What Happens When Your Employee Fails a Drug Test?

Companies carry out drug screens as a way of discouraging employees from abusing drugs. But what happens when your employees fail the screens?

The way forward could depend on the industry, the job, and various laws. In some industries, such as those involving federal contracts, the company must abide by federal drug-testing guidelines that spell out the steps to take after a worker fails a drug test.

Focus on state guidelines

More often, companies will have to focus on state law. This can be quite complicated because laws vary widely from state to state. For instance, there may be limitations on what kinds of tests can be administered and what kinds of specimens can be tested, such as saliva or hair.

State laws often dictate actions that companies can take following a positive drug screen from a current employee. For instance, an employee can’t get fired for the first failed drug test if the worker agrees to enroll in, and complete, a treatment program.

Several states also have strict notice requirements. Companies may be mandated to convey the positive test within a certain time frame and offer the worker a chance to dispute the outcome, as well as take a second test.

In addition to following all legal guidelines, organizations should think through a specific scenario before taking any action against the worker. Action must be in line with how past positive outcomes were handled. For instance, if male workers who tested positive for cocaine were fired, but not the women, it could create massive legal issues for the company.

Also, companies should think about any responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state disability laws.

State marijuana laws

Recently enacted state laws surrounding the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana have further complicated issues surrounding positive drug tests for the drug. Some state guidelines protect registered medical marijuana cardholders under disability laws. In some states, courts have recently held that companies can’t act against staff members based exclusively on their status as medical marijuana cardholders.

Companies in states where medical cannabis is legal need to go through a deliberate process to find out if there’s a reasonable accommodation that can be made for the worker. If a company has operations in just one state, it is simpler to determine what the positives and negatives of a cannabis policy decision. Multistate organizations should have a framework for addressing the various state laws.

Prescription medication

Addressing a positive test for prescription medication can be tricky because the use of these drug could be protected under disability laws. A good policy is to focus on illegal use of these substances. Also, employers can require that their employees disclose prescription drug use if such use can cause safety issues.


Regardless of the policy in place or the decisions that are made, it’s important for a company to handle all positive drug test with discretion and confidentiality. The positive drug test should be communicated directly to the employee, ideally face-to-face or over the phone. A letter should be marked “personal and confidential” and email should be avoided because of access issues.

At LTI, we supply custom staffing solutions, so our clients can focus on achieving their organizational goals. Please contact us today to find out how we can help your company.