Can I Lose My Job if I Test Positive for Drugs?

If your job tests for drugs and you test positive, you can face very serious consequences. Many employers take drug use very seriously and will take disciplinary action up to and including dismissal if you refuse to submit to a drug test, or if you test positive.

Many employers see benefits in workplace drug testing for their company and it is part of the requirements for many jobs nowadays. In recent years there has also been a growing trend for UK employers to test their staff to monitor workplace drinking. The introduction of random drug screening at work is on the increase and many companies now have a random drug testing policy.

Drug Testing At Work

Workplace drug testing kits will screen and employee for a number of the most commonly used drug of abuse.

If there is a chance you could fail a drug test, or if you have already failed a drug test, you are probably wondering what you should do. This article will explain the likely consequences of a failed drug test and what options you have in the event that you face disciplinary action or dismissal. We will break this down into three issues:

  1. What might happen if you fail a drugs test?
  2. What are your options if you are disciplined following a failed drug test?
  3. Could you have a claim for unfair dismissal in the event you lose your job after a failed drug test?

What might happen if you fail a drugs test?

There are a number of factors that will influence an employer’s response to a failed drug test, including details of the incident and how serious it was, the type of job you have, your employment record with your employer, and the relationship you have with your company. The possible consequences you may face include your employer taking no action, you may receive an informal warning, you may receive a formal warning that may be your final warning, you may be placed on probation, or you may even be dismissed.

In some cases, the employer may take no action in response to a failed drug test. This outcome is fairly unusual, however, as employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of both employees and customers. You are more likely to find yourself participating in a disciplinary meeting and you may be suspended. In the case of suspension or dismissal, your employer should be careful that the decision is not unreasonable and is well considered. As an alternative, you may receive a warning, either formal or informal. If you feel the response is unfair, you may wish to appeal the decision. In the most extreme cases, your employer may let you go. This is a fairly common outcome of failed drug tests.

What are my options if I am disciplined following a failed drug test?

It is possible to appeal a warning or dismissal if you feel the action was unfair or unreasonable. A sample disciplinary appeal letter can be found here. You might also wish to file a grievance, in which case you can use this grievance appeal letter. If you lose your job and you meet certain criteria, you may qualify to file a claim for unfair dismissal. For more information, consult with an employment law solicitor, or call your Trade Union. You may also be able to get help from ACAS.

Can I file a claim for unfair dismissal if I lose my job after I fail a drug test?

There are a number of factors that will influence whether you might have a claim, including:

  • Nature of your job – if you are a policeman, or a teacher, or you work with children, you are likely to face more serious consequence than if you stock shelves, for example.
  • Your position – If you work in a position that requires a high level of trust, you are more likely to face consequences.
  • The severity of the incident and consequences to customers and co-workers – If there has been damage or injury due to drug use, there are more likely to be consequences.
  • History with the employer – If your history with the company is long and otherwise pristine, your employer may be more lenient.
  • How close you work with the public – If you work closely with the public, you’re more likely to face consequences than if your job entails minimal contact with customers.
  • The effect of the incident on your ability to perform your job, and
  • Loss of confidence in you, your ability to perform your job, or your integrity.

If you have lost your job in response to a failed drug test, talk to a solicitor who specialises in employment issues to find out whether you have a claim for unfair dismissal.

Privacy & Fairness

While workplace drug testing policies aim to promote safety and productivity, they can also raise complex legal and ethical issues around privacy and fairness. Here are some additional considerations around drug testing at work:

Privacy Concerns

Mandatory drug testing intrinsically involves collecting very personal biological information from employees. Some critics argue this constitutes an unreasonable invasion of privacy. However, courts have generally upheld drug testing policies as long as they are implemented reasonably. Still, employers should strive to protect employee privacy as much as possible when conducting drug tests. This includes keeping test results confidential and limiting testing only to substances that could directly impact job performance.

Testing Accuracy

No drug test is 100% accurate. False positives are possible, especially for cannabis which can stay detectable in the body for weeks after use. If an employee disputes the results of a drug test, they should have the right to request a retest or secondary confirmation test. Employers should use testing methods with documented accuracy and have procedures in place for addressing disputed results.

Addiction as a Disease

Someone who fails a drug test may be struggling with addiction, which medical experts consider a chronic brain disease, not a moral failing. An employee with addiction deserves support and rehabilitation, not solely punishment. Alongside disciplinary measures, employers should be prepared to discuss treatment options and health resources. Firing someone with drug addiction often leads to worse outcomes.

Local Laws

Laws around workplace drug testing vary significantly between states and countries. Many places restrict random or suspicion-less testing. Some prohibit testing for cannabis. Employers should consult local labor laws before implementing any drug testing program. Unionised workplaces in particular may require negotiating testing policies as part of the collective bargaining process.

Societal Impact

Workplace drug testing policies extend beyond individual employment. They influence community health, public safety, and social equity. Excluding people from the workforce due to past drug use contributes to unemployment, poverty, and recidivism. And evidence shows drug testing disproportionately impacts people of color. Policymakers should consider the unintended consequences of workplace drug testing when shaping labor regulations.

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated since.

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