60% of American workplaces have fully implemented drug testing policies for new employees, and nearly 30% of employers currently have random or targeted drug testing policies for existing workers. With around 10% of all drug tests coming back with false positive results, it’s no wonder that more and more people are wondering how to dispute a false positive drug test.
So that’s exactly what we’re going to do right here. We are going to explain what can trigger false positives, and how you can minimize your chances of taking anything which could trigger one.
Then we’re going to explain how you can go about disputing a drug test that comes back positive so that you stand the best chance of getting the job or keeping it.
False Positives Explained
When you take a drug test, you submit a sample that is then tested against various panels, literally reactive panels that record a negative or positive result for the substance they are designed to react to the presence of.
The problem is that they can produce false positives, where they detect something found in an illegal substance, but it’s actually the same substance found in something completely legitimate.
One of the most common historical false positives is caused by poppy seeds. Because opium is made from poppy seeds, if you were to eat enough of them then it could trigger as a false positive for opiate use. This has become less of an issue with the latest panel drug tests though, which are far more refined.
We can’t go through all of the false positive substances here, but here’s a short list to give you an idea of how easily you can get caught out:
- Methadone and PCP use results can be triggered if you have taken Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
- Amphetamine use results can be triggered if you have taken Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine)
- A positive PCP result can result if you use SNRI antidepressants
- Benzodiazepine use can be detected if you have taken Ibuprofen
- Marijuana use can be detected through hemp and CBD products
That little list is just a snapshot, there are literally dozens of legitimately used medications, alongside things like diet pills, beta-blockers, sleep aids, herbal supplements, and food products, which can generate false positive drug results.
The main thing to remember is to be honest with the lab technician when you are asked about medications or supplements you take. Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium will show up on a drug test, so always be honest about the medication you are taking. If you are taking it without a prescription though then you will have no way of arguing against a positive result. If in doubt, take the supplement or medication along with you.
Here’s What Happens When You Take A Drug Test
For most people, a pre-employment drug test should be easy and take the following course:
- You turn up at the testing location, you get checked in, and you wait.
- You’re taken into another room, there’s a questionnaire, you’ll have to show your driving license at some stage, and they might make sure you remove your bag, coat, and hat. If they are really suspicious, they might body search you, but they can’t do it thoroughly and someone else has to be present. It’s at this point you should discuss any concerns you have about supplements or medications you are taking.
- You go behind a screen, or into a completely separate room, and you pee into a cup. There’s a fill level on it, and usually a temperature strip.
- You exit and hand the cup over to the phlebotomist who records the temperature. You are then free to go.
- If it’s negative, usually within 24 hours the person who’s commissioning the test will find out the result. If it’s showing as positive for any substance after the panel drug test, it will be put through full gas chromatography – Mass spectrometry analysis to confirm the initial panel drug test result. This can take a couple of days to complete and feed the results back.
The most common type of panel drug test you’ll face is the standard five-panel test. For some jobs, for example, the Department of Transport, these can be as high as 10-panel drug tests, which look for a lot more types of narcotics and prescription medications, meaning there’s more chance for false-positive occurring.
Note that although a lot of things can trigger as showing marijuana use on a panel drug test, a lot of employees are actually moving to a four-panel drug test which excludes marijuana use.
In fact, in a lot of areas (a list which is growing), there are laws that limit an employer’s ability to rule people out for marijuana use or even to check for the presence of it during a drug test. Nevada, Maine, and New York City are major places where this already happens, and more states and municipalities are joining the list as cannabis use is increasingly legalized and tolerated.
What Happens If The Drug Test Comes Back As Positive?
So let’s say you haven’t taken any sort of drugs or other substances that you are aware of, and that simple pre-employment drug test comes back positive.
One of two situations will occur. Firstly, you will be told you are not getting the job because you failed a drug test. The second situation can occur where you are just told you have not been selected for the position, but you don’t know if it’s because of the drug test, your background check, or for some other reason. At this point, it’s important to find out why you’ve suddenly been rejected for a job that you had basically been offered subject to those things coming back okay.
The first thing you should do is to stay calm. Then you need to look at any substances that could have triggered a false positive. The clue will be in what you have tested positive for. You can Google that substance alongside “false positive drug test” to see what comes up.
Then perhaps go and see a pharmacist, or your doctor, and check that anything you are taking is not known to trigger a false positive.
Don’t just look at pharmaceutical medications either, look at all supplements you are taking, and any unusual foods or drinks you have consumed in the week leading up to the test.
As well as not panicking, it’s this information-gathering stage, trying to find what could have caused it, that is vital if you are to overturn this false-positive result.
Other things you need to think about and recall, although rare but they can happen, are:
- Coughing and sneezing can contaminate samples, was there any evidence of this at the test center?
- Were you shown the identification label and sample paperwork prior to leaving, to ensure that it was labeled up under your name correctly?
- Was the person who administered the test wearing clean lab close and fresh surgical gloves?
Whatever you find out, document it in writing, or print out evidence from reputable sources. Try and get your pharmacist to send you an email confirming your suspicions for example.
How To Dispute That False Positive Drug Test
If it’s a pre-employment drug test, many companies will let you retake the drug test, especially if you are a strong candidate they really want to hire.
You have to be aware that they can simply refuse to redo the test, as it would cost them money to do so. That’s why the more information you can show them, the more convinced they will be, and the more it will show that you are doing the right thing, and also you’re minimizing the suspicion that you are taking something illicitly.
Another step you can take, potentially before you approach your potential employer, is to contact the drug lab and inform them of your findings. Try and get an appointment to come in and speak to someone, because they could handle the process for you, making it easier.
On the job, there will be an internal grievance procedure, an appeals process, and you will also have the backup in unionized workplaces (depending on where you work) of a union to talk to. There are also state laws that can intervene at this point as well. You just need to get educated on what your options are at your place of work and residence.
If it’s on-the-job testing, and your company has more than 15 employees, then you should be aware that your employer is subject to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This states that some addictions and medication use have to be reasonably accommodated. This means they have to take conditions into account before they drug test you, and should reasonably grant leave and recuperation time for counseling, rehab, and retaking drug test.
If you are fired for drug use and you believe it’s a false positive result, you may be able to mount a legal challenge. However, if you cannot prove that anything you have taken could generate a false positive, or the company can prove its met all the safeguards of the certified testing lab and has a fully defensible workplace policy in place, then you are unlikely to succeed.
The bottom line here is that in advance of the drug test, you should look into the medications and supplements you are taking, and be careful about what you are eating in the week leading up to your drug test, that way there is a very minimal chance of ever getting caught out with a false positive that cannot be proven to be so.