Navigating the Complex Landscape of Workplace Cannabis Testing:
A Guide for Employers

Navigate employer based drug testing and ensure your compare is setup for success

In today’s modern workplace, employers conduct drug testing to join the company, and other companies periodically test employees at various times or work scenarios, including testing for cannabis use. This guide aims to provide employers with the necessary information and strategies to navigate a cannabis test that successfully balances a safe workplace with your employees’ fair and ethical treatment. Since many states have different laws, please consult your legal department on the statutes to ensure your company and HR policy, including testing, abide by all state and local laws.

Understanding Employer Cannabis Tests

Drug screening is often necessary to ensure a safe workplace but many issues can arise regarding privacy, safety, and compliance. Most employees will comply with a drug test, and as an HR or company official, your job is to make the process as painless as possible.

Due to changing cannabis laws, some employers have banned testing for marijuana and are not testing for some scenarios, such as pre-employment testing, especially in the state of the California and Washington. As an employer, you have the right to drug test employees to ensure workplace safety, but sometimes, out of fear of being sued or finding it challenging to conduct unbiased tests, employers may second-guess their employer rights. 

Each testing method has its pros and cons, but there has been a shift in the drug testing mindset to test for recent use and not past use. With recent advances, the saliva test detects recent use over the last 8-10 hours. This testing method overlaps best with the cannabis impairment window because THC is only in the saliva for up to 10 hours at certain levels, and after these 10 hours, THC remains in trace elements. However, the psychoactive molecule of the delta-9 THC metabolizes in the body and breaks down into THC-COOH, which is an inactive metabolite in the urine, which is detectable in urine-based testing after marijuana use from 3+ hours up to 30 days. Therefore, urine detects past use of cannabis. 

An educated employer should ask what does your company wants to measure.

Do want to measure recent use or past use and then determine which test to utilize?


Methods of Cannabis Testings

Rapid Testing – a portable device with disposable collection kits that can take a sample quickly with an automated workflow to analyze it onsite and provide results within 15 minutes.

Lab-Based Testing: The sample is collected and sent by mail or transported directly to a local or centralized lab. The results typically take 2-5 days to analyze and furnish a report.C

Click this link to read more about Comparing Drug Testing Methods.

Collection Specimen Types of Cannabis Tests

Urine Test — Rapid and Lab-based testing
Saliva tests — Rapid and Lab-based testing
Blood tests — Lab-based testing
Hair tests — Lab-based testing

Preparing for an Employer Cannabis Test

Know Your Rights — Company Policies

1. Familiarize yourself with your rights as an employer regarding drug testing.

2. Seek legal advice to ensure your HR policy or methods are up-to-date or if you need clarification on whether your company complies with all state laws.

3. Understand your HR policy, employee handbook, and any other official HR, risk, and legal documents that your company carries regarding cannabis use and disclosure.

4. Clarify the risks and costs of conducting drug testing on-site, through a specimen collections specialist, or sending an employee to the drug testing facility.

Familiarize yourself with local and federal laws on cannabis use and employment rights. Please consult your legal and compliance department to clarify your employer’s drug policy and any applicable regulations. Click this link to read the article called Navigating the Complex Landscape of Workplace Cannabis Testing: A Guide for Employers.

Workplace Testing Scenarios

Pre-Employment Testing
Pre-employment drug testing is a common practice where employers screen potential employees for substance use. The primary consideration here is legality; employers must ensure their testing procedures comply with federal, state, and local laws, which can vary significantly. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) suggests that employers design these policies to focus on safety and productivity, effectively communicating all the policies and methods to potential, new, and existing hires. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines recommend consistent testing to avoid discrimination claims.

Random Testing
Random drug testing can deter substance use among employees by selecting individuals for testing without prior notice. The critical consideration for employers is to ensure the selection process is genuinely random, without any bias towards certain employees, to avoid allegations of discrimination. The Department of Transportation (DOT) provides a model for random testing programs, which non-DOT-regulated employers can adapt for their use. Employers should consult legal counsel to ensure their random testing program aligns with current laws and regulations.

Upon-Suspicion Testing
When fellow employees of supervisors observe signs of unusual behavior, HR often initiates a policy called reasonable suspicion, otherwise called upon suspicion, which includes drug testing to confirm if the unusual behavior is due to drug or alcohol use. Training supervisors to recognize these signs is crucial, as is documenting observations that lead to testing. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers guidelines for implementing a reasonable suspicion testing program, emphasizing the importance of training and documentation to protect the employer and employee’s rights.

Post-Accident Testing
Post-accident testing is conducted after a workplace accident or incident to determine if drugs or alcohol are a contributing factor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance cautioning employers against using drug testing (or the threat of drug testing) as a form of retaliation against employees who report injuries or illnesses. Employers must balance identifying and addressing substance-related incidents with encouraging reporting and maintaining a safety culture.

To learn more about detection windows between oral fluid vs. urine and why saliva is the best test for employers to ensure workplace safety. Click the link to understand your options as an employer. Please click link to read the article, A Hybrid Approach for Employer Drug Testing to Elevate Safety & Retain Employees


1. Plan your cannabis or drug test accordingly to ensure that you have enough time to get the results documented so the employee can be onboard effectively.
2. Consider temporarily abstaining from cannabis use during periods of employment uncertainty or drug testing.

Collection Methods…loyers-consumers/Perform the testing yourself or have your supervisor execute an on-site rapid urine or oral fluid test. Results take about 15 minutes, depending on the test.  These tests can vary in accuracy, but you are available to get rapid results and do not have to wait a couple of days anxiously.  

Contact the specimen collection specialist in your area, who typically charges at least $75 per test per employee. These friendly folks can perform the test in 15 minutes, pack the sample properly, and send it to a local lab for analysis. The results take 2-3 days.

Send the employee to a test at a local lab like Quest or LabCorp. Typically, the employee books an appointment, and you provide a QR code or the lab test number to trigger payment. The tests usually range from $50-$100 per test per employee, and it takes about 15 minutes to collect the specimen, and results take 2-3 days.

For more information on the pros and cons of using such a testing method, please read this article, How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?

Post-Test Considerations

Test Result Interpretation
Understand the potential outcomes and implications of a positive or negative test result.
Ensure your HR representatives can discuss the test results in a non-judgemental manner to address any employee concerns or questions.

Monitoring and Retesting
Investigate substitution methods, such as synthetic urine or another person’s urine sample.
Be aware of any follow-up testing or monitoring that may occur.
Comply with any additional testing requirements to maintain your employment.

Professional Reputation
Maintain a professional attitude and conduct during the testing process.
Be mindful of the potential impact of your cannabis use on your professional reputation.

Real-Life Example Drug Testing - Employer Perspective

To shed light on how drug tests work for employees, please read this article, Navigate an Employer Cannabis Test for Employers.  Below is one example of many employee perspectives on administering an employer-based drug test.

Recently, a 55-year-old HR veteran was so excited to provide an offer to a promising candidate who was early in her career but brimmed with so much potential.  She begrudgingly told the new hire she needed a drug test and asked, “Is this going to cause you any issues completing in the next two weeks?”  The candidate responded with a quick “Yes” and continued, “When would be the best time.”  

The HR representative said she would schedule it this week if she could, and they found a convenient time.  She mentioned that she could come in to perform it, or if she felt more comfortable, she could schedule it with Quest closer to her house. The candidate said she would prefer to take the test at Quest but was open to coming into the office to perform it.  The HR person said, “It would be great if you could go in now because there are several papers to sign, and we could get the test out of the way simultaneously, and if you have time, we can grab a quick bite.  The candidate said that would be great.  

During the test day, the candidate met the HR rep at reception and came to her office.  She already had all the paperwork on her desk and said take your time and let me know if you have any questions.  She checked her passport and other documents and set up the drug test materials.  She mentioned that before we were used to the urine test, which was a pain, and often the test was not very accurate.  At this company, we have a strong culture of safety, and we pride our reputation in the industry with very few accidents and an excellent track record of manufacturing great products.  Therefore, we are now using this saliva test, which tests for various drugs, including cannabis.  “Any issues with the test….please sign this to consent to this test.”  In some states, pre-employment testing is illegal, but in our state, it is not.  We also conduct random, upon suspicion, and post-accident drug tests to ensure a high safety standard so you or your peers do not get hurt on-site.

Before her first day, human resources welcomed her warmly but told her she needed to get tested for a routine drug test. After hearing the news, she wasn’t surprised because she heard from a peer and on the glass door that this was standard practice. However, anxiety mounted as she suddenly remembered that about a week ago, the host offered her edibles and liquid tinctures to spice up her wine.  She popped one gummy and was not sure what the dosage was and added a tincture of THC to her drink.  After about an hour, she felt happy and lighter on her feet.  Since she was unsure what the dosage was, she was uncertain how long it would last and decided to sleep it off at her friend’s house, leaving her car parked in her friend’s driveway.  

Suddenly, her mind went down a spiral, looking up frantically on how to beat a drug, triggering her to buy fake urine from a stranger, consider sneaking a clean urine sample in her pant link to the testing site, and ponder alternatives to pass this drug screening.  She was not a deceitful person, but she was scared and did not want to lose this opportunity.  Ultimately, she was qualified, could do the job on day 1 with her vast experience, and was excited about this transition. However, this extra hoop provided so much anxiety and led to all this sneaking around, causing so much stress.  In the end, although she considered it, she decided to wait two more weeks to take the test and delayed her start date, costing her two weeks of pay.  The employer agreed, and she took the test on Wednesday.  She spent the next two days worrying if she passed the test, and then on Friday, the test results showed that she had passed and confirmed her start date with HR and her supervisor.   

Ultimately, what was supposed to be a happy situation turned into a stressful three weeks. She regretted going to that party and would have preferred simply electing to push her start date by two weeks and possibly take some time off before starting her new job. If only the employer had a better method of testing that tests for recent use and not past use, clarifying if the individual could do the job today, not a week ago.

For additional information on THC metabolism and how long THC stays in your system, please read the article, How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?


Implementing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace requires a careful balance of legal compliance, safety, and respect for employee privacy and rights. Employers must stay informed of the evolving legal landscape and adapt their policies accordingly, ensuring they are clear, consistent, and communicated to all employees. By considering the above mentioned factors and seeking legal counsel when necessary, employers can develop a comprehensive approach to workplace drug and alcohol testing that supports a safe, productive, and fair work environment.  For additional benefits and realize the value of Recent Cannabis Use testing, please click the link for the article, The Benefits & Value of Recent Cannabis Use Testing.


1. American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):
2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
3. Department of Transportation (DOT):
4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
5. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

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