A reader writes:
I recently took a drug screen for an internship I had applied for. The results were somewhat delayed in getting back, so I emailed the HR rep and asked her if she had any information. The next morning, she emailed me saying my screens (hair and urine) had come back negative, and that I would be starting the following Monday. This is my first major employment, and first in my field (Engineering) that I could use for experience, so I was delighted, and spent the entire day telling friends, family, even sending emails to old teachers/professors thanking them for their help.
However, this evening I got a call from the clinic where the test was done, telling me I had failed the hair test. (I had been a fairly frequent marijuana smoker until midway through my past semester, when I decided to quit for good because it was affecting my schoolwork. I assumed I would be able to pass any sort of test, though I did not realize hair tests could be so precise.) The next day the HR rep informed me that due to the failed test, they were removing the offer.
I realize the company has a right not to hire me if they feel drug use might affect my work, but what I am upset about is the way they carelessly and incompetently handled the situation. I cannot even tell you how furious I was, not only because I was now jobless, but for the enormous humiliation I would have to face when explaining to all those people why I am still without a job. I understand they cannot hire me if I failed the screen, but I want to know if I am entitled to any damages or compensation due to the mistake on their end. I have saved all of the emails between us, including the one which VERY CLEARLY states that I passed the tests and had been accepted into the program. It is a large company so I doubt I can do much, but I am considering filing a complaint about the HR rep in an attempt to get her fired. That may be a tad vindictive on my part, but you must understand the way I now appear in the eyes of my family/friends/colleagues.
You’re not going to get her fired, and you’re not going to get any damages or compensation; all you can do is move on.
Sometimes people make mistakes. And sometimes job offers are rescinded. It’s crappy when it happens — really crappy. But you don’t really have legal recourse, especially since you actually did fail the test — which in the eyes of most people is going to severely compromise the high ground you would have otherwise had.
Now, if you’d turned down another position or quit your job in order to accept this one — in other words, if you’d suffered material loss due to their mistake — you might have some fodder for pushing back on them … if this were a simple rescinded offer. But because it’s linked to a failed drug test (and the failure was an accurate one, it sounds like), you don’t have much room to really do anything here. (And I say that as someone who opposes drug testing for all but an extremely limited number of jobs, and who is opposed to drug prohibition in general. In other words, I’m a fairly sympathetic audience, but even I don’t see that you have any room to push back here.)
But if what you’re most upset about is that you had told people you had the job and now you have to explain that you don’t, that doesn’t have to be a big deal. It certainly doesn’t need to qualify as “enormous humiliation.” You can simply tell people the offer ended up falling through; you don’t need to go into details. Offers do fall through; people aren’t likely to think less of you because of it.
Overall, though, I think the message to take away from this is that you shouldn’t start your career expecting fairness and thinking that you can get damages if something unfair happens. While there’s plenty about work that is fair, there’s also plenty that won’t be, and the times when the unfairness is likely to result in you being paid damages are pretty rare. So are the times when it makes sense to act out of vindication and try to get someone fired — not only do those attempts generally fail, but they can hurt your own reputation. Your best course of action here is to simply move on.