Background Checks
Manage your employment screening program easily and more efficiently with GoodHire’s award-winning advanced platform.
Access our full library of content to learn about hiring trends, screening compliance, and how GoodHire works.


Guide To Urine Drug Tests

Image showing reagent strips and urine cup for urine drug tests..

Urine drug tests are an essential tool for employers to help ensure a safe and productive work environment, by identifying recent substance use and maintaining compliance with applicable laws and industry regulations. This comprehensive guide will explore the importance of urine drug testing, discuss the differences between different types of drug tests, and provide crucial information on how the testing process works, turnaround times, and maintaining compliance. 

What Is A Urine Drug Test?

A urine drug test, also know as urinalysis, is a non-invasive screening method that analyzes a candidate’s or employee’s urine sample for the presence of specific drugs or their metabolites. These tests can detect a wide range of substances, from illicit drugs like cocaine to certain prescription medications and alcohol. Urine drug tests are often used as part of pre-employment screening, random drug testing programs, and post-incident investigations.

Get A Drug Test For Employment Today

Get Started
Illustration showing GoodHires drug test option

Why Is A Urine Drug Screening Important?

Urine drug screening plays a vital role in promoting workplace safety and productivity. Substance abuse can lead to increased workplace accidents, reduced productivity, and even potential legal liability for employers. Urine drug tests for employment are an effective tool for detecting and deterring substance abuse among employees, ultimately safeguarding company assets, and supporting a drug-free workplace culture.

Furthermore, many industries and organizations are subject to federal, state, or industry-specific laws that mandate drug testing to comply with regulatory requirements and maintain a safe working environment. For example, organizations in industries such as trucking and transportation, healthcare, education, and public safety may be required to drug test. In these cases, urine drug tests can be an essential component of a company’s compliance strategy.

What Are The Differences Between Urine, Blood, Hair Follicle & Mouth Swab Saliva Drug Tests?

Urine, blood, hair follicle, and saliva are common specimen types for detecting drugs in a person’s system. Each method has its unique advantages and disadvantages when compared against each other. Most notably, urine drug test detection times range from several hours to a few days for most substances versus other types of drug tests which may have longer or shorter detection windows. 
Take a look at the following tables comparing urine vs hair follicle drug test, blood vs urine drug test, and urine versus mouth swab saliva drug tests to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Urine drug test vs hair follicle drug test 

Urine Drug TestHair Follicle Drug Test
Non-invasive and easy to administerCan detect drug use over a more extended period (up to 90 days)
Can detect a wide range of substancesLess susceptible to tampering
Cost-effective compared to blood or hair testsMore expensive and time-consuming 
Result turnaround time is relatively fastMay not detect recent drug use due to the time it takes for drugs to become incorporated into hair
Detection window ranges from hours to a few days 
Widely used by employers

Urine drug test vs blood drug test

Urine Drug TestBlood Drug Test
Non-invasive and easy to administerProvides the most accurate assessment of current impairment
Can detect a wide range of substancesCan detect drugs in the system shortly after use
Cost-effective compared to blood or hair testsMore invasive and expensive than urine tests
Result turnaround time is relatively fastResult turnaround time can be longer
Detection window ranges from hours to a few days 
Widely used by employers

Urine drug test vs mouth swab saliva tests 

Urine Drug TestMouth Swab Saliva Tests
Non-invasive and easy to administerNon-invasive and painless
Can detect a wide range of substancesQuick and easy to administer
Cost-effective Detects recent drug use
Longer detection window (hours to days) Shorter detection window (up to 48 hours)
Widely used by employersLess susceptible to tampering
More prone to tamperingLess widely used than urine tests

Get A Drug Test For Employment Today

Get Started
Illustration showing GoodHires drug test option

How Does Urine Drug Testing Work?

The urine drug testing process typically begins with the candidate visiting a certified collection site, such as a lab facility, where a trained lab technician follows a strict protocol to maintain the integrity of the sample. Before sample collection, the candidate may need to provide a chain of custody form (CCF), proof of identification, empty their pockets, and remove any outer clothing that could be used to tamper with the sample.

The candidate is then provided with a specimen cup to collect a urine sample in a designated and secure restroom. During this time, the collector may take measures to prevent tampering, such as adding a bluing agent to the toilet water or turning off faucets to prevent dilution of the sample. After the candidate collects the sample, the collector can check the temperature of the specimen to verify its integrity, and place a tamper-evident seal on the container.

The sample is then sent to the lab for analysis, where it undergoes initial screening using immunoassay technology. If the screening test returns a positive result, a confirmation that a drug is present, another method is used to test the urine to definitively identify and quantify the presence of specific drugs or their metabolites.

For a urine drug test for employment, different drug panels can test for various drugs and their metabolites, with 5-panel urine drug tests, 9-panel urine drug tests, and 10-panel urine drug tests being typical options. Depending on the specific drug panel used in the test, what can be detected in a urine test includes various substances such as:

  • Illicit drugs such as cocaine, marijuana (THC), amphetamines, methamphetamine, and opioids
  • Prescription medications like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and certain painkillers
  • Synthetic drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids (Spice, K2) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts)
  • Alcohol

How long alcohol can stay in your urine for a drug test may vary depending on the individual’s metabolism, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the specific urine test used. Traditional urine tests for alcohol can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 12 hours after consumption. However, EtG (ethyl glucuronide) urine testing, which detects alcohol metabolites, can identify alcohol use for up to 5 days after consumption.

Get A Drug Test For Employment Today

Get Started
Illustration showing GoodHires drug test option

How Long Does It Take To Get Results Back?

The time it takes for a urine drug test result to come back can vary depending on the type of test, the substances screened for, and the laboratory’s workload. Generally, negative test results are often available within 24 to 48 hours, while positive test results that require confirmatory testing may take up to 72 hours or more. Urine drug test results time frame can also be impacted by how long it takes for the urine drug test to be sent to the lab – any potential delays in testing due to laboratory workload may impact turnaround time.

For organizations that conduct drug testing, you might want to know, how long does a urine drug test take and what can help speed the process? Urine drug testing can take 2-3 days or longer, depending on how your program is implemented, which substances you’re testing for, and what method you’re using. Employers should consider the time it takes from when you initiate the drug test to when your candidate completes the forms and schedules the test. Working with a professional background check provider, like GoodHire, simplifies many workflows, such as candidate consent, chain of custody forms, and selection of nearby lab locations, helping to streamline employment urine drug screen programs and shortening the time it takes to get results back. 

Urine Drug Testing Laws To Know

Employers in the United States should consider several federal and state drug testing laws when developing an employment urine drug testing program, including:

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): Employers who partner with a consumer reporting agency (CRA) for drug testing must comply with the FCRA. Under this federal law, employers must provide a candidate with proper disclosure of their intent to conduct a pre-employment background check (including drug testing), receive written consent from the candidate, and follow the adverse action process should they decide not to hire the candidate based on the results of a background check (including drug test results).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: This provision prohibits employers from using drug testing in a discriminatory fashion against people in protected classes, including race, sex, religion, or nationality. 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those with a history of substance abuse or in recovery, as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs. Employers must perform drug testing in a non-discriminatory manner and adhere to ADA regulations. 

Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act: This Act requires certain federal contractors and grantees to implement a drug-free workplace policy, which includes establishing a drug-free awareness program and taking disciplinary action against employees convicted of a workplace drug violation. 

State and local drug testing laws: Employers should familiarize themselves with drug testing laws specific to their state, as regulations can vary. Some states may have additional requirements for employee drug testing, restrictions on random testing, or protections for medical marijuana users.

Industry-specific drug testing regulations: Employers in specific industries, such as transportation, healthcare, and child care, might be subject to additional drug testing requirements outlined by federal or state regulatory agencies.

To ensure compliance with all applicable drug testing laws, employers should consult with their legal counsel before implementing a drug testing program. Partnering with a trusted third-party provider, like GoodHire, can help employers navigate the complexities of drug testing laws and support a legally compliant drug testing program.

Get A Drug Test For Employment Today

Get Started
Illustration showing GoodHires drug test option

How Employers Can Run Urine Drug Tests

To implement a compliant urine drug testing program, employers should have a written drug testing policy in place, outlining the specific testing procedures, the consequences for failing or refusing a test, and applicable state and federal regulations. 

Employers should consider the type and frequency of drug tests they want to conduct. This may include pre-employment testing, post-incident testing, random testing, and periodic testing. Employers should also decide which substances they want to screen for, as different drug panels can test for various drugs and their metabolites. It’s essential to consult with legal counsel to ensure that the selected drug testing approach follows federal, state, and industry-specific laws and regulations.

Furthermore, communication to employees about the drug testing policy is crucial. Employers should readily provide information regarding the reasons for testing, the consequences of failed tests, and resources available for employees who may need help with substance abuse issues. A transparent and well-communicated policy can help foster a safer, healthier, and more compliant workplace environment.

Companies can partner with a trusted third-party provider, like GoodHire, for assistance in conducting legally compliant drug tests and maintaining documentation of the testing process.

To learn more about how your organization can implement a robust and compliant drug testing program, talk to our sales associates, or get started today.


The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.