North Carolina Drug Testing Laws 2024

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North Carolina Drug Testing Laws 2024

North Carolina is an employment-at-will state, meaning that an employer may terminate an employment contract at any time for any reason except an unlawful one, such as discrimination. However, the at-will presumption may be modified with a contract. North Carolina allows but does not require employers in the state to conduct employee drug tests in different circumstances.

The Controlled Substance Examination Regulation Act (CSERA) governs employment-related drug testing in North Carolina. The CSERA does not require employers to conduct drug tests. However, all North Carolina employers who perform employment-related drug testing must follow the procedures in the CSERA.

Pursuant to the CSERA, employers may collect samples of urine or other bodily fluids for drug testing, and an approved laboratory must test these samples. If a test returns a positive result, the result must be confirmed by a certified laboratory. If a drug test returns a positive laboratory result, within 30 days of that result, the employer must notify the employee of the positive drug test result and their rights to a re-test. The employee can request a retest at the same or a different, state-approved laboratory.

The CSERA does not specify mandatory circumstances under which employers may drug-test employees. Hence, employers are allowed to set the conditions and circumstances that may result in a test for controlled substances. These conditions and circumstances include random testing of current employees, post-accident testing, reasonable suspicion testing, and follow-up testing.

However, per state law, employers must provide written notices to employees of their responsibilities and rights under the CSERA. Such a notice must be provided when the sample is taken, and employers must pay expenses related to the drug test.

Samples taken from employees for drug testing must be collected under reasonable and sanitary conditions and in a manner that preserves individual dignity to the extent that this is practical. Employers are required to keep information related to drug tests confidential and may only release the information:

  • To the employee or any other person, when the employee provides written signed authorization
  • To laboratories for screening or confirmation tests or re-tests of confirmed positive results
  • For employment-related reasons, including performance evaluations, discipline, and provision of references
  • To any governmental agency or court having jurisdiction over any claim or proceeding involving the employee and the employer

The North Carolina Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Bureau enforces the Controlled Substance Examination Regulation Act. Per the CSERA, employers who violate the provisions of the CSERA are subject to civil penalties of up to $250 per affected employee, with the maximum penalty in a single investigation capped at $1,000.

What Kinds of Drug Tests Can Employers Conduct in North Carolina?

North Carolina employers test applicants and employees for several reasons. Drug testing can help employers maintain a positive work environment, reduce liabilities, and prevent workplace accidents. Employers generally test for a wide range of controlled substances, such as cocaine, methadone, opioids or opiates, barbiturates, cannabis, phencyclidine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and benzodiazepines.

North Carolina does not limit what kind of drugs or testing may be done. The state laws only set specific procedures that employers must follow. According to the North Carolina Controlled Substances Examination Regulation Act (CSERA), employees may set circumstances and conditions to trigger drug tests, such as post-accident, random, safety-sensitive, pre-employment, follow-up, reasonable suspicion of intoxication, and other circumstances.

Per 13 N.C. Admin. Code 20.0101(4), employers in North Carolina may collect urine, blood, oral fluids, and hair samples for drug testing. However, the state regulates testing for any controlled substances, including cannabis and their metabolites.

Can Employers Do Random Drug Testing in North Carolina?

Yes. North Carolina employers can conduct random testing of employees, especially for those in safety-sensitive positions. It is recommended that employees become familiar with the terms of their employment, including those stated on the employer's drug testing policies. If an employer conducts random testing, it would be noted on the employer's drug testing policy.

What Happens if You Fail a Drug Test in North Carolina for a Job?

If you fail a drug test in North Carolina, state law requires an employer to give written notice to you within 30 days from when the result is mailed or otherwise delivered to the employer. The notice must contain the positive result and your rights and responsibilities regarding re-testing.

An employer must have a positive drug test result confirmed by a second examination at an approved laboratory. The laboratory must preserve a portion of the confirmed positive sample for at least 90 days. Under North Carolina's law, you are permitted to have a confirmed positive sample re-tested at another approved laboratory if you choose not to use the initial lab. However, per N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 95-232(f), if you are using another lab, you must provide a written request to release the test sample, specifying the laboratory to receive it.

Note that you must pay all reasonable expenses required for re-tests of positive samples, including:

  • The actual fee charged by the lab
  • The lab's assessed fees for expenses associated with the re-test, including those related to shipping and chain of custody
  • The employer's expenses for shipping and chain of custody procedures up to $15 unless the employer proves that the actual cost was above $15

Employees who test positive for drug use may be protected by federal and state disability discrimination laws. Per N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 95-28.2, North Carolina also prohibits employer discrimination against employees for lawful product use during non-working hours.

Can I Be Fired for Refusing a Drug Test in North Carolina?

Typically, North Carolina employers require employees to read and sign their drug testing policies prior to getting a job. Hence, the signature on a drug testing policy is considered agreement to the terms stated in the policy. If the policy allows the employer to penalize an employee who refuses drug testing as seen fit, an employee may be fired for refusing to undergo a required drug test conducted in line with applicable drug testing laws in the state.

Can You Get Fired for Failing a Drug Test with a Medical Card in North Carolina?

You may be fired for using medical marijuana in North Carolina even if the state authorizes you to use low-THC cannabis products. If you fail a drug test conducted due to impairment on the job, you may be fired in accordance with the workplace policy guidelines. However, employers may not fire employees based on their medical marijuana use if it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This would require a case-by-case assessment of the individual's situation and the employer's ability to accommodate their use. Note that the state offers no specific protections for job applicants who fail drug tests due to low-THC cannabis use.

Can Employers Conduct Drug Tests on Applicants in North Carolina?

Yes. North Carolina allows employers to drug test applicants at any location or an approved laboratory. If the test for a prospective employee returns positive, a second confirmatory test must be performed at an approved lab. A written notice outlining the rights and responsibilities of the applicant under the CSERA must be provided to the applicant when the sample is taken.

Although applicants are not yet employees, the CSERA stipulates that drug tests must not violate their privacy or dignity. The CSERA also allows an applicant to request a re-testing of a confirmed positive sample. Applicants may be able to use the protection provisions available under the federal and state disability discriminatory laws if their drug test results return positive.

Is Pre-Employment Drug Testing Allowed in North Carolina?

Pre-employment drug testing is not mandatory in North Carolina. However, the state allows employers to conduct pre-employment drug tests if they desire. A pre-employment drug test is a type of drug screening conducted as part of the job application process, usually after a conditional job offer has been made. Its purpose is to assess whether the candidate's drug use may be required even when there is no suspicion of drug use.

Does North Carolina Allow Public Agencies to Submit Employees to Workplace Drug Tests?

North Carolina does not restrict public agencies from requiring employees to submit to workplace drug tests. The state’s drug testing laws apply to both private and public employers.

Can Employers Choose to Create Drug-Free Workplace Policies?

Employers in North Carolina have broad discretion in establishing internal policies, including those surrounding drug-free workplaces. North Carolina employers can implement workplace drug policies to ensure the safety of individuals in workplace environments. However, testing methods and processes must align with the North Carolina Controlled Substances Examination Regulation Act (CSERA).

Employees Exempted From North Carolina Workplace Drug Testing Laws

Certain federal employees or those whose jobs are governed by federal laws, such as commercial driver licensees, government contractors, and those working at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are exempt from the provisions of the CSERA.

What are the Requirements for Drug Testing Labs in North Carolina?

Per the North Carolina CSERA, employers may collect samples onsite or at an approved laboratory. Preliminary screening tests may be conducted onsite, or samples may be collected using a single-use test device. After receiving the preliminary test result, an employer must confirm a positive result with an approved laboratory using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry or an equivalent scientifically accepted method.

According to the CSERA, an approved laboratory refers to a clinical chemistry laboratory that performs controlled substances testing and which has demonstrated satisfactory performance in the forensic urine drug testing programs of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the College of American Pathologists (CAP) for the type of tests and controlled substances being evaluated.

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