after failing a test. But in most cases, a failed drug test will result in being let go.

Can an Employer Fire You for Failing a Drug Test?

In most cases, yes. An employer can fire an employee who fails a mandatory drug test, either pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, or return-to-duty. This is because failing a drug test violates most workplace drug policies and demonstrates you are unable to perform your duties safely and effectively.

There are a few exceptions where a failed test may not lead to termination:

– If you have a valid prescription for the drug – With a doctor’s prescription explaining your positive test, you may be able to keep your job.

– Protected medical marijuana use – In states with medical marijuana laws, employees with a medical card may test positive and keep their job. Recreational use is still grounds for firing.

– Alcohol use – Some workplace policies prohibit drug use but allow off-duty alcohol consumption, especially if the test does not show current impairment.

– False positive result – Very rarely, the test sample may get contaminated or the equipment malfunctions, leading to a false positive. This can be appealed with a retest.

But in most circumstances, failing any required drug test will violate company policy and lead to termination. Drug testing is a common practice employers use to promote a safe, productive drug-free workplace.

Are Pre-Employment Drug Tests Allowed?

Yes, pre-employment drug tests are legal in all 50 states. An employer can reject a job applicant who fails a drug test, provided the testing complies with state laws. Companies may require drug tests after a conditional job offer is made. Job candidates usually have 1-3 days to complete testing after accepting the contingent offer.

Some key things to know about pre-employment drug testing:

– All potential hires must be tested – Employers cannot single out certain applicants for testing. Everyone must be tested equally.

– Testing must follow state laws – This includes which drugs can be tested for, procedures around samples, and confidentiality rules.

– Applicants can refuse – But the employer can then rescind the job offer based on the refusal.

– Retesting may be possible – If the result is contested or a prescription explains it, retesting may be allowed.

While controversial, pre-employment drug testing aims to ensure prospective employees are not actively using illegal or dangerous substances prior to being hired. Failing at this stage leads to the job offer being revoked.

Can Companies Conduct Random Drug Testing?

Yes, many employers utilize random drug testing of current employees. To be legal, random testing must adhere to certain guidelines:

– It cannot be discriminatory – All employees have an equal chance of being selected randomly.

– Employees are chosen at random – Often by a computer program or lottery system.

– Testing happens at irregular intervals – There is no recognizable pattern to when tests occur.

– Adequate notice is given – Employees are informed of the testing policy and given warning before having to take a random test.

– State laws are followed – Regarding confidentiality, sample collection, drugs tested, and more.

Random drug testing aims to deter and detect employee drug use. Failing a random test is grounds for termination at most companies, as it shows non-compliance with drug-free workplace policies. But if there is a legitimate medical reason for the result, exceptions may be made.

Can You Lose Your Job for Failing a Post-Accident Test?

Yes, it is very common to be let go for failing a post-accident drug test. When accidents, injuries, or incidents occur at work, employers frequently require involved employees to take a drug test. Failing this test suggests drug use may have contributed to the accident.

Since the goal is promoting workplace safety, an employee who tests positive for drugs following an on-the-job accident usually faces termination. Some key points:

– Testing must be required by policy – Employees need to be aware post-accident testing is mandatory.

– Timing is important – Samples must be collected as soon as possible after the incident.

– All involved employees are tested – To avoid accusations of bias, everyone contributing to the accident is tested.

– A failed test indicates policy violation – Which is grounds for dismissal in most workplaces.

– Prescriptions may provide an exception – With doctor verification, prescribed medication may explain the failed result.

Post-accident testing aims to uncover if employee drug impairment led to a dangerous, costly accident. Since this threatens workplace safety, failing a test in this situation almost always leads to termination.

What Happens When You Fail an Employer Drug Test?

Here are some things that typically happen when an employee fails a drug test required by their employer:

– Employee is informed of failed test – HR or management will contact the employee to notify them of the positive drug test result.

– Employee can request a retest – In some cases, the employee may contest the result and request a retest of the sample. This is not always granted.

– Employee has chance to explain – They may disclose a valid prescription or offer another reason for the failed test.

– Confirmation test may occur – For positive results, an additional test on the sample may be done to confirm.

– Employer evaluates policy violation – The employer will review their drug testing policy and determine if a violation occurred.

– Termination proceedings begin – For most companies, a failed test breaches policy and leads to firing the employee.

– Employee signs paperwork – HR will have the employee sign documents terminating their employment due to the drug test failure.

While processes vary, most employers take disciplinary action resulting in termination when an employee fails a mandatory drug test. However, some companies may first offer counseling or rehab before discharge.

What Types of Jobs Require Drug Testing?

Many types of jobs today require applicants and employees to take drug tests. Some of the most common professions and industries that require drug testing include:

– Transportation – Truck drivers, pilots, transit workers, etc. are commonly tested to ensure safety.

– Healthcare – Doctors, nurses, and other staff in hospitals, clinics, and care facilities often get tested.

– Government jobs – Federal employees, including law enforcement, postal workers, etc. must frequently undergo testing.

– Manufacturing – Dangerous equipment and oversight of quality procedures necessitate drug testing for factory workers.

– Schools – Teachers, coaches, counselors and other staff working with children/teens may get tested.

– Military – All active duty military personnel and civil service employees are regularly tested.

– Energy/Utilities – Plant operators, gas/power companies, and energy producers implement drug testing.

Any job involving public safety, machinery operation, demanding cognitive function, or oversight of vulnerable populations commonly requires drug testing to avoid preventable accidents and errors. Failing a test can lead to revocation of a job offer or termination.

Can You Get Fired for Refusing a Drug Test?

In most cases, yes – refusing to take a mandatory employer drug test can get you fired. Here is what you need to know:

– Counts as good as failing – Refusal violates policy and is treated as severely as a failed test.

– Considered insubordination – Defying a supervisor’s order to take a drug test is considered willful disobedience.

– Grounds for discipline – Refusing a test shows disregard for employer policies and requirements.

– Termination likely – Unless there is a very good explanation for refusing, termination generally ensues.

– May forfeit benefits – Workers’ comp, unemployment, etc. may be denied after refusal.

– Limited legal recourse – Employees have little legal leverage to contest refusal-based termination.

While an employee may have personal reasons to deny testing, companies take a hard line approach – refusal equates to failure and warrants dismissal in most workplaces. The only exception may be a valid medical issue that prevents completing the test.

What Happens if You Are Taking Prescription Drugs?

Failing a drug test when you have a valid prescription for the medication is different than failing for an illegal substance. Here’s what to know:

– Inform employer beforehand – Disclose prescribed medications at the time the test is required.

– Provide documentation – Supply a copy of the prescription or doctor’s note confirming your need for the drug.

– Explain at time of test – When submitting your sample, ensure the tech knows you take a prescribed substance.

– Test may proceed as normal – The employer likely still performs the test to verify your explanation.

– Confirm with Medical Review Officer – This physician-reviewer will validate your prescription with your doctor.

– May be asked to retest – They may request a re-test once you discontinue the prescribed medication.

Legally prescribed drugs show up the same as illegal substances on standard tests. But your job is only at risk if you fail to properly disclose and document your medication. Being upfront can prevent false positives or an incorrect failure.

Can Medical Marijuana Patients Be Fired for Failed Drug Tests?

It depends on state laws. In states where medical marijuana is allowed, employees with a valid medical card are protected from termination for a failed marijuana drug test. But in states lacking explicit employee protections, employers can still fire for medical use.

Key considerations around medical marijuana and employment drug testing:

– Federal law still applies – Under federal law, marijuana has no accepted medical use and employers can test for it.

– State laws offer variying protection – In marijuana-friendly states, medical patients have employment protections, while recreational users do not.

– Employers may restrict use – Some companies prohibit marijuana even for medical purposes to maintain federal contracts or public funds.

– Safety-sensitive roles may disallow use – Nurses, drivers, operators, etc. may face firing even for medical marijuana use.

– Prescription defense may work – Patients who inform and provide documentation of medical marijuana use may avoid termination.

– Retesting may be required – Once medical use ceases, employer may retest to ensure employee is “clean” before returning to duty.

Overall, the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws creates complexities around employment protections for medical use. In absence of explicit state safeguards, employers can still discipline employees for medical marijuana use and failed tests in many cases.

Can You Contest or Appeal a Failed Drug Test?

It is possible to contest or appeal a failed employer drug test, but options are limited. Here are some potential ways to challenge a positive drug test result:

– Request a retest – This allows testing the same sample again to double-check the results.

– Claim false positive – In rare cases, the sample may have been contaminated or equipment faulty.

– Argue breach of protocol – If testing/handling procedures were violated in some way.

– Provide medical documentation – A valid prescription for the drug may render the result acceptable.

– Get a second opinion – An independent retest may be done on the original sample.

– Appeal internally – Challenge the termination through HR protocols or management channels.

– Consult a labor attorney – If grounds exist, a wrongful termination suit may be filed.

However, appeals rarely overturn employment decisions from failed tests unless there are clear technical errors or violations in the testing process. The best defense is explaining results at the time of testing, not after being let go.


In conclusion, failing an employer-mandated drug test frequently leads to termination of employment. Companies utilize pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, and post-accident testing to enforce drug-free work policies and protect safety. While employees can technically appeal failed tests, it rarely overturns the decision or rescinds a firing. The best approach for employees is fully disclosing any prescription drug use ahead of testing to avoid false positives. In most cases, recreational use showing up on a work-related test entails immediate firing. However, in states with medical marijuana laws, employees may have some protections against dismissal for lawful medicinal use. Overall, failing a required employer drug test remains solid grounds for termination of employment in the majority of situations.