How To Regain Good Feelings About Work After Forced Drug Test?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about emotions
after being required to take a drug test. 

Question: I was accused of being under the influence at my job, I was randomly drug tested and had to wait 3-5 business days to find out that I was ‘cleared’ to return to work. It was extremely humiliating because I was made out to be drug addict, and if not that then some other personality defect was causing me to act like I was on drugs. Very hurtful!

I returned to work and I didn’t even receive an attempt at an apology from any of my bosses that were so quick to accuse me. I had thought I was more valued as an employee than to be treated like that.

How do I return to work after something like that? I don’t feel secure anymore and I will always question who smiled in my face and said such horrible things behind my back. I feel like everything about me is wrong now. How do I move on past this in a healthy way? I jumped through their hoops even though I knew what the outcome would be.

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. I can well understand that you feel badly about all that has happened. If I read your question accurately, you didn’t take a random drug test (in which employee’s are picked “at random” to be administered a urine or hair sample test, to see if they have illicit drugs in their system.) Instead, you were required by your supervisor to take a mandatory drug test, because something happened that was a matter of extreme concern to your supervisor or manager and they are investigating the cause of the problem, before they decide what else to do about it.  

Drug tests and how they are handled, may be regulated, at least in part, by your state’s Department of Labor. You may want to check the website for them, to find out if there are guidelines or rules for employers, so you can verify that your situation was handled appropriately. There may also be something about mandatory drug testing in some of the HR material your company has distributed.

If there was absolutely no event that could have been used as a justification for a mandatory drug test, perhaps you can make a complaint to your organization’s Human Resource person or department. If you have coworkers who will testify to some aspect of the situation, it would be helpful for supporting your complaint.

However, I will assume that your supervisor or manager could justify to higher levels, a mandatory drug test (whether or not you agree with their reasoning). I think it is imperative that you take the initiative to talk about this to your supervisor as soon as possible. If you were required to take a drug test, it was probably just one part of an investigation about an event or a series of events, which created a disruption or was a violation of policies, procedures or rules. You say that you were made out to be a drug addict or if not, that some personality defect was causing you to act like you were on drugs. You didn’t mention it in your question, but you probably know what the behavior was that caused the problems.

The fact that you were shown to not have drugs in your system, doesn’t mean your supervisor, manager or organization is OK with your actions or that the situation is all over now. It just proves that whatever you did that was considered a problem, wasn’t done because you were under the influence of a substance.  For example, an employee was repeatedly found sleeping on the job. He was required to take a drug test, which showed him to have no drugs in his system. At that point, his supervisor investigated further to find out why he was sleeping instead of working, so the employee could develop ways to avoid the cause of his sleepiness. But, at the same time, the employee was sanctioned formally for sleeping on the job.

I mention that to remind you that in most organizations, there would still be decisions to make about what to do regarding your actions. That’s why you shouldn’t expect an apology about being required to take a drug test. Most likely, from the viewpoint of your supervisors and managers, it was your actions not theirs that led to the drug test, so they have no reason to apologize. It was just one step in their efforts to find out what led to the problem and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  

Your best response will be to ask to meet with your supervisor about the entire situation. You can say you have always felt valued and have felt confident about work. Now, you feel embarrassed and want to find a way to move forward and put this behind you. Ask your supervisor if there are some specific things he or she thinks you need to do to repair any damage you inadvertently might have done to your reputation for effectiveness. Or, if you really don’t think you did anything wrong at all, explain that to the supervisor and ask for him or her to clarify what you did and what negative effect it had.

Often, even when supervisors are very angry with an employee, everything can fairly quickly get back to normal, if the employee shows a willingness to change and to support others and be a strong and positive member of the team, No one likes an upsetting situation at work, so it’s easier to forgive and move on. But, if it happens again, it’s even worse—so the employee has to truly change or sincerely work at improving.

You say you are concerned about how to react to people who once smiled at you and felt like work friends. If none of the problem situation involved coworkers, all of them may be anxious to support you and have never talked badly about you behind your back. They may be bewildered about all that has happened and they want you to be a comfortable member of the team again. Even if they have been upset with you, they may feel uncomfortable themselves. Once they see that you are wanting to help your workplace be a good place to work, with minimal conflict and a maximum sense of fulfillment, they will be grateful for your positive attitude. If you were valued in the past, you will continue to be valuable, once this bump in the road is smoothed down.

You will feel much more confident about your future at work, if you find some resolution to the problems or conflict that led to this distressful situation. The important thing is that you are willing to at least consider that some aspects of your behavior was disruptive or upsetting or created a severe conflict between you and one or more other people. If you have a trusted friend or family member or another trusted resource, perhaps you can gain some insights by talking to them. If your organization has an employee assistance program, you might find it helpful. If your job is important to you economically, it will certainly be important for you to continue to work there in an effective way. You may need to draw on all of your inner strength to make that happen. But, if you have that a strength and tenacity, you will eventually get back to where you were before all of this happened.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know how things work out.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.