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Can a Former Employer Disclose Drug Test Information in a Background Check?

by Colleen Collins ; Updated September 26, 2017
Employers may share any job-related information about previous employees during reference checks.

Drug testing in the workplace is standard procedure for many employers. In general, as long as you have signed a release authorizing a potential employer to conduct a background check, previous employers may, in the course of a reference check discussion, disclose any past drug test information as long as their information is true.

Past Employers' References

Potential employers often contact a job applicant's past employers to verify information, such as the person's employment dates and job title. A popular misconception is that past employers are not allowed to discuss anything beyond such questions. In actuality, past employers are free to provide any information about a previous employee, as long as the information is truthful, job-related and accurate. This means an employer may discuss drug test results for a former employee.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

If you previously worked as a DOT-regulated employee, meaning you were required to submit to random drug or alcohol testing, a potential employer may, as part of its background check, confirm your past test results with DOT. Information includes positive and negative results, as well as any refusals to take a test. Additionally, most industries regulated by DOT drug and alcohol testing directives must keep previous employer drug test records availablefor three years.

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Drug Free Workplaces

There are employers who operate under federal contracts and are subject to compulsory rules for a Drug Free Workplace. These rules apply to employers who conduct business with the United States government and have contracts in excess of an established minimum dollar amount. If you apply to such a business, and sign a release for a background check, expect that previous employers will be asked to disclose any drug test information about you.

Disclosure Policies

Some companies have opted to implement a policy to either not respond to reference requests, or to restrict responses to a set of questions, typically a previous employee's date of employment, job title, and sometimes salary. Many employers are concerned that if they provide additional information, they may potentially be sued for defamation. Because of this concern, some larger employers offer references via a telephone service only, with a computerized voice confirming only employment dates and job titles.

About the Author

In 1997 Harlequin published Colleen Collins' first novel, followed by many more by Harlequin and Dorchester. Her articles and writing have appeared in "P.I. Magazine," "Pursuit Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan." She earned a B.A. in theater arts from University of California, Santa Barbara and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America.

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