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Dilemma of the Month: Drug Testing New Hires

Back Article Dec 7, 2017 By Suzanne Lucas
We drug test new hires at my company. When a potential employee’s test comes back positive it’s easy enough to rescind the offer, but we had a candidate have a test returned “negative but diluted” and we rescinded the offer. The candidate had already given two weeks’ notice at his current company and they won’t take him back. Did we do the right thing?

No, you didn’t.

Sorry to be blunt. I’m not a huge fan of drug testing for jobs that don’t involve safety issues — like driving a vehicle or working with chemicals. I don’t know what this job is, though, and I also know that drug testing is extremely common, so that’s not the source of my complaint. I am going to complain about withdrawing an offer because of a “negative but diluted” sample.

There are two reasons a diluted sample happens: One is that the person knows he has drugs in his system so he drinks and drinks and drinks in the hopes he can wash it all out. The other is that the person is afraid he won’t be able to pee on command so he drinks and drinks and drinks. The result is the same — a very watered down pee sample.

It’s certainly possible to be a drug user and pass on a negative-diluted sample, so you are right to be cautious, but you don’t want to lose a great candidate who was well-hydrated because of such a test.

What I would recommend is in the case of a negative-dilute drug test, you inform the candidate and offer retesting of the hair follicle — a much more accurate test — at his expense. You promise that if he passes you will reimburse him for the cost, and then do so. A candidate who has been using illegal drugs knows he’ll fail a hair test and will back out at this point. An innocent candidate will take you up on the test. If the candidate passes, the cost of a hair follicle test is significantly cheaper than the cost of finding a new candidate. So, it’s well worth it.

What is Your Goal In Testing?

As long as I have your attention, let’s talk about your goals in drug testing. If your candidates will drive trucks, have access to narcotics or have another responsibility that could spell disaster if they were even tempted to use illegal drugs, then you should absolutely be testing for drug use. Even though recreational marijuana is legal in California, employers can still choose to test for it and maintain a drug-free workforce. (Keep in mind, federal law still prohibits marijuana usage, so consume at your own risk.)

But, if your employees will sit behind a computer all day, drug use may not be worth your time, effort and expense to test. In fact, even the FBI and Secret Service don’t require hires to have a history perfectly clean of drug use. (You can’t, of course, be an active user.)

Many of your competitors have a simple ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ when it comes to drugs. If you’re competing with these firms for candidates, your strict policies will limit your candidate pool. That’s fine if it’s important to you — and to a lot of people it is important. There are definite problems with drug-using employees. If they stop using a substance purely recreationally and become addicted, it can result in serious problems in their lives, which can transfer to your business.

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act considers drug addiction a legitimate disability, which means you’ll need to provide a reasonable accommodation for an addicted employee. This can mean you must hold a job for someone who is going through drug treatment. It does not, however, mean you have to keep an active drug user on the payroll.

Another problem you can run into with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ drug policy is that you need to be extra careful that you’re not discriminating on the basis of race. Employee A is acting funny so you send him for a drug test. Employee B is acting funny, but you know he’s going through a rough break up, so you let it go. You might be logical in your assumptions, but if Employee A is black and Employee B is white, you could have to defend against allegations of racial discrimination.

So, if you want to test for drugs, figure out before you send someone to the lab how you will proceed with a negative-dilute sample — then treat all candidates the same. If you want to implement testing on active employees, set a policy for what will and will not result from a failed or inconclusive drug test. Don’t ever decide on the fly — that sets you up for problems.

Navigating drug policy isn’t easy. Make sure your policies fulfill your business needs.


Parker Davis (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 5:03am

Wow! Incredibly poor grasp of the subject matter and very very very bad advice. So many erroneous points I can't even refute them all. Driving a truck is NOT the only job where an abuser can impact an organization. A quality inspector, IT coder, cashier, bartender, pharmacy tech, machine operator, furnace repair person, etc etc can all create a serious problem for themselves, their company, and their customers if they have a drug problem. You have not worked at a job in years and are not in this country. Maybe the Swiss are more liberal, but things are different in the real world.

Visitor (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 9:45am

The author only used truck driving as an example, and specifically said a job with access with narcotics as another example. She did not say it was limited to those two circumstances. I feel like you didn't read this article.

Ashleigh (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 9:53am

This is an extremely harsh response and for no reason. The jobs listed were examples and she left the other types of jobs pretty open ended. Seems to me you need to read a little more carefully before you jump on your keyboard to accost someone.

As this can put employers in a sticky situation, I appreciate the perspective.

Marion (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 5:36am

Whenever accepting a job offer, a candidate should never submit their resignation to a current employer prior to all background and drug tests by the new employer. An offer letter should also state the consequences to avoid a disastrous financial crisis to the employee.

Visitor (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 6:30am

Agreeing with EHRL. I have had to take drug tests for my jobs, even though the most dangerous item I wield is a pen. I, too, drink a lot so I can pee on command. I have never taken an illegal drug in my life, so I would be beyond furious if I had a job offer yanked because I had diluted pee.

throwawayname1 (not verified)December 12, 2017 - 8:11am

We had this happen once with a contractor conversion, but the employee in question wasn't a drug user as far as I knew her - but she was someone who drank a lot of water (and only water).

We just had her redo the urine test, and I advised that she drink some juice throughout the day and go first thing the next morning before she came to work (she wasn't penalized for being late). She was happy to do it and everything came back perfectly.

You should at least allow the guy to retest, IMHO. Explain to him why he needs to retest and what he can do to prevent another diluted sample.

DaddySocialWorker (not verified)December 13, 2017 - 1:30pm

It's pretty horrendous that you pulled the offer after the person had given notice solely on the basis of a negative but diluted sample. I don't support drug testing employees unless there are true safety-of-life issues that are inplicated.

Mia (not verified)April 3, 2019 - 7:11pm

Today, I was just notified of a pending job offer being rescinded 3 days before I was to report for work. Rescinded for dilute-negative.

I am someone who consumes a lot of water! I hate drugs and hate the taste of alcohol. I never heard of this dilute issue before it happened to me. I was not asked to retest. If I was asked to restest, I definitely would.

Anyway, I never experienced this issue before and did not know a urine sample could be considered dilute or an offer could be rescinded because of it. It is beyond dumb and the whole interview and onboarding process was a waste of my time.

Visitor (not verified)December 7, 2021 - 7:49pm

As someone who takes prescription medication that will not impead with the safety of my work and drinks a ton of water because of my medication, I would have been extremely angry it if it came back negative but diluted and had a job offer rescinded. I know for my case I'm protected by law due to a disability but I already feel the anger for those who don't have the same protection. As for a clean employee being willing to retake a drug test by paying out of pocket, I wouldn't, and there are reasons for that. One if a company rescinds a job offer for a negative but diluted test who's to say they would actually follow through with paying the employee back? I would need in writing that the company would pay me back and if they do not they would have to pay out of pocket for any and all legal fees attributed to filing a lawsuit against them, as well as paying me back for the drug test. Another reason is being tight on cash, not everyone has money saved up to pay for a drug test. They have bills to pay, and lastly it's offensive for someone who doesn't do drugs.