Company Drug Testing and Background Checks: What to Expect When Hired for a New Job

company-drug-testingYou've been screened, selected and interviewed, and now you've landed the job. Congratulations. But before you can start, your new employer wants you to undergo a drug test and background check.

What should you expect when you take a drug test and get background-checked for a new job?

Know Your Rights About Drug Testing and the Law

The last thing you want to do when starting a new job is to seem difficult and refuse to take a drug test. But the fact is, federal and state laws are a bit wobbly about the procedure, and these tests are not always legal.

For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that both blood and urine collection are minimally intrusive procedures that are not harmful to job applicants when they are conducted in a private environment such as a doctor's office without direct observation by the tester. That means it's usually an invasion of your privacy if your employer requires you to provide a urine sample while other people are in the room watching.

In some cases, such as when the employer is concerned that a job applicant might tamper with a sample, it's legal for an employer to allow one other person of the same sex in the room when the sample is given.

While state laws vary on drug testing by employers, there is a federal law that governs the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 says that any employer that receives federal grants or contracts must be drug-free, or it risks losing its federal funding. But the act doesn't contain any provisions that specifically allow for workplace drug testing.

Where does that leave you? The realistic approach is to accept that during the job-hunting process you should live a healthy lifestyle and be prepared for your new employer to ask you to be tested. And remember, it's not personal. Over 60% of U.S. employers had some sort of drug testing program in place in 2004, according to the American Management Association.

A great place to learn the full story is this drug testing fact sheet published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Brace Yourself for a Background Check

OK, so the drug test is completed and you're squeaky clean. That's great! Now are you ready for a background check?

Yes, many companies now screen job candidates' backgrounds, and in some cases screening is required by federal or state law. Security jobs, for example, require background checks--and fingerprinting.

Again, it's best to take a realistic approach and think about what employers will find out about you if they go digging. Keep in mind that more and more companies now hire private companies specializing in background checks to do the screening work for them.

Expect the search to be thorough. How's your credit report? Ever been arrested? Did you earn all the degrees you've claimed to earn on your resume? What comes up on the first page when you Google yourself?

And do you have a right to know when an employer requests a background check on you?

"Yes," says the nonprofit consumer organization Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "Amendments to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 USC §1681 et seq.), in effect September 30, 1997, increase the disclosure and consent requirements of employers who use consumer reports."

And now finally, the last step: Relax. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, and think about anything your new employer might find and practice the well-crafted, thoughtful and diplomatic response you might give if any questions come up. Politicians with national public profiles do it all the time, and so can you.

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