What Happens if You Fail a Drug Test

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The consequences for failing a drug test vary based on the reason for the test. In general, most people taking a drug test do so at the request of an employer or a police officer. The repercussions for failing a workplace drug test are drastically different from failing a drug test for a criminal investigation.

Generally speaking, a person asked to take a drug test by an employer will either get fired, or not get hired if it was a pre-employment drug test. On the other hand, a person taking a drug test as part of DUI investigation or as part of a probation or parole agreement may face criminal penalties that vary by state.

Can You Refuse to Take a Drug Test?

Whether you can refuse to take a drug test depends on why you are taking the test. When it comes to employer-based drug tests, you can always refuse to take the drug test, but the consequences will likely be the same as if you failed the test, meaning the company will either not hire you or will fire you if you are already an employee.

If you are asked to take a drug test for a crime-related purpose, you may be legally required to take the test. All states have implied consent driving laws, meaning that you must take a breathalyzer or drug test if asked to do so by a police officer who believes you have been driving under the influence. Technically you can refuse to take one of these tests, but you will be breaking the law and as a result, you may face additional penalties or your refusal may be treated the same as a failure, depending on the state.

If you are on probation or parole, you most likely signed a document agreeing to take drug tests. Whether you were asked to take a drug test because you were suspected of driving under the influence or because you were on probation or parole, you cannot legally refuse a drug test, and doing so will either be considered the same as failing a drug test or subject you to additional penalties, depending on your state.

Read More: What Is a Non DOT Drug Test?

How Long Does a Failed Drug Test Stay on Your Driving Record?

For the most part, a failed drug test ends up on your driving record only if it was related to a DUI or if you work in a position regulated by the Department of Transportation, such as aviation, trucking, railroads and mass transit. How long a DUI stays on your record varies by state. In most states, DUIs stay on your record for 10 years, but some states leave DUI violations on your record longer. Tennessee, for example, never removes DUIs from driving records.

If you fail or refuse a drug test related to a job regulated by the DOT, that will stay on your driving record for three years.

Is it a Crime to Fail a Drug Trust?

When taking a drug test for a DUI investigation or as part of your parole or probation, failing a drug test isn't a crime in itself, but is, however, evidence that you violated a law – in these cases, driving under the influence or violating parole or probation. If you fail a drug test given by an employer, it is usually illegal for the company to send the results to law enforcement agencies, due to privacy laws. Even if you work in a field regulated by the DOT and the company reports your failed drug test to the DMV, the employer still cannot report it to the police.

What Do Employers Look for in a Drug Test?

Generally speaking, employers use drug tests to see if applicants or employees have been using illegal drugs or alcohol. While it may not be illegal to use alcohol or prescription drugs, employers may still want to know if an employee was intoxicated at work, particularly if he works in a field where his intoxication could put himself or others at risk or if a workplace accident already took place.

The most common employer drug test is the five-panel urine test, which screens for marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines and opiates. Employers may also use other tests, such as a more comprehensive ten-panel urine test, a hair follicle test that can look at the last 90 days of drug use, a minimally invasive cheek swab test, a blood test that screens for alcohol and drugs, or a breathalyzer that screens only for alcohol.


  • The consequences of a failed drug test vary based on the reasons for taking the test.