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Can My California Employer Ask Me to Take a Drug or Alcohol Test?


If your employer or prospective employer asked you to undergo drug or alcohol testing, you might be wondering, “Does my employer have a right to test me for drugs or alcohol?

Unlike most other states, California has its own constitution that recognizes residents’ right to privacy. The California constitutional right to privacy (Article 1, Section 1) extends to both government and private-sector employees.

While your employer may violate your rights to privacy by asking you to undergo drug or alcohol testing, it does not mean that all drug/alcohol testing is illegal. Under certain circumstances, your employer or prospective employer (if you are a job applicant) can lawfully test you for alcohol or drugs.

If you believe that your employer discriminated against you or violated your right to privacy by requiring you to pass a drug or alcohol test, consult with a Los Angeles employee privacy & rights attorney as soon as possible. Our knowledgeable employment attorneys at Obagi Law Group P.C., will review your particular situation to determine the legality of the drug or alcohol test.

Does Federal Law Prohibit Employers from Testing Employees for Drugs and Alcohol?

Federal law does not prohibit drug and alcohol tests by employers. What’s more, the federal government requires testing for certain safety-sensitive occupations (49 CFR § 655.42). Pre-employment drug testing is mandatory in the following industries:

  • Department of Defense
  • Aviation
  • Transportation
  • NASA

Can California Employers Require Job Applicants to Take a Drug/Alcohol Test?

It is not uncommon for employers to ask job applicants to take a drug and/or alcohol test as a condition of employment. But does drug screening violate the job applicant’s right to privacy?

California courts have previously held that employers may lawfully require prospective employees to undergo drug and alcohol testing as a condition of employment.

The only exception is when an employer singles out certain job applicants based on race, national origin, color, disability, or another protected characteristic. In that case, the job applicant may be able to sue the employer for discrimination.

California also has the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows residents to use cannabis for medical purposes. To be protected under the Compassionate Use law, residents must be able to provide a doctor’s written recommendation for medical marijuana use. However, California courts have held that employers may refuse to hire job seekers who test positive for marijuana even if the applicant has a valid prescription.

Can California Employers Require Employees to Take a Drug/Alcohol Test?

When it comes to determining the legality of a requested drug or alcohol test for employees, courts consider two things:

  1. The employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy; and
  2. The employer’s reason for requiring the employee to pass a test

Typically, if an employer has a reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired by alcohol or drugs, they can lawfully require that employee to take a drug or alcohol test. However, reasonable suspicion must be based on concrete facts.

Since California employment law does not establish any specific testing procedures, employers often adopt their own drug/alcohol testing policies.

If your employer asked you to take a drug/alcohol test, contact our Los Angeles employment law attorneys to discuss your particular situation. Our lawyers at Obagi Law Group P.C., are dedicated to advocating for the rights of California residents and protecting them from discrimination. Call 424-284-2401 for a case evaluation.

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