Are Federal Employees Drug Tested? [Revealing the Truth]

The good news is that a total of 30 states, plus Washington D.C., have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Oklahoma is the latest state to join the party after its citizens approved the medical marijuana measure, State Question No. 788, in June 2018. Unfortunately, federal employees have to keep their hands out of the weed cookie jar because it remains illegal.

A 30+ Year Regulation

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed an Executive Order which stated that the federal workplace must remain a ‘drug-free’ zone. It came at the height of his failed ‘War on Drugs.’ In Executive Order 12564, Reagan wrote that drug use had significant negative effects on a large percentage of the national workforce. The result was billions of dollars of lost productivity annually.

According to the order:

  • All federal employees have to refrain from using illegal drugs.
  • Using illegal drugs runs “contrary to the efficiency” of the federal service.
  • You are not suitable for federal employment if you use illegal drugs.

On the plus side, the Order also stated that employees who voluntarily look for rehabilitation or counseling after taking drugs would not be disciplined, as long as they steered clear from illegal drugs in the future.

The Drug-Free Workplace Act 1988

Following hot on the heels of the Executive Order came the Drug-Free Workplace Act, just two years later. It stated that some federal contractors and all federal grantees agreed to ensure drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a grant or contract from any federal agency. It only applies to firms with contracts worth $100,000 or more.

Here are some of the Act’s provisions:

  • Establishing a drug-free awareness program.
  • Preparing and distributing a drug-free workplace policy statement.
  • Ensuring that every employee understands their reporting obligations.
  • Notifying a federal contracting agency of an employee’s criminal drug conviction within ten days of gaining this knowledge.
  • All employees must inform their organization of any drug-related conviction within five calendar days.

What Can Federal Employees Expect in a Drug Test?

There are a lot of organizations involved in federal employee drug testing. SAMHSA administers the program, but there is also policy oversight by a number of bodies including the Department of Justice, Department of Human and Health Services, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

If you intend on joining the four million+ federal employee workforce, you must pass a urine test at the very least. If you’re applying for a high-ranking position that involves access to sensitive information, expect to take both urine and hair follicle tests.

Expect to receive an email with your appointment time and the address of the test location, usually with no more than two days’ notice. When you show up, you must provide a state or federal-issued photo ID and fill out paperwork. Prospective employees who take opioids must bring the bottles with them and explain that you have a prescription.

Next, you’ll be asked to lift your shirt and your pant legs to ensure you have not tried to smuggle clean urine in. Then you’ll receive a cup and be told to fill it to a certain line. As you’ve already been checked for fake pee, you should be given a little privacy in a private booth. Finally, hand the sample to the administrator. Do not flush the toilet or place a lid on the cup. You will receive your results in 3-5 days.

As you probably know, the drug test looks for THC metabolites (THC-COOH) in your urine. At the time of writing, the initial drug cut-off level is 50 nanograms per milliliter(ng/mL). If you test positive, a gas chromatography mass-spectrometry test will be used to confirm the sample. In this instance, you are deemed to ‘fail’ if your urine contains 15 ng/ml of THC metabolites.

Change is in the Air

To be fair, it is not just marijuana that is on the federal employee banned list. As well as the usual suspects such as cocaine and heroin, the government is cracking down on opioid use amongst federal employees. On October 1, 2017, new federal mandatory guidelines for drug testing became effective. It provided the authority to test for four semi-synthetic opioids: Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Oxymorphone. You may know them by their brand names such as Vicodin and OxyContin.

Federal employees must provide evidence that they have a legitimate medical reason for using these drugs, accompanied by a valid prescription. Failure to prove this information could be grounds for dismissal. It is an interesting development and a clear sign that the government has finally become concerned about the opioid epidemic.

In the meantime, there could be great news for marijuana users who, up until now, have had no chance of landing a federal job. In July 2018, Democrat Party Congressman Charlie Crist introduced the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act; it was co-sponsored by Republican Party Congressman Drew Ferguson.

According to the bill, the government would no longer be able to deny employment or dismiss existing employees who tested positive for marijuana in states where it is legal. It contains a number of reasonable provisions which means it has a chance of being passed into law. For example, it will not apply to federal employees with access to classified information or highly sensitive programs. Also, it will not protect individuals believed to be under the influence of weed at work.

So, What’s the Conclusion?

If Crist’s bill passes, all federally-funded employers would have to respect state’s rights with regards to marijuana. The legislation would ensure that federal employers would treat weed in a similar manner to alcohol consumption. If you have a prescription or live in a state where marijuana is legal recreationally, you will be able to use it while off-duty.

Until such a time comes as the bill gets passed, however, federal employment is off-limits for marijuana users. It is a rule based on outdated information and, hopefully, common sense will prevail.

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