Can my employer force me to take a drug test?

Although drug testing is often a part of the application process for many employers, whether an employer can require employees to undergo drug tests after they have already been hired and working for the employer is another matter altogether. 

Most private employers have the right to test for a wide variety of substances. However, it is important that employers familiarize themselves with the various state and federal regulations that may apply to their business or organization before designing a drug-testing policy. The majority of employers across the US are NOT required to test, and many state and local governments have statutes that limit or prohibit workplace testing unless it is required by state or federal regulations for certain jobs.

Drug-testing policies protect both employees and employers. It is important for employers to note that drug testing without a drug-testing policy -- even if an employee is suspected of having a substance abuse problem -- exposes them to a number of significant liability and legal vulnerabilities. In some states, this type of drug testing is not permissible, whereas in other states, it is widely practiced. 

Federal Law's Impact on Drug Testing

Federal laws, such as the American with Disabilities Act and the Drug Free Workplace Act, also may impact an employer’s rights to conduct drug testing. If an employer wishes to require employees to undergo drug testing, and it is permissible under state law, however, the employer typically will have a detailed policy in place that permits the practice and outlines the relevant procedures. 

Likewise, drug testing may be more routine and/or legally permissible in situations where an impaired employee could cause serious injury to another in the course of his or her employment, and/or if an employee is suspected of drug usage while on the clock. Plus, some sorts of workers, such as government employees, may have fewer rights to oppose testing that the employees of a private employer.

Do I have to tell my employer about drugs that my doctor prescribes for me?

Your employer typically has no right to any of your medical history, including any drugs that your doctor may have prescribed for you. Some state laws do provide that you obtain certification of a serious medical condition from your doctor if you are requesting leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act. But even then, a list of your prescription drugs would not normally be available to your employer. 

Likewise, the results of any drug testing that you undergo in the workplace, which may reveal the presence of prescription drugs, should be kept confidential, and you should not be disciplined as a result of those findings.

Does my employer have to keep my personal information confidential?

It depends. You must keep in mind that any and all personal information that you disclose to your employer can theoretically become a part of your personnel file, which may be viewed by a variety of people. The bottom line is that if you don’t want others to know a certain fact about you, then you probably shouldn’t tell your employer. 

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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