He Said She Said – On Drug Screening For Jobs

lemonadeStandToday we’re bringing you another round of He Said/She Said. These posts are really your chance as readers to hear how discussions (and sometimes disagreements) play out when managing our lives with each other. For a look at some of the past He Said/She Said discussions – check ‘em out here.


Ever have one of those conversations where at the end you find that no one can remember what tangent led you down that path?  That was this week’s He Said / She Said.  The most interesting part of our discussion was just how different our experiences with drug screening (and other pre-employment screening) have been even though we both assumed our experiences were pretty par for the course.

So what are those experiences?


He Said

I can only remember being drug screened once, for a job at a roofing company where everybody was (surprise!) constantly smoking weed while on the job. Along with roofing, I’ve been in construction, retail, and sales – three areas notorious for narcotics use, but I’ve never had to take another drug test, pass a polygraph test, or do any kind of back-ground checks.

Why? Well, if anybody started doing random drug testing at my current IT-sales job I’m pretty sure the office would be empty within a week. As for background checks, nobody really cares what your previous life was, as long as you are making this quarter’s sales figures. The idea of polygraphing sales people sounds like some sort of sick joke as well… 

Maybe it’s my lack of exposure, but I would take offense to a drug test, polygraph test or background check. I’m probably clean on all three accounts, but I know many people who do recreational drugs or have made mistakes in the past who are at least as capable at their job as I am at mine.


She Said

I’m at the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to pre-employment screening.  I’ve had to do drug screening for every position I’ve ever had since “becoming a grown-up“, and far more comprehensive screening including polygraph, background check, and extensive psychological and aptitude testing.  A lot, right?  But at least it’s been a while since having to do so since I’ve finally been at a job long enough to vest.

I guess some people might be bothered by this type of screening, but I’m really not.  I’ve never done drugs – the sheer amount of television I watched in the 80s means this commercial was seared into my brain at an early age.

And my background is boring enough that it wouldn’t raise any red flags.  On the whole, I don’t have anything to hide.  I’ve never really thought about why the jobs I’ve taken have had pretty rigorous pre-employment screening, but it is true that with pretty much all of them I’ve dealt with confidential information that’s expected to stay confidential.

If peeing in a cup and asking me multiple times (though worded in various ways) if I am “fascinated by fire”* gives my prospective employer a sense of well being that I’m not going to spill corporate secrets, then I’m happy to oblige.


Where do you fall on the pre-employment “pee in a cup” spectrum?


* Yes, that is a question that gets repeated on the psych profiles.  And no, I’m not.

47 comments to He Said She Said – On Drug Screening For Jobs

  • Chasa

    I work in an industrial environment, and though they don’t give background checks there are drug screenings and ongoing random drug tests while employed. I approve of this, cause I wouldn’t want someone in an altered state whizzing around the facility driving a forklift. Those drug tests help keep us all safe.

  • I do sensitive work and have to go through all of this stuff. I’m not sure how I feel about it all.

    One thing that I find a bit strange is that most companies only seem to do drug tests upon initial hire. So, an applicant could just lay off of whatever they’re doing for a little while and then start the party up again post hire. (I see that Chasa said that her job does ongoing screenings, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm.)

    The one thing you didn’t mention specifically is credit score screening. I had to go through this too, but It seems to be quite controversial. One of my co-workers who has a higher clearance than I almost got fired because of a bankruptcy filing.

    If I was hiring, I’m not sure if I would bother with any of this screening. Instead, I’d concentrate on questions that test if the person can do their job.
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  • I’ve only had to go through this once, and it was for an IT job where the company headquarters was in another state. It didn’t really bother me, I’ve got nothing to hide, and it gives me a tad more confidence that my coworkers don’t either.
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  • I’ve never had any kind of screening. A polygraph sounds really intense! I have to say that I have a few things from my past that I regret and would potentially give an employer pause, even though to me they’re so long ago that they’re completely irrelevant. Not sure what the alternative is though if the job you want requires it.
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    • The 2 days of psych evaluations and aptitude testing was way more intense than the poly =)

      I think in general with the jobs I’ve had if you are honest and tell them about past stuff they say it won’t affect you. Not really sure how that works in practice, though.

    • trudy

      I remember a 60 Minutes thing some years ago, where they sent in people with directions to lie their heads off in polygraph tests and others who were truthful. The results were that the tests weren’t worth a bucket of whatever.

      I’ve had a sense of uneasiness since then about those tests – it doesn’t mean a thing when I read that someone suspected of a crime has passed or not passed one, but imagine being put in the position of choosing between refusing to take a test with the implication that you’re guilty because you refused, or taking it and gambling the random results would come out innocent.

  • I don’t think they should use polygraphs because they’re not very accurate and that’s unfair. For drug screening it depends…if they do it they should do it to everybody, not just the people who are too desperate to find another job. And they should understand the error rates in those tests, even if they’re more reliable than polygraphs. Exception being jobs like pharmacy where they need to make sure you’re not addicted to what you’re selling, in that case they could screen floor ppl but not corporate.
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    • I actually failed my poly the first time, but got a second chance to pass – I’d also hope that employers who use these kinds of tests understand the error rates, otherwise they’re wasting their time. =)

  • Debbie M

    I am opposed to drug screening and have so far been able to refuse any job where that was required. I don’t see any problems for me personally except having to pay attention to when I’m eating poppy seeds. But I think some people on drugs can do a good job and some people off drugs can’t. I think you should hire and retain people based on whether they will do or are doing a good job, not based on easy-to-test things that may or may not be somewhat correlated with that.

    So I oppose jobs that require testing on principle. But then, that’s been easy for me. If a job I really wanted required it, I would probably go for it anyway, though possibly with some verbal protests. (I’m a good candidate for such protests because they could add extra tests or similar retaliatory measures and still not find anything–I don’t even hang around people who smoke anything anymore. And I could definitely stop eating poppy seeds if I had a job like that.)

  • I’ve had to submit to background screening for every job I’ve accepted since I was 19, and drug screening for most of them. I figure it’s part of the process, and good due diligence. For example, that contractor at HP who went on a shooting spree should have been screened out by HP during the hiring process, as he had multiple records of gun related incidents in his past.

    I figure if you can’t stop using for a few months when you’re looking for work, or if you have some sort of criminal history that would pose a risk to your employer, then maybe you shouldn’t be working that job…
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  • I prefer the tests. When I worked at places that didn’t have screening tests the turn-over rate was very high. It was only a minimum wage job but the majority of people did not leave for better opportunities, they disappeared after many days of showing up late or not at all because of drug and alcohol use.
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    • There’s probably something to the turn-over rate when it comes to screening. If they’re going to go through all that trouble to bring you on board, they’re not likely to want to lose you quickly. Most of my jobs have been fairly low turnover, some VERY low.

  • Strangely, the only job I’ve ever been drug screened for was when I worked at WalMart. Although working for the public health service, I’ve been fingerprinted and background screened out the wazoo. I don’t mind. I do not think mistakes long in the past should mean you can never hold down a steady job, but I think an employer has the right to do whatever screening they want as long as it’s the same for everyone.
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  • I’ve never had a drug screening for any job, but I have done a criminal background check and a financial background check (because I occasionally touch computer systems that deal with money…). The criminal background check is uh – “problematic” for most folks in my industry: before schools started teaching information security, guess where folks got their information and skills? So, pretty much any information security company has a swath of folks who have records and can’t work for certain clients.

    I don’t do drugs, but for desk work, I’d leave any company that did drug screening just on principle. For a driver or forklift, or construction, I can totally see the rationale.

    Dad has a government clearance – with poly. So he’s been through the wringer a few times (3 different clearances at various levels).
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  • I’m indifferent to it, but I can understand why it might be necessary if it’s for positions where lives depend on the person?
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  • I’ve never had a drug test, but I had an extensive background check done when I worked for the government. The funny thing about that was that it took almost a year for me to be cleared, and by then my fellowship was nearly over! I don’t think I would care about taking those tests because I have nothing to hide, but I’m also not sure if I would ever (want to) have the type of job where drug use would matter or be prevalent.
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    • That’s some nice glacial speed for your government background check, huh? Hopefully if you need a similar clearance later it’ll go faster since they’ve already cleared through that point in your life.

  • Anne

    I’ve had to do pre-employment drug tests and background checks for all of my “grown-up” jobs, and all had/have ongoing random programs. I work in an industrial setting, so I think it makes sense. The only thing I didn’t like was that the first place did hair tests instead of urine (to give them a longer history), which only bothered me because the section they cut grew back in funny and stuck out of my normal ponytail for awhile.

    • The hair seems a bit surprising, especially since people with shorter hair would have a much shorter “history of being clean” than people with long hair.

      How often/random are your ongoing screenings?

  • I’ve had a drug test for every job I’ve had. The background checks done by major banks are amazingly thorough. I couldn’t believe the stuff they wanted me to provide!
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  • I would love to see a mandatory drug test for anyone holding any type of political office. I’m sure most of Toronto would agree with me, and that most of our politicians and their staff would in trouble.

    Personally, I’ve only had to take a drug test for a retail job I had working for DSW shoes. It’s very important to be sober while stacking shoe boxes. Interestingly enough, not so much in my current form of employment as a mechanical engineer designing buildings. I haven’t been drug tested for a job since college.
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  • As a teacher, I’ve obviously been extensively background checked. For my current job, I actually had an hour long interview with a psychologist to get approved.

    I only took a drug test once, when I worked for a city government for a summer. It was not big deal. I don’t mind drug tests, personally, but I’m fuzzy on how I feel about them in general. If someone does their job well, I honestly don’t care what they do in their spare time. If they want to fry their brain, that’s their business.
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  • I remember getting drug tested when I worked at a TV station…why I have no idea! I think 90% of the people smoked pot and in the 70’s and 80’s did cocaine. I personally don’t have a problem getting drug tested as I don’t take drugs, so it doesn’t have me worried. Unless you are operating heavy machinery, around kids, and other sensitive jobs, I think pot should probably be overruled. It might be at this point. Who knows.
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  • Mama PoP

    At the University, we have to have an up-to-date criminal background check, a child abuse background check, and a fingerprint check if we are actually going into the public schools. I am in favor of teachers having these requirements. However, we had a tragedy when a sophomore education major committed suicide when he was arrested for underage drinking. He believed that he would never be allowed to be a teacher with that on his record.

  • Maverick

    For me it was psych, drug, fingerprint and background tests for nuclear power plant, fingerprint, drug and background checks for clearance at govt contractor, and fingerprint and background tests for gun permits. I have no issue with any of them. Never did drugs – never will. I believe our society is getting too accustomed to / addicted to prescription drugs as well. Look at how many CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, Walmart pharmacies there are today. I would say it’s due to a combination of pharmaceutical company profits and the acceptance of a 60’s drug culture mentality. I’ve known friends who had no difficulty with the concept of taking another person’s presciption drug medication (my local prosecutor’s office confirms it is against the law – found out at grand jury service). A topic for another post…

    I do, however, have a concern with the security / confidentiality of the databases where my personal data from these screenings reside.

  • trudy

    I’ve never touched illegal drugs, but I find the idea of peeing in a cup, etc. demeaning. I wouldn’t apply for a job that required that unless I were really desperate for a job and nothing else was available.

  • I work in education so every job requires me to get a TB test and pee in something. Ugh. I find it totally obnoxious and a violation of my rights.
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  • I’ve gotten screened for most jobs in my adult life. I don’t really mind drug tests, but I’ve had a lot of frustration with fingerprinting. My biggest problem with fingerprinting is that in general, fingerprinting services are located in very inconvenient locations, and then there’s a lot of waiting involved. It’s just the inconvenience factor that bothers me! My biggest problem occurred when I had to get a pre-employment health screening (my job involved sitting in a chair and working on a computer – never any heavy lifting or physical contact with other individuals), and the doctor told me to strip down and get into one of those paper robes. I got into the robe and then called my dad, crying because I felt so uncomfortable. My dad told me to put my clothes back on. I did so, and then when the doctor came in, I explained that it didn’t make sense for me to be naked for them to decide if I was healthy enough to sit in a chair. The doctor was annoyed with me and made me take off my shirt and then do sit ups and touch my fingers to my nose with my eyes closed while standing on one foot. So bizarre.
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    • trudy

      The fingers, nose, eyes closed, one foot stuff is, I believe, looking for neurological problems.

      I can’t imagine why situps were necessary for a desk job. Probably just a general attempt to check for problems.

  • I never really cared much if they tested me at my jobs in the past because they were more industrial, and being high would put a lot of people in danger. But in an office environment it’d be weird because who really cares as long as you do your job
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  • In many States and countries the employment laws will not allow drug screening for jobs where safety is not a concern. Ie desk jobs. I don’t do drugs of any sort but I don’t know if I would be happy being drug tested for a job that isn’t dangerous.
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  • I’ve never been drug screened at work, but I wouldn’t mind if it was part of the screening process. I have however been “screened” pretty intensively in other ways (multi-level background checks, fingerprinting for criminal offenses, child abuse screenings etc.) I’m also licensed by the state, which means that my license number, education and hometown are public record.
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  • I have never undergone any of these tests for any job (but wouldn’t really expect to given the nature of my industry). I wouldn’t have a problem taking any of them if it was a requirement even though I would disagree with the need for most of them. I definitely believe a lot of organisations go overboard with this stuff. I know someone who gave up smoking weed (a relatively benign drug) and started doing something else instead like speed because the latter didn’t show up in pee tests. Yeah…
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  • Polygraph tests are woo-woo, just like handwriting analysis that’s supposed to reveal all your darkest secrets. Personally, I would not go to work for a company whose management bases its hiring decisions on hooey.

    Those who say they don’t mind drug tests because they have nothing to hide seem not to understand the principle of privacy. In most situations, what you do in your private life is none of your employer’s business, whether what you do is drink diet Pepsi or what you do is toke a joint. You get to have a life outside of work, and your employer does not get to snoop into that life.

    The only exception, IMHO, is a job that involves driving, heavy machinery, or use of potentially dangerous equipment. In that case, obviously it is in the employer’s interest (and yours) to see to it that workers are not showing up intoxicated.

    But in any other circumstances: MYOB, boss!
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