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The Physical Exam and Drug Screening


After a job offer has been made, (or if you are returning to work) you may be required to take a pre-employment physical exam or a drug screening if the test is given to all applicants for the job.

After the examination, the physician provides a written opinion about your suitability for performing the job without health and safety risk to yourself or others. The doctor is not supposed to disclose any medical condition.

You can refuse to take the exam or the test, but you will probably not get the job if you do.

The Physical Exam

  • Pre-employment physicals are generally not complete physical exams. Instead they are limited to assessing medical conditions that may affect your ability to safely perform the job requirements, with or without job modifications (accommodations.)
  • The nature and scope of the physical exam will depend on the job for which you are applying,including physical requirements and potential exposures to hazardous materials. For example, jobs that require use of personal protective equipment, such as respiratory protection, often include a breathing test as part of the pre-placement exam. Interstate trucking companies usually require a physical exam and a urinary test for drugs. (See the next section.)
  • If the exam will reveal a physical disability or a recent treatment, be prepared to explain why you are capable of performing the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation. (To learn more about the importance of being able to perform the essential functions of a job, and getting an accommodation to help do that work, click here.)

Pre-employment Drug Tests Are Only Given For Illegal Drugs 

  • The tests do not look to determine if you are taking medication prescribed by a doctor. For example, the tests look for marijuana (both cannabis and hash), cocaine, opiates such as heroin, opium and morphine, PCPs, and amphetamines. This is even in states in which marijuana may be legal for medical use.
  • Expanded tests can look for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone and propoxyphene.

Types Of Tests

  • Pre-employment drug tests used by employers include urinalysis (examination of urine), blood or hair tests. The tests don't measure the amount of a drug in your system -- only whether it is present.
  • The most common type of drug test is a urine test. It detects drugs used up to a week earlier, and in some drugs even up to 30 days earlier. It's difficult to know how long a drug remains in your system because it is different for each person depending on your metabolism, frequency of use, potency of the drug in question and hydration -- among other variables.

You Can Test Yourself

  • To get an idea about what a test would show, there are home test kits available. We have never used any of the tests and do not express an opinion about their reliability. An example of a home test kit is located at: offsite link

It Is Not Recommended That You Try To Fool A Test.

  • If you do try to fool the test and get away with it, you can be terminated later when you least expect it. Test samples can be stored indefinitely - and tested or retested later. Technology moves on. What may not be apparent under current test standards, may be easily visible later. 
  • As a general matter, there is no statute of limitations with respect to fraud. It can be brought up at any time.

If You Test Positive For A Drug

  • You will be asked to show proof of a legal prescription.
  • It's your responsibility to clear up any positive results before they are sent to the employer.
  • You have to be honest in your response. You do not have to disclose your health condition or history, or any medications you're taking for it.

If You Have HIV/AIDS And You Are Taking Sustiva

  • Certain urine tests will show a positive result for marijuana in error if you take a drug known as Sustiva.
  • If this happens to you, ask for another brand of urine test to confirm the result.
  • If you still fail the test, you can explain about your health status and the effects of Sustiva. For information about disclosing your health condition to your employer, click here.

To Learn More

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