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California Drug Testing Laws: What You Need to Know

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An alcohol or drug test is a common procedure that is required in the employment application process. Testing for drugs or alcohol is among employees is necessary for employers or companies to promote and maintain a safe and healthy work environment. There are many ways for employers to test their employees for alcohol and drug abuse. Among these procedures include urine drug tests, blood drug tests, breath alcohol tests, hair drug tests, sweat drug screens, and saliva drug screens.

However, a drug or alcohol test involves a certain level of invasion of personal privacy despite being done out of good will. Therefore, there are technicalities and rules that employment drug testing procedures have to abide by. Under certain employer drug testing laws, there are instances wherein the drug testing of employees may prove to be illegal. Employment as well as pre-employment drug testing laws by state vary. California, for example, is one of few states that practice specific privacy laws related to the right to privacy of employees.

Why Do Employers Test for Drugs?

To better understand California drug testing laws, it is necessary to know why drug and alcohol testings are done in the first place. As previously mentioned, these screenings are done to achieve a conducive work environment. In contrast, individuals testing positive for drug or alcohol abuse may exhibit decreased productivity and poor morale. Among the goals of these screenings include the following:

  • To comply with Federal and State regulations;
  • To deter the hiring of applicants who consume illegal substances;
  • To discourage employees from alcohol and drug substance abuse;
  • To Identify and assist employees who have substance abuse problems;
  • And to instill confidence to the general public that the company’s employees are performing work safely.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing Laws

According to California courts, California employers may mandate a job applicant to pass a drug test in accordance with the company’s condition of employment. This condition is only permissible, however, as long as the employer screens all applicants for this particular job position. Furthermore, employers should not pick out an applicant to undergo a drug or alcohol screening based entirely on his or her race, disability, or any other protected characteristic under anti-discrimination laws.

Employee & Employer Drug Testing Laws

California is one of the few states that has a state Constitution that includes a section that implements the employee’s right to privacy. his right to privacy applies not only to government employees but to private industry employees as well. Drug testing programs, according to California courts, implicates this right but does not necessarily make drug testing illegal as it is judged on a case-to-case basis. The verdict is weighed upon the gravity of intrusion an employee’s privacy versus the validity of the employer’s reason for the drug testing.

For example, an employer may require an employee to undergo a drug test as long as it is based on reasonable suspicion backed by objective and legally sound facts. Random drug testing, however, is more controversial and has varying legality depending on the scenario.

Employers need to establish its stand on drug testing policies and procedures from the very beginning with a well-documented “drug-free workplace” policy to justify the random drug testings. Employers must also notify all employees and potential employees, provide training, and explain other related actions regarding this protocol.

California Drug Testing Laws on Marijuana

California joined a handful of states in legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana with the recent passing of Proposition 64 or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). Under this law, any adult over the age of 21 can legally possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana. Despite this, however, the substance may still impact a person’s current and future employment opportunities. Employers may still test applicants or randomly screen employees for marijuana use and may be terminated for having positive test results due to California courts continuing to uphold an employer’s right to terminate an employee even with a valid marijuana prescription.

California Drug Testing Laws Legal Claims

Invasion of Privacy

Drug testing programs can directly invade an employee’s constitutional right to privacy. Furthermore, violation of employee privacy may still be committed with the way the test was conducted even if an employer has a valid reason for conducting the test. For instance, mandating an employee to disrobe or supply a urine sample in front of other employees is a clear violation of privacy.

Discrimination Claims

In the event that an employer picks out particular groups of employees according to protected characteristics under anti-discriminatory law such as race, age, or gender for drug testing, an employer can face serious discrimination claims.

Disability Discrimination

A job applicant or employee taking medication for a medical condition or disability is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to several prescribed medications that can show up positive in drug tests. Also, drugs that would be illegal in some states such as opiates are legally prescribed for particular medical conditions. In the event that an applicant is denied employment due to a positive drug test even if all medication was legally prescribed for a condition or a disability, the company may be held liable.


In the event that an employer publicizes that an employee has tested positive for a particular drug and has reason to believe that test results may not be accurate, an employee may have a valid claim for defamation.

Filing a Claim with California Drug Testing Law Attorneys

To seek damages and compensation for invasion of privacy, discrimination, or defamation incurred on you or a loved one properly, employing a California drug testing laws attorney on your side as legal counsel and representation is the best course of action. California drug testing law cases require vast and expert employment law knowledge and handling these types of cases on your own may end up serving you more harm than good. Seek legal advice from California drug testing law attorneys who are well-versed in California employment laws to know what you are up against.

Mesriani Law Group has decades of experience and employs a talented roster of employment law attorneys ready to take on and win drug testing claim cases for their clients. The drug testing lawyers well-versed in California drug testing law cases will be on your side and have since won over 100 million dollars in damages.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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