Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Workplace Drug Testing
Drug testing is a prevention and deterrent method that is often part of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program. Any workplace drug-testing program, Federal and non-federal, should comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws.
- Current HHS Certified Laboratory Lists
- Electronic Custody and Control Approved Laboratory List
- Drug Testing Index from Quest Diagnostics
- 2017 Analytes Cutoff Concentrations (PDF | 550 KB)
- 2019 Suppliers of Blind Quality Control Urine Samples (PDF | 132 KB)
- 2011 Anomalous Results for 6-Acetylmorphine (PDF | 33 KB)
- National Laboratory Certification Program (NLCP)
- 2013 National Laboratory Certification Program (NLCP) (PDF | 18 KB)
- 2019 NLCP Revised Fee Schedule Notice (PDF | 505 KB)
- 2019 NLCP Certification Payment Schedule (PDF | 25 KB)
Cannabimimetics Testing: For the current list of HHS-certified laboratories that offer cannabimimetics testing for federal agency specimens, please contact the National Laboratory Certification Program (NLCP) at (919) 541-7242 or email NLCP@rti.org.
Specimen Collection Resources
- 2020 Oral Fluid Collection Handbook (PDF | 1.5 MB)
- 2022 Oral Fluid Collection Site Manual (PDF | 496 KB)
- 2022 Oral Fluid Collection Site Checklist (PDF | 511 KB)
- 2022 Urine Specimen Collection Handbook (PDF | 2 MB)
- 2022 Urine Specimen Collection Site Manual (PDF | 532 KB)
- 2022 Urine Specimen Collection Site Checklist (PDF | 605 KB)
- Access archived specimen collection resources
Conducting Drug Tests
Tests may be done by a trained collector who visits your workplace to collect specimens, or employees may go to an HHS certified laboratory. To ensure accuracy, the specimen’s chain of custody must be continuous from receipt until disposal.
Before beginning drug testing, ask the following questions addressed in your drug-free workplace policy and consider how they will affect your testing program.
- Who receives testing?
- When are the drug tests given?
- Who conducts the testing?
- What substances are tested for?
- Who pays for the drug testing?
- What steps are taken to ensure the accuracy of the drug tests?
- What are the legal rights of employees who receive a positive test result?
Develop a system to protect the confidentiality of employee drug-testing records. Select a person within your organization who will be responsible for receiving employee drug test results, and make sure that the person is aware of confidentiality protocols. Explain the relationship of the drug testing program to your organization’s employee assistance plan (EAP), if one is offered. Let employees know how drug-testing results can be used to inform their treatment, rehabilitation, and re-integration into the workplace.
Find more information on determining whether to conduct workplace drug testing.
Types of Drug Tests
Drug tests vary, depending on what types of drugs are being tested for and what types of specimens are being collected. Urine, hair, saliva (oral fluid), or sweat samples can be used as test specimens.
In federally regulated programs, only urine samples are collected, although the Secretary of Health and Human Service has released guidelines for the inclusion of oral fluid specimens.
Tests are commonly used for five categories of drugs: Amphetamines; Cocaine Marijuana; Opiates; and Phencyclidine (PCP). Additional categories may include barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, ethanol (alcohol), hydrocodone, MDMA, methadone, methaqualone, or propoxyphene.
Drug testing may be used in the following set times or circumstances:
- Pre-employment: You can make passing a drug test a condition of employment. With this approach, all job candidates will receive drug testing prior to being hired.
- Annual Physical Tests: You can test your employees for alcohol and other drug use as part of an annual physical examination. Be sure to inform employees that drug-testing will be part of the exam. Failure to provide prior notification is a violation of the employee's constitutional rights.
- For-cause and Reasonable Suspicion Tests: You may decide to test employees who show discernible signs of being unfit for duty (for-cause testing), or who have a documented pattern of unsafe work behavior (reasonable suspicion testing.) These kinds of tests help to protect the safety and wellbeing of the employee and other coworkers.
- Post-accident Tests: Testing employees who were involved in a workplace accident or unsafe practices can help determine whether alcohol or other drug use was a contributing factor to the incident.
- Post-treatment Tests: Testing employees who return to work after completing a rehabilitation program can encourage them to remain drug-free.
- Random Tests: Tests using an unpredictable selection process are the most effective for deterring illicit drug use.
Ensuring the accuracy of drug-testing results is critical. Using an HHS certified laboratory to test the specimens and a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to interpret the test results will help prevent inaccurate testing. MROs are licensed physicians who receive laboratory results and have knowledge of substance use disorders and federal drug-testing regulations. MROs are trained to interpret and evaluate test results together with the employee’s medical history and other relevant information.
A negative test result does not indicate that an employee has never used alcohol or illicit drugs, nor is it a guarantee against future use.
Federal employees or employees in safety and security-sensitive industries regulated by the Department of Defense (DOD) or the Department of Transportation (DOT) who show positive test results have the right to have the specimen tested by a second HHS-certified laboratory. Although a second test is not required, all employers should include this right in their drug-testing programs.
Depending on the workplace and the circumstances, employees who test positive may be referred to EAPs, into treatment, or for disciplinary action.