What Happens After a Failed Drug Test?

April 4, 2018

Drug Testing Articles


Having employees take a drug test isn’t an unusual practice. But what happens after a failed drug test? Here’s what employers and employees need to know.

Have you been asked to take a drug test, either by your current employer or as part of the application process for a new position? Worried that you might not pass it?

We’re here to help. Read on to learn valuable information about drug testing, what your rights are, and what happens after a failed drug test.

The Poppy Seed Defense

First, let’s take a look at one of the most pervasive urban legends around: the idea that eating a poppy-seed bagel or a delectable lemon-poppyseed muffin can negatively affect a drug test.

Believe it or not, this urban legend is actually urban fact! Granted, you’d have to consume poppyseeds in pretty high quantities, especially after the limit for morphine was raised, from 300 nanograms per millimeter to 2,000 nanograms per millimeter. Effected in 1998, this change was intended to reduce the number of false positive drug tests.

So if you have a drug test coming up, or your company regularly conducts such tests, you might want to switch to sesame bagels or blueberry muffins, just to be on the safe side.

Other Potential False Positive Substances

Even steering clear of poppy-laden baked goods might not be enough. There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can result in a failed drug test.

Popular antidepressants such as Wellbutrin, Prozac, and Zoloft are among these medications. Other culprits include sleep aids like Benadryl, cold medicine such as Robitussin and Sudafed, and even the ADHD medication Ritalin can also trigger false positive drug tests.

If you regularly take OTC or prescription medications and are required to undergo testing for drugs, discuss the possibility of false positives with your physician. You may be able to switch to a different type of medicine that will pose less risk for a failed drug test.

What Happens After a Failed Drug Test?

The consequences of failing a drug test depend, of course, on the circumstances surrounding the test itself. Let’s take a look at several different scenarios.

Pre-Employment Screening

One of the most common uses of drug tests is to screen potential employees before offering them a position with a company. In most cases, after a candidate has taken and failed the desk, the offer of employment will simply be rescinded.

Drug Testing of Current Employees

What happens after an individual fails a drug test administered by their current employer depends on state law, company policy, and the results of the test itself.

In some states, such as Vermont and Minnesota, you can’t be fired for failing a drug test — if you agree to complete a rehabilitation program and undergo subsequent testing.

Additionally, many legal drugs — including medical marijuana in jurisdictions where it is legal, as well as prescription opiates for pain relief — will show up on a drug test. This is when things can get murky, as repercussions for a failed drug test in these circumstances could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Generally, the purpose of a drug test is to determine illegal drug use. However, it’s important for companies to develop and communicate policies regarding the use of medical marijuana and prescription drugs. The U.S. government does not require that all companies have drug testing regulations in place, but it makes good business sense to do so, nevertheless.

Some companies follow a one-strike protocol, while others may allow for additional testing before taking action, such as terminating the employee. Many employers also have in place a policy regarding the appeals process for failed drug tests.

Drugs and the Military

Those who are applying to serve their country through one of the branches of the military will be asked to submit to a drug test. Should they fail such a test, they have the opportunity to reapply and take a second test, at least 90 days after the first one.

Testing positive twice for an illegal drug will disqualify an individual from joining the armed forces.

Annual drug testing is required for all active-duty service members, and members of the Reserves will be tested once every two years. Active duty military individuals who are drug tested may receive an other-than-honorable discharge, be court-martialed, or face other consequences.

The exact repercussions depend on many factors, including the service member’s record, the circumstances under which testing was authorized, and more.

If You Are on Parole or Probation

Those who have violated the law and who are now on probation or parole may face serious ramifications if they choose to ingest illegal substances. Drug testing is often mandated as part of release from prison or a probation agreement.

Again, there are far many factors at play regarding parolees or probationers and failed drug tests. State or jurisdictional regulations, the conditions of the individual’s parole or probation, and even the discretion of the parole office or probation officer will determine what happens.

In some cases, drug use or a failed test will constitute a parole or probation violation. In others, the individual may receive a second chance or a treatment option. The offender may be required to pay additional fines after a failed drug screening, may be ordered to attend a rehabilitation facility, or may face jail time.

Legal Recourse After a Failed Drug Test

Anyone who has tested positive for drug use, and who feels as though their legal rights have been violated as a result, may want to consider enlisting the help of a legal representative.

Termination of employment, particularly in cases where the employer’s policies are inconsistent, unfairly applied, or not communicated to employees properly, is one instance in which legal representation may be necessary.

Most wrongful termination attorneys offer complimentary, no-obligation consultations. It won’t cost you anything but your time to discuss your situation with them to determine whether or not you have recourse in the eyes of the law.

Need More Information?

When it comes to drug testing and what happens in the event of a failed drug test, there are no easy answers. If you would like additional information, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.

Feel free to comment below and tell us about your experiences with drug and alcohol testing, as well!

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