Federal Employee Drug Testing- A simple guide so you never need to worry

By Sam •  Updated: 08/23/22 

Shocking fact: I have never been drug tested as a federal employee.

In fact, many federal employees are not regularly drug tested. However, if you’re considering applying for a federal job, you will want to understand all of the rules and regulations involving drug testing for federal employees.

While you would think that information on federal employee drug testing might be obvious, there are numerous rules and regulations that might apply to your specific job.

I wrote this post as an easy to understand guide to help potential federal employees understand federal employee drug testing policy and federal employee drug testing laws.

Note: A blog article is not a substitute for legal advice. Please seek legal help or union representation if you need it. Also, please seek professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues or have dependency on any substance.

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Table of Contents

Please do not confuse my personal blog for financial advice, tax advice or an official position of the U.S. Government. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.

What are the federal employment drug test laws?

You may wonder where the legal authority for the federal government drug testing policy comes from. Depending on your job, you may be covered by one of two different legal authority.

If you are a truck driver, the authority comes from the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991. This act, which covers nearly all transportation workers, covers more than just federal employees. It supersedes other federal drug testing policies where appropriate.

Omnibus transportation employee testing act of 1991 trains trucks and planes

The authority for the remainder of federal employees testing programs comes from Executive Order 12564, Drug-Free Workplace. President Ronald Reagan signed this EO in 1986. The EO prohibited illegal drug use by federal employees whether on or off duty.

Because the government performs federal employee drug testing under different authorities, the type of drug test and frequency of drug testing you might face depends upon the whether you’re a transportation employee or EO 12564 employee.

Don’t worry, in this article, I’ll explain the regulations surrounding each of these type of positions.

Do all federal agencies drug test?

While the EO 125645 applies to all federal employees, it instructed each agency to develop their own drug free workplace program.

Agencies must coordinate with the US Department of Health & Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

Therefore, most Agencies have similar drug testing policies, and test for the same drugs. However, there may be key differences on which positions require random drug testing across agencies.

Drug testing needles and spoon

I want to apply for a federal job. Will I get drug tested?

If you want to apply for a federal job, you might want to know if you need to pass a drug test. Only certain jobs, called “testing designated positions” require a pre-employment drug test.

However, you should know that Executive order 12564 applies to all federal employees. That means that all federal employees are prohibited from using illegal drugs, regardless of whether or not you are subject to random drug testing.

Understanding federal employee drug testing- “Testing Designated Positions”

Perhaps you want to apply for a federal job but are unsure if it will be randomly drug tested. Unless your job is a testing designated position (or “TDP”) you will not be subject to random drug testing or drug testing as an applicant.

SAMHSA issued guidance in 2010 on which positions should be classified as a TDP. While the ultimate authority rests with the Agency, most have followed these guidelines.

The SAMHSA guidelines break federal jobs into 3 categories based upon litigation: jobs that should be a TDP, jobs that may have a TDP, and jobs that are “disfavored” from having a TDP.

Almost certainly a TDP:

The following types of positions are almost certainly classified as a TDP

*These positions may be required to be drug tested under the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991.

Agency discretion TDP:

These types of positions are not universally required to be drug tested. However, depending on the mission of the federal agency, the government may choose to drug test these employees if there are “immediate risks
posed by incumbents using illegal drugs

These positions in the gray-area include:

Positions not covered by a TDP:

If your job does not fall under one of the two categories above, it is likely that your position does not have random drug testing. (Please note that the government can test you at any time for reasonable suspicion or a workplace accident.)

The SAMHSA guidance classifies some jobs as “specifically disfavored”. It appears that the government has lost legal challenges over whether these positions should be randomly drug tested.

Specifically disfavored positions seem like they could be a TDP but do not quite meet the legal requirements to be randomly drug tested. Examples include:

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Understanding differences in TDPs

Testing Designated Positions under the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991

Testing designated positions under Executive Order 12564

Your position description must state whether you belong to a TDP and also the conditions of your random testing.

Executive Order 12564 Drug free workplace man in jail.

What drugs does the federal government test for as part of federal employee drug testing?

Again, each Agency can establish their own drug testing policy. However, most Agencies test for the so called “SAMHSA 5”.

The SAMHSA five drugs are:

It is important to note that in addition to the SAMHSA drug test, DOT TDPs must also be tested for the presence of alcohol.

SAMHSA word art- Substance abuse and mental health services administration

Many states are now legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use. However, as a federal employee, you are still subject to EO 12564. Furthermore, marijuana is still an illegal federal drug. Therefore, regardless of the legality of marijuana in your state if you test positive for THC as a federal employee you can be in trouble.

Does federal employee drug testing test for CBD?

The SAMHSA drug test looks for THC as the marker for marijuana. In addition to states legalizing marijuana, CBD oil is also becoming popular. While there isn’t a lot of information about CBD oil on Agency webpages, I did receive an email a while ago discussing CBD oil. The Agency email stated that many CBD oils contain trace amounts of THC and that taking CBD oil may cause you to fail a drug test. It also reiterated the Agency’s believe that it was inappropriate for federal employees to consume CBD oil. I also read this very sad story of a federal employee who lost his job because of CBD. My guess is that as CBD oil becomes more popular, there will be more official Agency guidance in the future.

Update: If you are using hemp products containing Delta-8 THC you may also fail your drug test.

How does the federal government conduct federal employee drug testing?

The federal drug free workplace policy requires that urine samples be collected. However, some Agencies may also be collecting oral fluids.

If selected for a test, you will report to a testing site, provide identification and then provide a urine sample. Typically, you will be able to provide the urine sample in private unless there are extenuating circumstances. After urinating into the cup, you will return it to the technician who will divide the sample into an “A” sample and “B” sample and place the urine specimens in a sealed bag. You will be able to observe the technician placing the samples in the sealed bag and place a federal custody control form on the bag to track the chain of custody. In this way, you can be sure that your drug sample will not be swapped with someone else’s. A medical officer will then review the results provided by the testing company.

What are the cutoffs for the SAMHSA 5 drug test?

SAMHSA publishes the cutoffs for the SAMHSA 5 drug test. Note that if an initial test is positive, a confirmatory analyte will be examined. If you’re reading this section, you may wish to know if you will pass a drug test. According to my Agency’s drug policy training, the detection time for the SAMHSA 5 drugs are as follows:

Please note that the above information was provided for information use only. Your body may metabolize drugs at a different rate than listed above. Furthermore, I do not wish for anyone to try to risk their job by doing drugs.

What if I know I will fail the federal employee drug test?

If you know you will fail the federal employee drug test, some Agencies have a “safe harbor” rule. This rule allows you to declare that you have done drugs before providing your sample. (You cannot wait until your test results come back to declare safe harbor!) Safe harbor protects the employee from disciplinary action because of their disclosed substance abuse issues while they undergo a treatment program.

Your Union probably negotiated your safe harbor program if you have one. If you’re a bargaining unit employee, you may wish you reach out to your union to understand the safe harbor rules and when to invoke safe harbor.

Summary- federal employee drug testing

Hopefully this answers all of your questions about federal employee drug testing. I certainly learned a lot writing the post. I hope you learned something too. If you are suffering from drug addiction, please seek out your employee assistance program. They can help you find resources for a drug addiction treatment program.

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Sam i.e. "Gov Worker" started working for the government at age 18 and loved it so much that he never left. He started GovernmentWorkerFI in 2019 to help fellow federal employees understand their benefits, take control of their finances, and live their best lives.

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