Can I be fired for refusing to take a drug test?

Question:

I work at a manufacturing plant. After a couple of accidents on the line in the past few months, the company decided to start a drug testing program. They announced the policy and handed out information on it; two months from now, they will start random drug tests. I occasionally smoke marijuana on the weekend, but it doesn't affect my work performance. I'm never high at work, and I wasn't involved in either of the accidents. Can they require me to take a drug test? What happens if I say no?

Answer:

The legality of drug testing depends on state law. Generally speaking, private employers are not required to test employees for drugs or alcohol. However, state laws typically allow employers to drug test employees, at least in some situations.

About half of the states have laws that directly address drug tests. In general, employers may require employees to submit to drug testing under certain circumstances. However, each state law varies in the details, such as how much notice an employer must give if it plans to start a drug testing program, the procedures the employer must follow in taking and testing samples, and the rights of employees who test positive.

The circumstances in which drug testing is allowed are also set by state law. A few states prohibit employers from random drug testing, but allow testing in other situations. In these states, an employer might need to have a reasonable suspicion of drug use, or it may be allowed to test only employees in safety-sensitive positions. To find out what your state allows and prohibits, select it from the list at State Laws on Drug Testing.

If your state's law allows your employer to test for drugs, then it allows your employer to fire you for refusing to submit to a test. Your employer can't force you to take a test by, for example, physically restraining you in order to draw a blood sample. However, it can require you to take a drug test as a condition of employment. In other words, if you want to keep your job, you'll have to take the test.

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