How To Choose the Right Test Type For Your Drug Screening Program

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Employers who are building a drug testing program might be overwhelmed with the options available to them. Should you test before you hire or after? Is random testing needed? What are the costs and effectiveness of the different types of tests?

In this blog, we will explore the various drug testing request types and the different drug testing specimens that are available to employers. We hope that this information can help you make a decision on choosing the right test type for your screening program.

Drug Testing Request Types

There are various reasons why an organization conducts drug screens on employees or prospective employees. Those hiring for safety-sensitive positions in the transportation or manufacturing industry have federal regulations that they need to follow. Other employers may be working on a program to help increase employee productivity and safety in the workplace or are trying to keep healthcare costs down. Here is a breakdown of the different drug testing request types:

  • Pre-Employment Testing – This is the most common drug test type. This is usually conducted once a conditional offer of employment has been made to the candidate. Drug testing pre-hire helps protect the employer from hiring an active drug user. Often, a negative drug test is required before a candidate begins work. In some industries, this is mandatory and regulated by the federal government.
  • Random Testing – Random drug tests can be a good way to deter employees from active drug use, because it is done unannounced. Employers should consider utilizing a random selection process, which will eliminate biases when selecting amongst employees. Additionally, this means that all employees will have an equal chance of being selected.
  • Post-Accident Testing – When an employee is involved in a workplace accident, a drug test is often administered after the accident. This is done to determine if drugs or alcohol were a contributing factor. It is important that employers establish objective criteria for how and when testing will occur and determine if there are regulatory guidelines to follow in their industry.
  • Reasonable Suspicion / Reasonable Cause Testing – When an employee is suspected of drug or alcohol use, an employer can generally perform a drug test based on reasonable suspicion. For example, this could be a suspicion based on direct observation by a manager, or other employees. Specific reasons to test may include physical evidence of illicit substances, abnormal behaviors, confusion, or an inability to perform job functions.
  • Return to Duty / Follow-Up Testing – This is performed when an employee who has previously tested positive for illicit substances or has violated a company’s drug and alcohol policy is seeking to return to their duties. Testing is often done at a scheduled time and in accordance with a drug and/or alcohol abatement program.

Choosing the right drug test type and specimen

When developing a drug-testing program, employers will want to build their program based on what is appropriate for their business needs. There are many factors to consider, including the type of workforce, industry, and the distribution of facilities. For instance, those in the transportation industry will need to follow strict regulatory guidelines for both the request type and specimen type.

  • Urine Testing – The most common method of testing is urine, with its proven methodology. Urine testing can detect recent or new drug use within a few days. It is suitable for all testing reasons and detects the broadest variety of drugs. Currently, urine testing is the only specimen type-approved for federally regulated drug testing.
  • Oral Fluid Testing – The second most common testing method utilized by employers. With this method, a saliva sample is used to detect recent drug use in the previous one to three days. Oral fluid testing is suitable for all testing reasons and is particularly useful for detecting recent marijuana use.
  • Hair Testing – This method is very robust and includes a large detection window. The test can detect a pattern of repetitive use as far back as ninety days. Although it is good for detecting drug use in a large window of time, it is not recommended for reasonable suspicion or post-accident testing, as you want to detect the drug use quite close to the time of the workplace incident.
  • Instant Testing – A convenient, on-site drug test that uses a variety of products and provides rapid results. These are available for both urine and oral fluid specimens. Employers need to be aware that although they provide fast results, they are not always specific. Therefore, they can yield false-positive results. Employers will typically need to provide confirmation testing with a laboratory to eliminate these false-positive results.

Choosing the Right Test and Specimen Type

When it comes to choosing a drug testing type and specimen, the decision largely depends on if your organization is federally regulated or not. Companies that are subject to federal regulations, such as the U. S. Department of Transportation, must use urine as their specimen. Non-federally regulated companies may generally use the specimen of choice based on their own specific drug-free workplace program guidelines. Companies that have safety-sensitive employees, such as drivers or operators of equipment, may want to test on a regular basis.  Other risk-averse employers may opt to test pre-hire only. For a closer look into building a drug screening program that is a good fit for your organization, read our comprehensive eBook on Building an Effective Drug Testing Program.



HireRight is a leading provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug and health screening, and electronic Form I-9 and E-Verify solutions that help employers automate, manage and control background screening and related programs.

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