Background Checks And Drug Screening: A Guide For Employers

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Employees who abuse alcohol and drugs are more likely to take time off, cause accidents, and make mistakes. These can affect their overall job performance and reflect negatively on the business. For this reason, more and more companies include drug testing in their screening. Here’s what you need to know about background checks and drug screening. 

What Is Drug Screening For Employment?

Drug screening determines if controlled or illicit substances are present in a person’s body through samples provided, such as saliva or urine. 

Testing for drugs may be mandatory for certain industries, such as healthcare and law enforcement, but nowadays, many organizations include drug testing as a part of their pre-employment screening for other fields as well. This helps ensure they are not hiring someone who’s currently abusing drugs or will possibly do so later. 

Organizations may also do random drug tests for employees to help keep the workplace safe. If an employee returns to work after a leave of absence or break from injury, it may also be a part of the company policy to subject them to drug screening. 


Do Background Checks Include Drug Tests?

Before officially hiring a candidate or during onboarding, organizations often conduct background checks, such as employment verification, reference checks, and education verification, to determine their suitability for the position. But, do background checks include drug testing? 

Whether or not drug testing is included in pre-employment background checks is often completely up to the prerogative of the company. However, there are cases where it is required by law, particularly for safety-critical industries, such as healthcare, transportation, and law enforcement. In the United States, transportation workers, truck drivers, and machinery operators are legally required to undergo pre-employment drug screening. 

Generally, there are no laws that prohibit private organizations from subjecting their candidates and employees to drug testing. Still, there are limits to how they can conduct it. 

What Comes First: Background Checks or Drug Testing?

Should you decide to run background checks and drug screening, what should come first? In many cases, drug testing is performed after background checks or around the same time. Most organizations conduct the screening after extending a job offer to the candidate. The final decision to hire the individual is contingent upon the outcome of the drug test.

To help you determine which should come first between background checks and drug screening, you may want to consider the following:

  • Laws surrounding drug testing - if there are any.  
  • Nature of and risks associated with the role 
  • Your organization’s policies and procedures 


What Do Pre-employment Drug Tests Look For?

Drug screening looks for different substances, including illicit drugs and prescription medicines. Unless otherwise dictated by the law, the company decides which substances to look for and the type of drug testing to conduct. In the UK, drug screening should ideally test for:

  • Cocaine, which can be detected in saliva or urine samples for 2 to 3 days after it was last used. If the person is a chronic user, it can be detected in urine samples for up to 30 days. 
  • Cannabis, which can be detected in urine samples for up to 30 days since it was last used by a chronic, heavy user. 
  • Opiates, which can be detected in saliva or urine samples for 1 to 4 days since it was last used. 
  • Amphetamines, which can be detected in saliva or urine samples for 1 to 4 days since it was last used. 

Types of drug screening are available as panels, with each panel testing for a specific substance. A 5-panel test checks for the above-mentioned substance plus another one like ketamine or phencyclidine. However, if you want to test for more substances, such as benzodiazepine and barbiturates, you may want to choose a 7-panel or 10-panel screening.  

Drug testing can be done through a hair follicle test, blood analysis, urine test, and saliva testing. In the UK, urine testing is a well-established method, but saliva testing is now becoming more popular because of convenience and improved integrity. 

Top Reasons Employers Conduct Background Checks and Drug Testing

There are various reasons why, despite not being enforceable by law, companies still choose to conduct drug testing. 

It helps promote high standards of safety

Background checks, such as criminal records check, uncover past convictions that may affect how applicants fulfill their role and relate to their colleagues and clients. 

Illicit drug use can result in behavioral changes that may make them lash out at their colleagues. It also increases the risk of them doing risky activities or causing accidents. To sustain their supply of controlled substances, the employee may likewise later resort to stealing money. In the long run, drug abuse and misuse can result in a plethora of physical and psychological symptoms that may put the employee and those around them at risk. 

Hence, to promote high standards of safety, organizations choose to conduct background checks and drug screening. 

It protects the organization from liabilities 

As mentioned earlier, depending on where you operate your business and the nature of the role, you may be legally required to conduct pre-employment background checks and drug testing. Compliance with these laws and regulations protects your company from liabilities, particularly if problems arise.  

Furthermore, it is your legal responsibility as an employer to secure the safety of your employees and clients. Hence, you may be liable to prosecution if you allow an employee to work under the influence of illicit drugs and endanger others. 


It helps protect job performance and productivity

Some of the most common results of substance abuse are decreased productivity and poor job performance. The employee may also commit errors frequently, significantly affecting workflow. 

Background checks and drug screening give you insights into the candidate’s future attitude at work and whether or not they may use controlled substances in the workplace. 

It helps reduce absenteeism and turnover

Employees who abuse and misuse drugs are more likely to take time off. This may be due to various reasons, including health concerns and losing control of their schedules and daily lives due to their growing dependence on drugs. 

Absenteeism, along with poor job performance may be grounds for dismissal, which means the organization has to work on recruiting, hiring, and onboarding someone again. 

It helps safeguard company assets 

Conducting background checks and drug screening may help protect company assets. Running credit checks helps reduce the risk of fraud and embezzlement. Likewise, drug screening is helpful because people who have problems with drug addiction may resort to other types of workplace theft to sustain their substance supply. 

Overall, background checks and drug screens help organizations mitigate risks that may compromise people’s safety, result in financial losses, and damage the company’s reputation. 

Best Practices For Background Checks and Drug Screen

Below are the best practices for background checks and drug testing:

Check the relevant laws

The first step when conducting background checks and drug screening is to check the laws. What drug testing is allowed and when should it be done? Also, check the legally acceptable process of conducting the screening.  

Establish a policy

Once you understand the relevant laws, you must then establish a policy on drug testing. 

If you’re conducting pre-employment drug screening, a policy must be well-communicated with the candidate during their application process. For post-employment screening, the policy must be a part of the contract or included in the employee handbook. Some of the things to include in your policy are: 

  • The list of drugs or substances the test will look for
  • When you’re going to test the candidate or employee
  • Method of drug testing
  • Provision for confirmatory test
  • Confidentiality of records
  • Reporting of results

It is also very important to discuss in your policy what happens after a candidate or employee fails a drug test. In Australia, a candidate who fails a pre-employment drug test may undergo a more advanced confirmatory test. A medical officer may also need to review the sample and authenticate the result before retesting is performed. 


Inform the individual and obtain their consent

Regardless of when you’ll perform drug testing and background checks, the candidate or employee must give their consent. 

Remember that while there are usually no laws prohibiting companies from conducting drug screening, it’s still not enforceable by law. Hence, individuals must consent to providing a specimen for the test. You must also inform them of the type of test, the reason why it’s necessary, and what will happen if they refuse or fail the test. 

Consider outsourcing to professionals

A lot of organizations nowadays partner with professionals to conduct background checks and drug screening for them. Reliable consumer reporting agencies often can run different types of background checks, including drug screening, faster and in compliance with the relevant rules and regulations. 

Outsourcing to a third party also means you can be certain of the consistency of the process and have access to a wide range of testing. Their expertise also eliminates the need for HR to interpret the results on their own.  

Document your process

As with any form of background check, you need to document the process of drug testing from start to finish. This is so you’ll have records you can pull out should there be clarifications, inspections, or complaints. Don’t forget to keep the records in accordance with the relevant privacy laws. 

Throughout the process, remember that the candidate must be treated with respect and that none of their rights must be violated. 

How Long Do Drug Test Results Take?

Most drug test results are returned within three business days. However, extensions may be necessary if follow-up tests or reviews are suggested. Paper-based processes may also cause some delays. 


Employees who abuse and misuse controlled substances are more likely to commit errors, cause accidents, and perform poorly at work. For this reason, many companies make it a point to conduct drug testing before and during employment. 

Before subjecting a candidate to drug testing, companies must understand the laws surrounding it. Having a solid drug testing policy in place is also necessary so the process stays consistent. 

Partnering with a reputable third party like Veremark helps streamline the process of drug testing. Our occupational health checks, which include drug testing, can determine if the applicant is medically fit to fulfill their role. The tests are straightforward and can readily integrate into your workflows, which means the candidate’s health records can be combined with other background check results to assess their eligibility for the role. On top of drug screening, our occupational health checks also include the verification of vaccine records and fitness tests. 

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What background check do I need?

This depends on the industry and type of role you are recruiting for. To determine whether you need reference checks, identity checks, bankruptcy checks, civil background checks, credit checks for employment or any of the other background checks we offer, chat to our team of dedicated account managers.

Why should employers check the background of potential employees?

Many industries have compliance-related employment check requirements. And even if your industry doesn’t, remember that your staff have access to assets and data that must be protected. When you employ a new staff member you need to be certain that they have the best interests of your business at heart. Carrying out comprehensive background checking helps mitigate risk and ensures a safer hiring decision.

How long do background checks take?

Again, this depends on the type of checks you need. Simple identity checks can be carried out in as little as a few hours but a worldwide criminal background check for instance might take several weeks. A simple pre-employment check package takes around a week. Our account managers are specialists and can provide detailed information into which checks you need and how long they will take.

Can you do a background check online?

All Veremark checks are carried out online and digitally. This eliminates the need to collect, store and manage paper documents and information making the process faster, more efficient and ensures complete safety of candidate data and documents.

What are the benefits of a background check?

In a competitive marketplace, making the right hiring decisions is key to the success of your company. Employment background checks enables you to understand more about your candidates before making crucial decisions which can have either beneficial or catastrophic effects on your business.

What does a background check show?

Background checks not only provide useful insights into a candidate’s work history, skills and education, but they can also offer richer detail into someone’s personality and character traits. This gives you a huge advantage when considering who to hire. Background checking also ensures that candidates are legally allowed to carry out certain roles, failed criminal and credit checks could prevent them from working with vulnerable people or in a financial function.

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How do you prove the worth of a background screening program?

Introducing a background screening program into your organization usually means proving its potential benefits to the company’s bottom line. While some checks may be mandatory or industry policy, others may not be - but these are the checks that can provide real-world advantages to how your organization grows and prospers.

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The harder, more tangible benefits - and how to measure them

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The improvements to expect when you start screening your candidates

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