employer asked for a credit check and drug test after I’d already accepted the job and thought everything was final

A reader writes:

After being laid off, I interviewed for and accepted a new position with a company in my industry. On the initial application, it said that I may be subject to a background check, credit check, and drug test.

When I accepted the position after my references were checked, HR and I worked out my start date and I was then given a date to come in and fill out my new employee paperwork — I was told an I9 form and direct deposit form — before starting. But when I sat down to fill out the paperwork, I was handed an authorization to run a credit check and told I was taking a drug test immediately. I’m thrown off-guard, because as far as I knew, the background process was complete after my references were checked.

I tell the HR person that I’ve been though identity theft a few years ago and I am happy to provide documentation proactively in case there is any adverse information on my credit repot that I can’t see when I check my report myself. I’m told they don’t want me to send anything and “it should be fine.” I’m then told that, since I will be starting before all of the information comes back, my continuing to work there is contingent on the results of these checks. After this, I wait a solid hour and a half for a drug test, which I’m now nervous about because I took an over-the-counter allergy pill 10 minutes before arriving (thank you, pollen!) and I have heard of this causing false positives. I tell the nurse, and again I get “it should be fine.”

Instead of being excited to start the job, I’m now anxious and very concerned. Since I’ve worked in one industry for the majority of my career, I’m obviously extremely worried about the damage to my reputation if I start the position and am terminated (especially over a Claritin-marred drug test). I’m also not pleased with how any of this was handled and it’s making me doubt whether this is really the place for me. I realize that I have no option but to start and hope for the best, but I’m hoping for some advice on what to do if this all goes wrong.

Well, it probably will be fine — they’re right about that.

But probably isn’t definitely, and so this is a crappy thing to do to new hires. If they were making you an offer with contingencies, they should have told you that earlier, not sprung it on you after you’ve already accepted and possibly turned down other offers or removed yourself from other hiring processes. (Any chance that they did tell you but it was buried in your offer paperwork?)

That said, while it’s crappy, it’s also weirdly common. Many, many employers don’t bother starting background checks until the person has accepted the offer and given notice at their old job — or even after they’ve already started working at the new one.

Employers who do this seem to have the attitude that it’ll work out just fine for the majority of their new hires so there’s nothing to worry about, and for the small number who get screwed over by it — whoops, too bad! And there’s undoubtedly an element of “well, it’s your fault you didn’t pass the checks, not ours.” Obviously, this is ridiculous and horrid.

As for whether it’s a red flag about whether you’ll be happy there … most likely it isn’t. It’s such a common practice that unfortunately it’s not a useful proxy for other big pieces of information about them. That said, if you’ve seen other indicators that they blithely inconvenience employees for no good reason or are particularly thoughtless and inconsiderate, I’d certainly consider this an additional data point in that direction.

As for what to do now, I’d assume that it’ll be fine because it probably will be. If it’s not, it probably will be once you explain (again) about the identity theft and the Claritin.

But boo to drug testing (invasion of privacy and doesn’t catch actual impairment), and boo to credit checks for positions that don’t handle money, and boo to employers who are cavalier with job candidates’ and employees’ lives.

{ 494 comments… read them below }

  1. Lucky*

    Alison, if you’re on comments today, I would be interested to hear what information in a credit check would cause a company to rescind an offer or fire a new employee. I get that a Financial Advisor joining a new firm should have good credit, no bankruptcies, etc., but what about someone in Marketing, HR, IT, etc.? Is there a target credit score companies look for? Is an abundance of credit card debt bad, so long as there’s no bankruptcy history?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Not Alison, but a finance person, so here goes:

      What the company is looking for is evidence that their hire is not in a severe money crunch — they would be looking for an absence of defaults, bankruptcies, or overdue bills, and that the general debt load is reasonable compared to the person’s income. Really, it’s the same material that a lender is looking at, because it’s the same question: “Can we trust this person to handle our money?”

      Now, granted, I do work in finance; the only people I can think of in my office who don’t have access to sensitive financial data are the housekeeping & maintenance crew. We all get credit checks, and there are stories about the people who have gotten jobs here, only to make a grab for that data and get themselves fired (and usually prosecuted). We’ve had people change listed deposit accounts to their personal bank accounts, take home spreadsheets full of social security numbers, credit cards, debit cards, you name it. Most of this was in the more distant past, before we started really cracking down on security, but these things do happen.

      1. Mike C.*

        See, this is so silly to me. The majority of bankruptcies aren’t due to “poor money management”, they’re due to severe medical expenses. Getting cancer or having a child with severe birth defects isn’t a sign of inability to manage money.

        Also, someone who has bills to pay is generally going to do what they need to in order to keep a paycheck coming in every two weeks. It’s the folks who have huge trust funds you should be worried about.

        1. irritable vowel*

          But it’s not necessarily about the person’s inability to manage money, it’s about whether they might have such high debt/so many creditors that they would do something desperate like steal from the company. The reason for the debt doesn’t really matter.

          1. Katniss*

            Which is still gross because it assumes that people with debt are immoral and will steal.

            1. Sans*

              It’s also stupid because they do this even for jobs that have nothing to do with handling money and no access to money. I had a credit check done on me for a marketing job. There is no way I could steal money from this company, even if I wanted to.

              1. INTP*

                Sometimes it is related to how easily you might be bribed into disclosing information. It’s extremely common for financial situations to be considered when deciding whether someone gets a government clearance, for example. The stakes are obviously lower in marketing but if you have access to upcoming marketing strategy for a large company, for example, you may be able to sell that information to competitors for a price.

                (I know a lot of companies also do it for jobs where it makes no sense because it’s just habit or they think it’s important or something, I’m just saying that direct access to money is not the only reason for a legitimate risk assessment.)

                1. Honeybee*

                  That’s still assuming that people in debt (or who have had past problems with debt) are immoral, though. I mean, there are a lot of people without debt who would sell sensitive information just to make a buck. I’d be curious to know if anyone ever did a study to establish that people with debt do this more often.

              2. SophieChotek*

                Yes, a few years ago when I was desperate for some extra income and applied to local grocery story to be a check-out cashier, they ran a credit check on me. (Before interview; actually I was never interviewed.)

            2. irritable vowel*

              I don’t think it assumes anything – it’s risk assessment. As someone downstream commented, if someone has a demonstrated need for money and the opportunity to take it, those are objective factors that place them at a higher risk for stealing. The moral factor is less easy to assess but of course it’s the most significant. I don’t agree that people who have high debt should be barred from employment in areas that involve money, but for some companies that might not be a risk they are willing to take.

              1. Kimberlee, Esq*

                And there are certainly firms where, if you’re hiring them, you’re spending a tremendous amount of money and you are paying for that additional level of security (and those firms are probably prominent enough that they have a million applicants, so they’re not necessarily losing great talent by doing this either).

              2. JM in England*

                Many years ago, I applied for a job in the ink development laboratory for the Bank of England printing works. One of the early questions on the form basically asked if I was financially solvent! However, it’s logical given what the employer did………….

            3. INTP*

              I think it assumes that we’re all capable of behaving immorally, but not inherently immoral, so most of us are more likely to steal when we have a crisis situation to get out of than just for the hell of it.

              Don’t get me wrong, I know it absolutely sucks for people in bad situations through no fault of their own who would never cross an ethical line and I know there are people with great credit who steal because they can. But I don’t think the spirit of these policies is as simplistic as “People with more debt are more likely to steal because people with debt are more immoral than the rest of us.”

          2. Mike C.*

            But the more common way people get out of debt is by having a job that regularly gives a paycheck. Such a policy helps to ensure that people who are in debt stay in debt and likely take on more debt while trying to get a job that pays off said debt. That’s stupid.

            If you want to make sure people don’t steal, design systems that prevent or notify others that theft has happened. There are tons of basic ways to do this and they all usually involve having secondary checks on all/large/unusual transfers.

            1. irritable vowel*

              I completely agree. Unfortunately in this country where corporations are people, the easiest thing for companies to do is to spend a few bucks on the credit report and not hire people who have financial profiles they find problematic. And there are no protections in place (that I know of) to ensure that people who need a job to pay off their debts are able to get one despite the debt.

          3. Corporate Drone*

            Having consumer debt is not a moral failing. I’m sure Bernie Madoff had an 800 FICO.

          4. Grey*

            True story: We hired an employee with excellent credit and this person embezzled $30k from us. When you’ve got a few thousand extra dollars, it’s pretty easy to stay out of debt.

            My point: Someone might have bad credit because they’re not a thief. Someone might have good credit because they are a thief. A credit check can’t distinguish who’s most likely to commit a crime.

            1. Lindsay J*

              Ugh, this.

              I have terrible credit.

              If I were a thief I would have great credit because, ya know, then I would have the money necessary to pay off my debts (rather than letting some of them default because I could afford to either pay my rent or my non-secured loans, but not both, and I didn’t want to be homeless.) It wouldn’t have taken that much money to make me financially solvent, but it was money I wasn’t making at the time.

              Thus far I have never been turned down for a job due to my credit report, but I hate that it’s an extra thing I have to worry about when trying to get a new job.

          5. aebhel*

            Yeah, that’s nuts, and essentially assumes that poor people are more likely to steal from their employer. Which is both gross and demonstrably false.

          6. KH*

            This is stupid because it screens out the people who need the jobs the most.
            Credit checks and background checks are great for companies but those who have credit/background issues end up in a hole out of which they can never climb out.

            They can’t get credit, jobs, or even find a decent place to live (yes, landlords run credit checks too and also have forms with that dreaded ‘have you ever been convicted of a felony’) box.

            These people end up being punished for life. I wish we weren’t living in such a CYA society.

        2. INTP*

          As said below, it’s not about your ability to manage money. It’s about whether you are in a precarious financial situation – the idea being that people are more likely to steal to get themselves out of an already precarious situation, going into complete bankruptcy, losing their homes, being unable to pay their bookies, etc than they are to steal just to take an extra vacation or something.

          The same thing applies for jobs where you have access to classified information. They don’t want anyone in some precarious personal situation who might do unethical things to keep the excrement from hitting the fan, whether that is a dire financial situation that you might accept bribes to get out of, a personal secret you might be blackmailed into protecting (you can be a known philanderer with a hundred mistresses, but if you are having a secret affair, no clearance for you), or the like.

          1. Honeybee*

            But the thing is, these companies aren’t doing due diligence to even find out of that’s a thing. It might be “common sense” that people who are in debt are more likely to steal, but a lot of things that people think are “common sense” actually aren’t true.

        3. Aria*

          As a bankruptcy attorney, I feel I should point out that this is not the case. At least 60% of the cases I see are filed as the result of an inability to manage money. While there certainly are people who file for bankruptcy because they lost their job or had a medical emergency, they are in the minority.

          1. Artemesia*

            I sleep with a bankruptcy attorney and maybe the clients he worked with differed from yours, but he saw mostly people whose small businesses failed, often such people also use credit cards to keep their businesses going and suffer personal bankruptcy as well. While this is unwise, it is not in the same category as binging on consumer goods and then reneging. The other two major causes he dealt with were illness — even those with good health insurance are driven in to bankruptcy when they have a family member with cancer, a serious injury or a premature child or one with severe birth defects. The other major factors are divorce and job loss. Yes in some cases better money management would have helped but the primary drivers are personal catastrophe.

          2. Honeybee*

            Your clients may be different due to your location, their socioeconomic class, etc. (Also, many people who go through bankruptcy can’t afford or don’t get an attorney.) Studies using Census data have shown that the number one reason people go bankrupt is medical debt; a Harvard study showed that 62% of all personal bankruptcies were due to medical expenses. The second or third biggest reason is job loss. So people who go into bankruptcy due to medical emergencies or job loss are actually in the majority.


            1. Christopher Tracy*

              Yup. This is what I saw at the foreclosure/bankruptcy firm where I used to work – people filing for bankruptcy after illness or a job loss. Very few of the people our clients foreclosed on were deadbeats who just didn’t want to pay bills.

      2. TowerofJoy*

        It depends on your field too because in the sector of nonprofit world I work in you frequently have a lot of student loan debt comparable to your salary. If they weighed that in our industry where MAS are expensive and unfunded bur necessary only the independently wealthy could get hired.

        1. Multitasking professional*

          There are different types of debt though. Generally student loans and mortgage are seen as “good debt” while credit cards are seen as “bad debt”. I agree it is stupid though. A lot of people get financially strained if they go back to school, but they get right back on track once working full time/earning more.

      3. Minion*

        The people who did these terrible things that you’re describing – did they have a credit check as part of their hiring process?
        See, to me, if bad credit = immoral thief, then the person shouldn’t have been hired to begin with. And if their credit was fine then that just goes to show that good vs. bad credit doesn’t matter when it comes to the likelihood of an employee stealing. Which would lead me to change my hiring practices if I did credit checks and the people ended up stealing anyway.
        Of course, this could have been before credit checks were implemented at your company, who knows? But I still think bad credit is not a good predictor of a person’s overall character and the possibility of their stealing from the company.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve also wondered what they are looking for. Do they scrutinize your income? Are they looking for additional income on my credit check (a short term job) that I didn’t account for on my application? Are they looking to see where my income is coming from? If I have an AmEx or Victoria Secret credit card?
      Or are they just looking for bankruptcies- with the terrible idea that bankrupt people steal?

      1. Murphy*

        Or are they just looking for bankruptcies- with the terrible idea that bankrupt people steal?
        It’s a terrible idea, but often a true one. People who are in a desperate financial position (not a past bankruptcy, but perhaps 6 maxed out credit cards and a second or third mortgage on the house) are often more likely to engage in fraud (it’s one side of the fraud triangle – the other two being opportunity and ability to rationalize). And when you’re a person who is in financial trouble and working with money you’re now on two sides. It obviously doesn’t mean that that someone will commit fraud, just that some of the situational factors and dependencies are in place.

        1. Murphy*

          But… I also agree that unless you’re dealing with money (in a big-time way, not manning the cash register at McDonalds) then a credit check is a huge invasion of privacy. Ditto for drug tests.

          1. OP*

            I agree – in this position I won’t be handling cash or having access to anyone’s personal information. Ironically enough, in my last job I did have access to financials and clearly didn’t take to a life of crime. Also a big “heck yes” on drug testing. I sit at a desk all day and do they really expect me to be secretly smoking crack in the bathroom at lunchtime? I can’t.

            1. Hotstreak*

              Even if you do smoke crack, that would be difficult to pick up on a piss test. Hard drugs get out of your system fairly quickly, so unless you enjoyed crack in the last few days, they’re really testing for Marijuana (the devils weed!).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep — marijuana can stay in for up to 30 days (if you’re a heavy user) whereas pretty much everything else won’t show up after a few days.

                1. OP*

                  Ironic, because I need two hands to count the number of professional, reliable people I know who use it in their spare time (which should be none of their employer’s business) and would never, ever show up to work impaired. Oooh, and to answer your question, I went back through my paperwork again and they didn’t mention anything about contingencies. Oy vey. In any event, I really, really appreciate you answering my question – you’re awesome :)

            2. Anonforthisone*

              There are desk job industries where this is relatively common… not crack but prescription drug and cocaine abuse. Its not that laughable. The better argument is that it shouldn’t be their business unless it is a problem in some way at work, the same way it is with alcohol (i.e. you’re driving, heavy equipment, high on the job…)

              1. MsChanandlerBong*

                I’ve worked in several industries, and I can honestly say that the one with the most drug users was finance. My boss smoked pot (in the office) all the time, and traders regularly did lines of coke in the bathroom. But no one cared because they were all white and rich.

                1. OP*

                  I was just texting with one of my friends works in finance and, yes, apparently this A Thing in some brokerages (!!!). Nice to know that it’s still 1988 where people are managing our nation’s financial future.

                2. Honeybee*

                  We used to have a joke about that in New York, that all the doctors and financiers were doing cocaine.

            3. irritable vowel*

              It sounds like maybe they’re overcorrecting in the spirit of treating everyone the same, and applying these checks to all new staff even when it’s not necessary (credit checks for people who work with financials, yes; drug tests for the warehouse staff who operate equipment, yes; everyone else, probably not necessary). And I can understand the drug test being unannounced (although ideally they should have given you a heads up that it would be necessary at some point), but there’s no reason not to tell you up front about the credit check requirement.

            4. T3k*

              My thinking is that it could be tied to the money aspect. If one is abusing drugs, and while it may not be affecting their work, if the abuse gets bad enough they might think of stealing from the company for more drug money. Long shot there, but a possibility.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Nah, they’ve just bought into the ridiculous ideas that (a) illegal drug use is so incredibly bad that this makes sense and (b) it’s in any way their business.

                1. Violet Fox*

                  I’m also always really concerned about what other medical information that is none of their business that they could get from a piss test.

              2. One of the Sarahs*

                That theory would count for alcohol too, though, and companies generally don’t test for that.

                1. Multitasking professional*

                  What about DUIs? I know of a few companies that won’t hire anyone whose had one even if it was 10 or 15 years ago because “of the character of people who get DUIs”. As if no person could possibly have learned from their mistake or matured over those years. DUIs don’t ever come off of your record in many states. You can get a felony assault or theft expunged but not a DUI.

            5. Ad Astra*

              What really bugs me about drug tests is that companies spend so much money on them, and they’re not even getting the information they need. They still don’t know how likely you are to show up to work impaired, and if someone fails the drug test, they have to pass on a qualified candidate and go with someone they’ve already determined was not quite as good.

              1. Allison*

                Or keep looking.

                Sometimes I wonder if the concern is beyond workplace safety. I wonder if companies are worried that the insurance they provide will need to be used toward recovery programs, which could raise the company’s insurance rate, or that the employee will eventually need to go on leave for rehab, or need a lot of days off due to their habit; or if they, like someone with bad credit, will eventually get desperate for money and steal from the company or other employees. I don’t know if these concerns are necessarily valid, but they might exist.

                1. Patrick*

                  A lot of employers who have blanket drug test policies are receiving breaks on their insurance as an incentive to be a “drug free workplace.”

                  Not sure if this was posted elsewhere but there was actually an interesting NY Times article this week about employers in certain fields/regions who are having trouble filling jobs because they can’t find workers who can pass a drug test. However, all of the employers they spoke to were in fields like construction, lumber, transportation, etc – it would have been interesting to hear if the same was true for office jobs.

                  It was interesting to hear about an employer in Colorado who still tested applicants for pot use despite it being legal in the state, I’m guessing this will become a big issue as more states move towards legalization.


            6. Artemesia*

              Drug tests are only good for one thing, identifying people who smoked marijuana, maybe weeks ago. Generally savy people can beat all the others unless they are genuinely unexpected.

        2. dmk*

          A relative of mine had a job offer rescinded (or maybe it was he got a verbal offer but the formal offer was never made) because he had declared bankruptcy 18 months earlier. It was an outside sales position with little to no opportunity for fraud, he’d been recommended for the position by a former colleague (at the company that constructively discharged him the year before the bankruptcy, which was the eventual reason he declared bankruptcy), but none of that mattered. It was super shitty and just prolonged the time he needed to get back on sound financial footing.

          1. Sans*

            I have a relative who is long-term unemployed, which is the main reason he declared bankruptcy. And he can’t get a job … because he has a bankruptcy on his record. He’s had a few instances where they were going to hire him, did the credit check … and that was the end of it.

            How is he supposed to overcome his bankruptcy if he can’t get a job??

            1. Ad Astra*

              It’s really scary how a bankruptcy can destroy a career in certain industries. That always made me nervous when I briefly worked for a bank (in a marketing function, not operations or something).

          2. Corporate Drone*

            Ridiculous. Companies file for BK protection all the time. Only when it’s the individual consumer does it become a “moral” failing.

          3. Laura*

            That’s very sad. My boyfriend declared bankruptcy several years ago after his employer involved him in business fraud at the same time as his student loans came due. He worries about it ALL THE TIME but fortunately his current employer doesn’t do credit checks… get this… because they’re an invasion of privacy. Go figure.

          4. finman*

            To be fair, sales has a big opportunity for fraud. They can try to boost their bonus by having clients buy inventory just to return it next month/quarter (assuming there aren’t clawback clauses), they can offer discounts and get kick backs, etc.

            1. Mazzy*

              Or if you sell something that reduces future costs, you can exaggerate the savings or only present best case scenario, as they did at my past company.

          5. Chameleon*

            These Catch-22 situations always remind me of the days when being gay was a fireable offense for sensitive work. You couldn’t be hired if you were gay because you could be blackmailed, because if it came out you could lose your job!

            1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

              Well gosh, Chameleon, when you put it that way it sounds so unreasonable

        3. Graciosa*

          The ability to rationalize aspect has always interested me –

          I knew someone who handled a lot of our disciplinary matters, and frequently encountered people who denied doing anything wrong and swore six ways from Sunday that it was all a mistake or a misunderstanding and that they (the accused) were totally innocent victims –

          Then she would ask WHY they did it and the justifications would start pouring out –

          “I needed to steal the money because [ I couldn’t afford my car / my kids’ private school bill / my mistress / my trip to Morocco / whatever ].”

          That always amazed me, because I’m pretty black and white about this stuff, and it’s just not the employee’s money – but wow can they talk themselves into believing that taking it is totally justified.

          The other aspect that flummoxed me was how they could not realize that explaining why they did it counts as admitting it in spite of the preceding denials. They are so convinced that it was justified that they just have to explain it to you –

          1. Sadsack*

            I think the justification comes in the thinking that it’s just a small amount here or there, the company won’t miss it, I’ll replace the money when I get caught up financially, etc.

        4. TowerofJoy*

          They did an expose on this on John olivers show a few weeks ago and even the guy encouraging credit checks for employers before congress admitted there is no causal link between poor credit scores and stealing from ones company.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Yes! This was such an incredible segment that everyone needs to watch.

            Also, how heartbreaking was it that the woman whose name had simply being mixed up with someone else’s had been fighting for seven years to get her file fixed!

          2. INTP*

            Yeah, the way credit scores work you can have a terrible credit score without being in THAT dire of a financial situation. Mine fell over 50 points when my student loan grace period ended even though I have paid it every month without fail (the tips given with my FICO score said that “Your total debt amount to remaining debt amount is too high” – well duh, because I just started paying it!). I also have some late payment that make a big dent in the score from a time when my ADHD was completely out of control, and I never bought stuff I couldn’t afford, but often just forgot to pay the bills, and one count that was closed into collections because I forgot to settle the power bill when I moved and by the time the post office got their crap together to forward my mail for me to see the bill, they had sent the account to collections.

            Now, none of that speaks well to my responsibility, I admit – but the point is, I’ve lost a lot of points on my credit score for things having absolutely zilch to do with not having the money to pay my debt off. For a job where risk assessment really is important, obviously, they should look at the whole picture and not just your score. Maybe you have a crappy score but no remaining past-due debt. Maybe you have a lot of debt compared to your income, but not a single late payment, showing that you can be trusted to be able to pay it and not resort to desperate acts.

            1. BananaPants*

              Yup. I’ve never made a late payment or had a collections account but until recently our credit cards were close to maxed out for two years straight due to job loss and medical bills. My FICO score dropped into the high 6o0s solely because of the high utilization of the cards. Part of why I haven’t job searched in years is concern that I wouldn’t pass a pre-employment credit check with that kind of score.

              My state has a law restricting credit checks in hiring, but there are exceptions for financial institutions and for people in managerial positions, access to customers’ or employees’ personal information (other than that provided in a retail transaction), if the job involves an expense account or corporate credit card, or if the employee has access to high-value nonfinancial assets (pharmaceuticals, inventory, equipment, etc.). In reality there are enough loopholes that most white collar employees still have to pass a pre-employment credit check.

              1. Lindsay J*

                FWIW, in most industries a score in the high 600s wouldn’t be a worry at all. I passed several credit checks with that score and for positions where I was handling a large amount of cash on a daily basis.

                My current score is in the low 500s, and I’m worried about that, but I haven’t been rejected from a job because of it. (Though I also don’t work in a financially sensitive position anymore).

          3. Amber T*

            John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is amazing. I’m always astounded how much I laugh while simultaneously feeling horrible about the world.

        5. KH*

          That’s a very poor predictor of behavior. If only people with bad credit steal, then why all the rich people who get caught stealing or mismanaging funds, all the way to top levels of society?

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Thank you! The whole credit check process is such a mystery that I imagine someone twirling an evil mustache glaring over my credit transactions looking for anything to discredit me. “Mahaha! She had a part time summer job. Unworthy!”

          1. OP*

            In reality, it’s someone in another country who sees, let’s say information disputed by the consumer, takes a (literally) two second look at it, and says “Nah, the company reporting it is obviously in the right.” Because this is a totally fair way to decide people’s financial and employment future, of course. I prefer the mustache twirling – bonus points if they are wearing a monocle too! ;)

      2. INTP*

        I would think that if you’ve already declared bankruptcy, that would be preferable to having a lot of past-due debt and being potentially on the verge of bankruptcy. In the latter situation, you might steal to avoid bankruptcy. Once you are bankrupt and your accounts are settled, you have little left to lose (though I guess someone might be desperate to, say, purchase a vehicle or housing in cash since they can’t get credit, or something like that).

        1. Lindsay J*

          Ya know, I’ve found that – for vehicles at least – you can always get credit. The terms are not going to be to your liking (they’re certainly not to my liking, anyway) but my credit is atrocious. Like, I’ve been turned down for secured credit cards bad. But someone out there was willing to finance a car for me at 18%.

      3. Another HR*

        It can vary for industry. I worked in HR in a medical billing company and they were looking for any red flags that a new wouldn’t be trustworthy with patients personal data, credit card info etc. The company ran a background check and a drug test but not a credit check. If someone had any form of theft (retail or robbery), or writing fraudulent checks etc they were disqualified. They were not disqualified for past drug use or other items that showed up as long as the drug test they currently were clean. All offers were states with “this is pending passing a drug test and background check” and that was both verbally notified during the verbal offer and an the written offer letter. It was also mentioned elsewhere (job posting and phone screen).

    3. Screening Co Employee*

      I work for a background screening company…

      First and foremost, employees CANNOT see your credit score. They see a credit report instead. What’s more, most orgs only do credit checks on people with direct access to money, not positions like Marketing or IT. (HR is a maybe because they could steal an identity with the amount of information they have.) And even those companies that want to run credit checks indiscriminately are (1) frequently not able to because of local laws and (2) really freaking stupid because the EEOC can and will bring people to court over running checks that aren’t business necessity.

      As for what they’re looking for – it varies so much by industry and position it’s nearly impossible to tell. Basically they just want to make sure that you’re low-risk.

      1. KarenD*

        Oh. Boo. I thought it was the opposite – they see a score but not the actual report?

        Honestly, I’d rather them just see the score, or A score (there seem to be different scores calculated for different purposes these days.) There’s a TON Of detailed information on the actual report that is never going to be an employer’s business. Let’s say for example that one of the debts is to “Oncology Associates Ltd” or “Nova Fertility Clinic.” That’s no bueno.

          1. Corporate Drone*

            By the time medical debt shows up on a CR, it’s been sold off to third party collection, and that’s what will show up.

            1. Credit counselor*

              Collections accounts state who the original creditor is, though. But I’m not sure if medical stuff is masked for employer credit checks.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Medical stuff is usually masked, ime. You’re not likely to see “All Cancer All The Time treatment center” on a report, just [Creditor]

                1. Ms. Didymus*

                  Wrong. You definitely can and will see the name of the original creditor. And this is an exception to HIPPA (if the debt is unpaid). It is crap.

                2. Eric*

                  According to Experian:
                  It is illegal for credit reports provided to lenders or other businesses to include medical information that identifies illnesses or treatments because of the privacy implications. However, medical collection accounts can be part of a credit report.

                  For that reason, Experian simply lists a collection account for medical debts as “medical collection” on credit reports provided to businesses.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, none of my medical debt has ever shown up on a credit report, even when I’ve made a payment plan to pay off a hospital bill.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Have you ever been late with the debt though? Usually a payment plan through a hospital isn’t on the report – but if you waited until the debt was late before setting up the plan, that is often different.

            In my area, the biggest hospital (despite being non-profit on paper) immediately turns over your debt to their collection arm at day 31 if you haven’t setup a payment plan, and it gets reported to your credit report on day 60 or 90.

            The Catholic hospital in our area, however, waits a lot longer before turning the debt to collection agencies.

            1. Lindsay J*

              IME and understanding, as long as the debt has not been sold to a collection agency (even if it is past due) it will not appear on your report. So if you’re late with your payment to XYZ Community Hospital, they send you an invoice showing that you’re past due with big red numbers on it, and then you call them and work out a payment plan it won’t appear on your report.

              If they sell it off to Rich&Richer Associates Collections, that’s when it will appear on your credit report.

      2. CodeWench*

        Many if not most IT positions have a lot of access to sensitive data. At least for the non-management IT workers. Some jobs I’ve applied for as a software developer have had surprisingly thorough background screening.

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        I used to run credit checks in my bank call centre days (over 15 years ago now) and they would show up fraud markers at the address or on the person – does this show in background checks that aren’t for financial products, out of interest?

        Also, back in the day, having over a certain number of credit checks in a 3 month period was a warning sign (totally unfair, as when, eg, I bought my house, I also bought white goods on various deals, and had credit checks for utilities companies, so would have gone over my limit straight away) – does this show?

        (sorry, being nosy, but I’m interested, because of my old experience doing a bit of fraud authentication)

        1. Lady Kelvin*

          As I understand it, if you have several credit checks within a month, it doesn’t impact your score, but over a period of several months/a year then your credit is impacted. This is why they recommend you shop around for morgages or loans all at the same time and not spread out. Have many checks at once indicates you were specifically looking for a loan or moved into a new place, having many checks spread out could suggest that you are constantly trying to open new accounts and so you may be unreliable with money since you have so many loans/credit cards. I’m not an expert, but that is what I understand about credit checks.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Glad to hear it’s changed then, because 15 years ago it was definitely X checks in a 3 month period that was the flag (I know this from exjob, and I was specifically advised to not do credit checks with mortgage companies until I was sure of which one to go with)

      4. Ms. Didymus*

        That’s actually not true. The most recent report said 34% of all employers do credit checks for all employees.

    4. Foxtrot*

      I know that credit checks (and everything else checks) are necessary to get a security clearance. In those cases, they’re looking to see if you can be bribed or blackmailed into giving away information that you shouldn’t.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        That’s always seemed strange to me – as if they think that people with good credit can’t be bribed? I mean, I have an excellent credit score, steady income, and I’m not behind on any bills, but it’s not like a large sum of money isn’t tempting. Other factors of blackmail (fear of a shameful revelation, especially, and debt isn’t high on that list) seem like they’d weigh much more in the assessment.

        1. Foxtrot*

          It’s just one of many, many things they’ll look into. They’re also interested in drug use, background checks, too many foreign friends and family members, how often you travel and to where…
          From the engineering world, jobs that require security clearances pay the best (if you’re not in software) but you do make other sacrifices to get that paycheck. They watch you pretty closely. I worked on research that was just listed as “export controlled” because it would give the US an economic advantage, nothing military, and I wasn’t allowed to talk to any classmates who I thought could be here on a visa instead of being citizens about my project.

        2. Nerdling*

          Like Foxtrot says, credit is simply one of a list of potential indicators. It’s risk assessment. This person has poor credit but no other indicators? Not as low a risk assessed as someone with no indicators, but not a high risk. That person has poor credit, has a history of spending above their means, admitted to drug use in the past month, is going through a nasty divorce, and has friends working in foreign government? That’s a lot more indicators, so the risk is going to be assessed as being a lot higher. That doesn’t mean that they would be automatically dismissed from consideration, but they’re going to be a lot lower on the list than the people with fewer indicators.

    5. InfoGeek*

      If you travel, they may want to make sure that they can get you a company credit card.

      I’ve heard of places that do credit checks for IT because of their access to financial data.

    6. Multitasking professional*

      The Claritin would not have entered the kidneys yet, if you took it ten minutes before the test.

  2. Anon for this*

    Oh, I hate this! They did that for my current job. They told me I had the offer and everything was in place. And theeeeen…background and drug check! I worried about the background check because my credit was bad during my college years, and the drug check was also super annoying (even though I hadn’t used any drugs) because you had to go to a particular lab (you couldn’t even go to another lab in the same chain), which wasn’t nearby, it was blizzarding, and you had to go within the next 24 hours. It worked out OK and I did get the job in the end, but I had already given notice, and it was about a week’s worth of panic that was totally unnecessary.

    1. Anon for this*

      Oh, and no, it wasn’t a red flag for the job in general; the people involved with this and the people I actually work closely with are completely separate.

    2. Jinx*

      I was hired into my current company from college. They held interviews in December for a start date in June (right after my graduation). They told me up front that the offer was contingent on passing a drug screen and credit check. But after I accepted, I found out they weren’t running either until May. So I got to spend five months freaking out about it. “It’ll probably be fine” isn’t really comforting when its your livelihood.

    3. Sans*

      I had to go to a specific lab that was 20 miles away and only open M-F 9-5. Which means I had to take time off from my then-current job to have it done. There were no lab locations anywhere near me or near the office I now work at.

    4. Lindsay J*

      I had a coworker at my last job who was almost terminated because they didn’t do the background check until after we were hired. And he had a DWI 9.5 years prior that he hadn’t disclosed on the background check paperwork because they asked for anything within the last 10 years, and he remembered the month wrong.

      I had trouble with the drug test for my current job because I got there and couldn’t pee! They had to send me away for like an hour and told me to go to the restaurant nextdoor and drink some soda (but not so much that my urine would get too diluted). I was glad they were willing to stay – I was one of the last tests of the night, but I had to be retested only within a certain time frame (basically right around an hour I think) so if they had decided to go home I would have been screwed. And if I couldn’t produce enough urine the second time it would have been a fail.

      1. Multitasking professional*

        In most cases, they’re only allowed to search records going back 7 years. There are a few professions that allow for a longer search though. What type of job was this for?

  3. Juli G.*

    This is just weird business practice. The reason we do screens is to screen for people we don’t want in our workplace. Why would I have someone start when I don’t have their screens back and haven’t sorted out any possible issues? If I’m okay with them starting before receiving results, why am I even bothering?

    1. alter_ego*

      That’s a good point! Especially with the credit check, right? Isn’t one of the fears that if you have bad credit, you might steal money to pay your debts? You can do that as soon as you start. And if you can’t, then really, isn’t the credit check irrelevant?

    2. OP*

      That’s exactly what I thought! I had to pass a background check (but not a drug test) for my last two positions and, in both cases, the hiring manager called me and said that I was a finalist and that they would be doing the checks before making an offer. I mean, if you have a candidate who fails whatever tests their are, the company is then back at square one and has to go through the whole hiring process again.

      1. HR Pro*

        By law, a company can’t start a background check until they have made you an offer. (I’m not sure what the law is about drug tests.)

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Ah…this makes so much sense why I was handed special “contingent on” language to use when extending offers to candidates.

        2. Natalie*

          Which law? FCRA only requires employers to get your permission and give you a notice of your rights with the report.

        3. OP*

          Ahhhhhh, I see – maybe it’s changed a bit since or what they meant was “we’re intending on hiring you, but it’s not final until the background check clears”.

        4. Ms. Didymus*

          That might be a local law where you are but it is not the law in the state I am in.

        5. BananaPants*

          It may not be the law everywhere. Since both credit checks and drug tests cost employers money, it doesn’t make much sense to shell out for them unless you plan to hire someone.

        6. stellsbells*

          The law is state based and most states allow it. However, I know I have worked for companies that have locations in many states use this as THE process because it is easier to just do this for everyone than to do it one way in states XYZ and another in states ABC.

          Plus, these checks are expensive, so most companies don’t want to spend the extra $$ it unless they know that the person is getting an offer and is going to accept it.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      This is what I don’t understand! And Alison saying it’s because they don’t envisage any problems makes me wonder why on earth they do it! But surely it’s a pre-offer thing, like when they call in references after the interview, or 1st interview of 2, but before they make an offer.

    4. Elizabeth West*


      All the jobs I’ve had where they do this made me do it before my start date, including this one. If some kind of disqualifier showed up, they could have said so beforehand.

  4. alter_ego*

    Ugh to drug testing and credit checks. And I’ve never done drugs and have great credit.

    Every time I take a drug test though, I get so terrified that there will be a false positive and no one will believe me. Like when my mom found the instructions for a pregnancy test that my best friend had bought in the pocket of my sweater. It really wasn’t mine, it really was for a friend, and I was still a virgin! But there’s no way to deny that stuff without just sounding more guilty. I’m sure my response to a false positive on a drug test would make me sound equally as guilty.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah. I take a commonly prescribed medication that shows up as meth, so that’s lots of fun too. Luckily the time it came up I had my doctor’s info ready to go and it was taken care of. It’s still rather obnoxious.

      1. alter_ego*

        Yeah! And opiod painkillers would probably trigger a reaction as well, right? There’s so many downsides for a limited upside.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yup, me too. When working at a company that did random drug screening, I usually carried the bottle in my purse so I could show it at the testing lab. Most of the time they told me not to worry about it until the results came back – but when they did I usually only had a short window to prove that I was taking a legit prescription.

        And FYI for anyone this might impact – I had to prove that I was taking a prescription drug, as prescribed by a doctor, and it was a CURRENT prescription. In a conversation with our HR department, she said things have gotten sticky in the past when someone is found to be taking a drug that they weren’t currently prescribed – for instance, they got heavy duty prescription pain meds when they hurt their knee 2 years ago, and when they had a flare-up they just took some of the pills that were left over from the last incident without getting a new prescription while waiting on an appointment with a specialist.

        Drug testing is such a racket. I’ve been told that at one small business they did it because the insurance rates + drug testing costs were cheaper than the insurance rates if they didn’t do drug testing – but I know that didn’t take into account the cost of all the time lost spent handling the drug testing paperwork, etc.

      1. Meg*

        Yes! Every time. One of my friends is getting drug tested for a new job this week, and I jokingly told her to avoid poppy seeds!

      2. T3k*

        I was going to say the same thing. In fact, there’s numerous online stories of people having job offers rescinded because they popped positive from poppy seed muffins/bagels. Supposedly, they raised the concentration amount required so now it shouldn’t be positive from one’s breakfast. I’m not sure I’d want to risk it though.

    2. MsChanandlerBong*

      I once had to go for a random drug test the day after a Dave Matthews concert. I’ve never tried pot, so I didn’t know much about it, and I was panicking that it would somehow show up on my drug screen because so many people had been smoking joints during the event!

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        OMG this happened to me too! I cried hysterically the whole way home thinking I was going to fail my drug test. It was fine, and I’ve happily been at this job for 4 years.

    3. Anxa*

      Same. I’ve never done drugs but my mom won’t believe me and gets mad at me for lying to her. I’ve been so tempted to just start bc I can’t stand when parents think you are lying when you aren’t, even at my age.

      Peer pressure was nothing, but parent pressure is pretty strong for me.

    4. Multitasking professional*

      Happened to me. Had a false positive for cocaine for a temp position at a very good company. Now, I’ve been trying to start a family for over a year so not there’s no reason I would have failed- I don’t use drugs or go out drinking. Amazingly, the temp agency actually let me go in for a retest! But that meant not being allowed to return to work until the passing result came back, and the company was told why I was being pulled from work for a few days. When I applied for a permanent job there, they let me interview but I didn’t get an offer. I’m sure the false test result was a large factor even though once I was allowed to start working, I was never late did not call out sick and worked hard. I suppose I could sue the drug testing company but of course it’s their word against mine. Despite my experience I’m still not 100% against drug testing for certain jobs. Like bus drivers, machinery operators, etc. I do now question the need to drug test people who are going to sit at a desk all day. And if I ever do have to take another premployment drug test, I’m going to request that it be at a lab that tests your sample on the spot while you watch, not one that sends all of its samples to another state for testing so that they can screw up and ruin my livelihood. My current employer does not drug test at all, because the owner trusts and respects the employees as professionals, I suppose.

  5. Mona Lisa*

    Ugh, they did this at my current employer, too. I’d been offered the job, discussed my start date with the hiring manager, and was told that HR would contact me for some paperwork. I then got a phone call from HR two days later saying that, since I had answered the phone, I had to come in and do a drug test and provide immunization records within 48 hours. When I asked about the hours of the drug test clinic, I was told they only offer testing 9-3, and several of the appointments were already full. I couldn’t take the time off from my current position, but the new offer would be terminated if I didn’t comply.

    Fortunately I was working from home that day, and they had one drug test appointment left for 45 minutes from the time of the call. Everything worked out fine, but that left a really sour taste in my mouth.

    1. enough*

      I’m curious what would they have done if you hadn’t answered the phone? Leave a message that you had 48 hrs? What if you had been out of town?

      1. alter_ego*

        I imagine it’s that no matter when you answer the phone, you have 48 hours from that point to get tested. They’re trying to prevent you from faking the test out by drinking excessive amounts of water or obtaining clean pee or something, so they give you as little time as possible after being notified about the test so that you can’t do any shenanigans.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          The test itself was really intense. There was a locker where I had to put all of my belongings and excess layers (sweater). Then they put dye in the toilet and instructed me not to flush it or wash my hands. A nurse stood outside the door to make sure that I didn’t use either the toilet or the faucet.

          It was incredibly elaborate, and I would have found it funny if it hadn’t been so intimidating and inconvenient!

            1. Meg*

              You are allowed to wash your hands after they get the sample. They just don’t want to hear any running water since they don’t have someone in the room with you.

              1. Mona Lisa*

                Yes, they had a sink right outside the bathroom. Once I’d handed over the sample and signed the labels on it, then I was allowed to wash my hands.

          1. Aurion*

            I’ve never had a drug test so this may be a really stupid question, but what is the dye in the toilet and not washing hands about? I thought drug tests were urine and/or hair? Do they think you (general you) are going to sub toilet water for urine?

              1. Aurion*

                Powdered urine?? Oh wow, I learn things from this site that I never would’ve guessed possible.

                Follow up question: is there an actual market/other uses for powdered human urine, or is this a niche market specifically to try to foil drug tests?

                1. Lillian McGee*

                  Also a valuable item in the fake-pee market: little bottles with temperature gauges on them. If you are somehow able to smuggle in a bottle of pee-that-isn’t-your-own, you could get caught if the temperature is wrong, i.e. way too cold to have come from your body a few seconds ago. They advise you to put the bottle on the heat register in your car on the way there.

                  It… works.

              2. Meg Murry*

                Also to keep people from trying to dilute their samples to keep them under the threshold. However, if the samples are too dilute, that is an automatic fail as well (some companies will let you re-take, others just fail you).

                If you drink a ton of water you can also test dilute, thinking that you are trying to fake out the test. I tested dilute once – I was sent for a test after a salty lunch where the waiter just kept re-filling my water glass, so I kept drinking it. Luckily, that lunch was with my co-workers, including someone from the HR department, and they were able to vouch for me, so I was allowed to re-test with no penalty – but when HR brought me the news that I needed to re-test, the HR person came and got me, gave me the paperwork and put me in a cab right then, so I could go through the humiliating drill all over again.

                1. Aurion*

                  Yeah, the diluting sample part occurred to me, but I figured any sample that was too dilute (made obvious by the very low concentration of all the other stuff naturally present in urine, not just any potential drugs) would be an automatic fail as well, so I had doubted anyone would bother trying it. Obviously I was wrong :)

              3. Sophia Brooks*

                You can also buy a thing called a Whizzinator, which is basically a prosthetic penis through which you can pee the fake urine. I had to get one once because we had an actor pee on stage, and it came with the powdered urine

            1. Natalie*

              Even before powdered urine, one technique was to water down your sample with toilet or sink water. Drug tests aren’t a binary yes, drugs/no, no drugs – they’re testing for markers above a certain number of parts per billion. So watering down your sample can get you under that threshold.

          2. Florida*

            In military recruiting, someone of your gender stands there and watches you pee in the cup. She is standing there watching about 4 women all in stall with no doors. “Let’s go people. We don’t have all day. We’ve got another group waiting.”
            The recruiters probably draw straws each day and the short straw has to be the pee-watcher.

            1. OP*

              One of my friends is a nurse and had to pee in front of a stranger for her routine drug test just last week! So degrading.

              1. Meg Murry*

                Yup, my BIL had someone *in the bathroom, watching him* for his pre-employment check. If he hadn’t needed the job so badly he would have walked then.

                1. Anon4Now*

                  I had a job that did random drug testing, and I left when they added *nicotine* to the drugs they tested for. Positive test for tobacco meant immediate termination. I don’t even smoke, but that was a major reason I decided I wasn’t going to work there anymore.

            2. Navy Vet*

              LMAO…always funny to me.

              On the ship before wake up the master at Arms would sneak into all the berthings and tape the “random” list of people who had to donate. (Almost always the day after you left a foreign port, especially if we were in Mexico)

              Then if you had the rank of or higher you basically spent the day watching grown women pee in a cup. (After you donated if you were on the list)

              I used to take a couple of vitamins that I knew would alter my pee color a little just to be a smarty pants ahead of time.

              One of my tours was as a recruiter…It frustrated me to no end when the kids would come in with coke in their systems. I mean, what were they doing, snorting it while peeing in the cup? Seriously.

              And that is how it happens in boot camp. They make you chug water when you get off the bus, then everyone into a big room full of toilets…no walls. And you actually had to take your pants completely off….because they had zero trust in your integrity. Oh, good times.

            3. One of the Sarahs*

              Happens in tests for performance-enhancing drugs in sports too – there used to be all kinds of ways to contaminate the test, including with soap, not to mention complicated tubings to deliver someone else’s urine (hence the apocryphal story about male athletes being told “You’re drug free – but congratulations, you’re pregnant!”)

            4. BananaPants*

              My brother’s active duty military and periodically has been on pee-test duty (and is randomly tested at least once or twice a year). Someone of the same gender watches you pee so that it’s next to impossible to sneak in a sample or dilute it or anything like that. He says some are more discreet than others (looking away slightly, conversing on other subjects). It’s tough on people who have “performance anxiety”.

              1. Alienor*

                Yeah, I would never be able to go with someone standing there and watching! The last time I had to do a drug test for a job, it was hard enough to go just with a nurse right outside the door listening. They would have to resort to a catheter or something.

          3. Ife*

            Yeah, mine was like that too! Do not flush, do not wash your hands, leave everything in another room. Very humiliating. At that point, it’s like, why don’t you just come in and watch?

          4. Meg Murry*

            Yes, every time I’ve had to test, it’s at the same facility where the test people who are there for court ordered drug testing (either as a condition of their parole or as part of a deal where they went to rehab instead of jail). They absolutely treat you as if you are a criminal – you get patted down (apparently people strap false samples to their legs as a way to sneak it in?), blue dye in the toilet, the sinks are disconnected, they set a timer and you have X minutes, etc. It is extremely humiliating. Not to mention it was a first come, first served setting so I literally have waited more than an hour, needing to pee but knowing that I couldn’t or I wouldn’t be able to go during the test. Oh, and they had limited hours and were pretty far out of my way.

            For all the legislators that want to tie food stamps or welfare benefits to passing a drug test – I want them to go have that experience first and then tell me how they feel about it.

            1. alter_ego*

              But why would they need to take a drug test to get their government provided pay check? That’s only for poor people, silly. The people who can afford to buy the really dangerous drugs should just be trusted.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          I’ve been told this is also why they spring tests on people as a surprise, like in OP’s case, so you don’t eg take the week off/go for a head shave, or whatever

          1. Kittens McGhee*

            Well, a head shave by itself won’t stop them from obtaining a hair sample, unless you shave… everywhere .

      2. Mona Lisa*

        I’m guessing they would have left a message saying that it was HR and to call them back without giving any indication of the drug test. My impression from talking to the guy was that you had 48 hours from when you answered the phone to make it happen. I have no idea what they would have done if I’d been out of the area for that time period though!

    2. OP*

      It really is inconvenient! The nurse told me that the company never tells people in advance that they will be taking the test when they come in, which is especially annoying if you’re going to have people waiting for as long as I did. I’m hoping it’s the same for me – it’s leaving a bad taste NOW, but I’ll like the job and everything will turn out fine in the end!

    3. They Cut My Hair*

      Try having them CUT YOUR HAIR. I would take the urine test any day of the week. I’ve never had to get my hair cut for a drug test before my current job. And the most asinine thing (IMHO) is they never test you again, so as long as you’re clean when you start you can take all the drugs you want after that. ;)

      1. OhNo*

        Wait, what? I knew you could test hair for certain things, but I never knew that companies actually used that test.

        Do they at least warn you about that one in advance? Because otherwise I don’t know how they’d get a hair sample from someone who shaves or is bald…

        1. Jane D'oh!*

          Yeah, they do it. I had long hair, all down my back, and an incompetent employee chopped a huge inch-wide chunk from the nape of my neck. It ruined my hair for my wedding.

      2. Corporate Cynic*

        Back in bschool, for his upcoming internship one of my classmates had to submit to a hair sample. Since he has a shaved head, they had to take it from his armpit. As he put it, “Strike 1, Company X!”

        1. Kittens McGhee*

          I knew a bald guy with an employer who demanded a hair test from everyone…so he had to give up a pube.

      3. Nerdling*

        A friend of mine from college ended up with a tiny bald spot at her lower hairline where the person cutting her hair went a little overboard. It’s funny now, but it most definitely was not at the time!

  6. The Other Dawn*

    My former employer did this to me. I got an offer, accepted it and we designated a start date. The day before I get an email from my new boss saying that I need to go to the main office, which is 40 miles away, to sign all the usual new hire paperwork, and BTW you’ll then go to X clinic to get a drug test before driving back to my home office to start my job. It was weird. Why would you wait that long for a drug test? And it was even more weird because my ex-boss is a very anal, cautious, detailed, by-the-book person and nothing ever gets by him. Ever. But I know it’s HR’s rule and not his, so that explains it.

    1. alter_ego*

      They probably try and have you do the drug test at the last minute so that you don’t have time to try and make arrangements to fake the test out.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        It’s not that they told me the day before. It’s that they had me do it on my first day, rather than beforehand. What if it came back positive (it didn’t)? They would have wasted time they could have spent on another candidate and now have to start over. And since I’d left my previous job, that would have left me jobless.

        1. TCO*

          I agree with your concerns–but on the upside, at least you were getting paid to spend so much time traveling around to do all of that paperwork and testing…

          1. The Other Dawn*

            Ha! Very true! I wasn’t upset about it. It just seemed weird that they would wait until the day I started. If I were hiring someone, I wouldn’t want to invest all that time and effort, only to have to say we can’t hire the person after all.

            1. Meg Murry*

              Yes, because it takes so long (its far from the office and you can wind up waiting 1-2 hours, so it’s no less than a 2 hour process) my last job waited until your first day. They told you it was going to happen on your first day though (and put “contingent upon drug screen” into the offer letter we had to sign) so I guess maybe they thought people who were actively using drugs wouldn’t take the job knowing they were going to fail the screening on day 1?

              Or maybe people have sued to be paid for that time, since it is “work time”?

        2. irritable vowel*

          This all makes me wonder whether there’s a law in some states that says that you can’t require people to take drug tests or access their credit info unless they’re an active employee, and that status starts on their first day of work, not when they’re hired.

  7. Emrin Alexander*

    Credit check if I’m going to be around money/financial data, yes. To work in a position where I never deal with money in any respect, no. And the credit reporting bureaus will even admit that the checks are pretty much irrelevant in a lot of cases.

  8. Screening Co Employee*

    I feel obligated to point out that a lot of times, people will say credit check when they mean a comprehensive background check, simply because the legislation refers to it as a credit report. I know the initial paperwork listed credit and background separately, but it’s possible that the paperwork you signed for the credit check was just a regular background check with no credit report included.

    1. OP*

      So great to have someone who does this for a living weighing in! I did sign a specific form called “authorization to obtain a consumer report”, so I’m guessing they are definitely running one. In all of my previous jobs, it was just the comprehensive background, and yes it can get confusing!

      1. Screening Co Employee*

        That authorization is a requirement by the FCRA for all employment background checks run by a third-party, so it really could just be a criminal history check, or even just the drug test.

        Regardless, it’s really crappy that they didn’t at least tell you ahead of time. Also, if anything does get flagged on your drug test because of the allergy pill (which it shouldn’t), you should have a chance to dispute that.

        1. HR Pro*

          Yes, I asked lawyers if we could remove the line in our background check consent form that says we *might* check consumer credit — because we don’t check consumer credit. But the lawyers said no, for the same reason that Screening Co Employee stated.

        2. OP*

          Thank you so much for clarifying this – I felt awkward even bringing up the identity theft thing, as I was worried it came off like, “Oh hey you’re going to find a heck of a mess all up in my Transunion” or something. I didn’t realize you could dispute the drug test too and I really appreciate you taking the time (again, considering you’re someone who does this for a living!) to put me a bit more at ease :)

          1. Turtle Candle*

            “A heck of a mess all up in my Transunion” sounds like a fabulous euphemism for something (although I’m not sure what), even though I know you mean it literally. :D

  9. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

    Semi-related to this: How normal and acceptable is it to push back on giving notice before all contingencies are cleared? I don’t have anything bad in my background but would still never feel comfortable giving notice before drug testing, reference checking, etc. was taken care of.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I don’t know, but a lot of these are situations where you don’t really get a cue to push back. You’re told everything is in order, so you figure that if they were going to do a background check, they must have done it already, and that if they haven’t done a drug test yet, well, maybe they just don’t drug test, because a lot of places don’t. Whereas, if they told you “This is still contingent on xyz,” then you have your opening to potentially push back.

      1. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

        Well, the one time I did push back on something like this, there had been at least a couple contingencies. Before I gave my notice, I ended up asking them, “Before I turn in my resignation, could you please confirm that there aren’t any other contingencies?” I didn’t know if that sounded like a red-flag on my part though, like I was trying to hide something or be difficult.

        1. Laura*

          No, that seems like the perfect wording. You just want to cover all your bases, and it makes it sound like you’re doing the employer a favor too!

    2. enough*

      Daughter had a job offer that actually included a start date 2 weeks after the date of the offer and it required a drug test before starting (and she would be moving 1200 miles away). She didn’t take this job but there is no way she would give notice till she had passed the blood test and found a place to live.

          1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

            My company uses an oral swab test. We handle narcotic pharmaceutical product, so not only are you drug screened upon hire, everyone is subject to random drug testing as well as long as you’re employed. It was all spelled out for me up front though before they even offered me the job, so I knew what I was getting into.

            1. BananaPants*

              My husband’s a pharmacy tech in a facility that handles a substantial volume of opioids. All employees regardless of job function are subject to random drug testing, and they actually do it with some regularity for the pharmacists and techs working in the narcotics room (which has security cameras covering every square inch as well).

              1. CS Rep by Day, Writer by Night*

                We tell our clients that we have more video cameras than employees – and it’s true!

    3. Juli G.*

      Extremely. I get it 50% of the time.

      I know lots of people hate drug screens for lots of reasons and I get that but a contributing factor to it is how unprofessional some companies are about it.

      At my current employer, you know before accepting that your offer is contingent on certain screens. I am being professional and upfront with you. I appreciate people that are professional and upfront with me about when they will give notice instead of dodging my calls or being evasive until results are back and then telling me they’re just giving their 2 weeks.

      (Btw, I do get why people aren’t upfront but it doesn’t make it less annoying or less a waste of my time.)

    4. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      I had a friend push back. But they told her that the offer was contingent on passing all this stuff. And she was working with money. She was fine with that but she wouldn’t agree to a start date until everything was squared away and she was comfortable giving notice at her old job. They were not happy about that at all and fought her over it and wanted her to come up with a start date. She knew she’d pass everything but she wasn’t taking a chance. Eventually she passed it all and they agreed on her start date. But it was a huge red flag, they were a terrible company to work for and she regrets taking that job.

    5. Navy Vet*

      I am always nervous about background checks.

      Because I have a younger brother with the male version of my name who isn’t nearly as good a citizen as me. As in, he is actively in the system. I am very specific about my name. I use my full first name and middle initial on every legal document.

      I seriously doubt I will get mistaken for a 350 lb, 24 year old male….but stranger things have happened.

  10. Lizabeth*

    This is going on my list of interview questions to ask plus push for their thoughts on why it’s necessary if it’s a yes. It should be interesting to see what the answers are (grin) since I’m neither in finance or run machinery.

    It sucks that they spring it AFTER THE FACT they’ve offered you the job and you’ve given notice etc. Bad employers, bad!

    1. Student*

      For better or for worse, doing that will send the signal to people you’re interviewing with that you have drug and financial problems. It’s your prerogative to do so, but it will not leave a good impression to come off as concerned about possible credit or drug tests in the vast majority of job interviews.

      There are jobs other than finance and running machinery where this is relevant information. It gets used inappropriately, sure, but it’s not just these two issues either.

      1. Juli G.*

        I don’t necessarily think it signals problems but depending on company size, it will look a bit antagonistic to someone that likely has no influence in the policy.

        But I would also say that if it’s fiercely important to you, you should go ahead.

      2. fposte*

        Agreed. Before you get hired is not the time to try to change their hiring practices.

      3. Lizabeth*

        Simply asking if they have a drug and background screening policy in the hiring process doesn’t indicate a problem. Making sure it isn’t a surprise after giving notice doesn’t indicate a problem.

          1. Violet Fox*

            When I was a teenager and still lived in the US, I applied for a job at a grocery store, and they had this “interview” system of pressing buttons on a phone as a response to automated questions. One of them was “will you take drugs test”. Since even back then I objected to it on privacy grounds, I hit no. I was shown the door immediately without a chance to explain at all. This ended up not bothering me too much since this was right after they showed me a very condescending video about how to make sure I showed up to work on time and generally talked to people like they were 4 years old.

            It all ended up okay since I ended up with a better job somewhere else where they didn’t treat their employees like small children.

        1. Sadsack*

          I think it would be better to ask when you are offered the job, explaining that you’d like to factor that into agreeing on a start date and notifying your current employer.

          1. Chloe Silverado*

            I’ve done this. It still feels awkward – I felt like I was signaling to them that I had a reason to believe I was going to fail the background or drug test. I straight up said “I am confident that there will be no issues with either test, but I would like to wait to give notice until I have a confirmed offer with no contingencies.” My employer was understanding.

        2. Juli G.*

          I was more addressing your comment about pushing for their thoughts on why it’s necessary.

          I think the best place to ask is the offer stage. If you just want to know, you can white lie and say, “If I accept, what will you need from me? My previous employer asked for an application, non-compete, a background check…”

          1. Lizabeth*

            Yeah…but there are times when it needs to be push, especially if your gut reaction is talking to you. Whether it changes their hiring practices is another thread entirely.

            1. AnotherHRPro*

              It won’t change their hiring process and it will probably get you excluded as a candidate.

            2. Juli G.*

              I agree! That was why I said if you felt really strongly about it, you should push.

              The problem is it could cost you a job and the likelihood is if it’s a large company, the interviewers have no idea about the policy or influence on it. I would not be okay with that but I also realize (and am grateful) not everyone is me.

              Just a friendly reminder that it’s a situation that has a higher likelihood of risk than pay off.

        3. Stardust*

          Yes, if a candidate asked about it id think it’s odd. Even if it’s not true it would be a flag, this person might not pass…

  11. newlyhr*

    I am vehemently opposed to credit checks for positions that do not have access to money or people’s confidential identity information. A lot of good people I know have had financial difficulties at one point or another. Being late on your mortgage/credit card payments does not make somebody a thief. Most of the people I know who find themselves in bad financial situations have gotten there through illness and/or job loss. They are embarrassed about their inability to make their payments and trying hard to make things right.

    Sure there are some irresponsible people who run up debts with no intention of honoring their commitment, and some people who honestly have a very poor understanding of credit and finances in general. But even those people can be good employees in other ways. It’s the question of validity–does someone’s credit report actually predict their job performance for the job being hired, or do their financial practices make them a risk for stealing company money or information? (Does a camp counselor need to have good credit to teach basketball?)

    1. Lucky*

      Exactly. Why is “he might steal to pay his debts” the default expectation for someone with bad credit, and not “he will work really hard because he needs the job to pay his debts”? The latter seems much more common and therefore more logical to me.

      1. fposte*

        Because you can get people who will work really hard who *don’t* have debts to pay.

        I’m not sure there really is good research on the correlation here, and I don’t have time to dig today. But if, say, people with bankruptcies are more likely to steal, the fact that some of them are likely to work even harder doesn’t eradicate the advantage to an employer of avoiding that category of applicant.

    2. OP*

      It’s especially icky when you consider that low-income people (who, you know, desperately need a job) and minorities end up disproportionately affected by this. I just don’t see the sense in rendering an entire segment of the workforce virtually unemployable for nothing!

      1. Kelly L.*

        Right? And not having a job is supposed to help people get back on their feet…how?

    3. JAM*

      Having worked in the white collar industry, the worst part is that there is typically very little pattern that might show up on a credit report of someone who is stealing. Some people have gambling addictions and take out loans in other people’s names, others steal from their PTA and just buy buy buy. Those were the two most common and most of those people never let their own accounts look bad.

  12. The Cosmic Avenger*

    True story: I tested positive for opiates…because I had a poppy seed bagel that morning. This was before the Seinfeld episode about it, so I had never heard that that was possible. (And the bagels there were coated in poppy seeds, so in retrospect it’s not that surprising.)

    I know it was a false positive because although I’ve done plenty of drugs in the past, I have never touched a (non-prescription) opiate.

    1. Not Karen*

      There was episode of Food Detectives (or maybe it was Mythbusters) in which they demonstrated that in order for poppy seeds to cause someone to fail a drug test, they had to eat like a dozen poppy seed bagels at one time.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      It was pre-employment screening for a local government job, so I was denied the job (without the opportunity to retest), but I ended up moving a few months later, so it wound up not being as big a deal as it seemed at first.

      This was in the early 90s, Not Karen, and this bagel was pretty much solid black on the top half, so when I saw that Mythbusters episode I have wondered if the testing method has changed over the 20 years in between, or if it was just a dozen normal bagels worth of seeds on one bagel. Normally they’re sprinkled on, this was dipped and pressed into a bin of seeds! And given an egg wash first, maybe. :)

      1. Kelly L.*

        That’s a good point! I wonder if they dialed down the sensitivity of the tests because the poppy seed issue became well-known.

        1. fposte*

          Though what I remember from the Mythbusters episode (and this is another reason to love Mythbusters) is they called the testmakers and the testmakers all claimed never to have heard of this problem.

          1. Anon for this*

            They’d have to have been living under a rock not to have at least heard the myth about it, so claiming they never heard of the problem at all makes it a little “doth protest too much.”

      2. KAZ2Y5*

        Supposedly the tests are more sensitive now than they used to be. Approximately 20 years ago I had 2large poppy seed muffins the day before a drug test. And yes, my test was so very positive. Luckily my employers (a hospital) were willing to retest me in a week. As long as everything came back negative (and it did) I was good.

    3. Observer*

      This is such a common problem, that some places even warn you about it. My son was doing some volunteer work in a prison, and you need to have a drug screen for that. He’s never done drugs, and I don’t think he’s ever even needed a prescription opiate. When they told him about the drug test they told him up front not to eat anything with poppies for two days before, even a poppy seed or “everything” bagel. They were very clear – if something comes up in the screen, you’re out, and they don’t want to hear about bagels or anything else.

    4. Laura*

      I was taking opiates last week after I had minor surgery. Good thing I’m already employed… sheesh.

      1. Another HR*

        The way the drug testing worked at my company was that there was a medical reviewer from the lab who would reach out to the new hire about the drug test results (if positive) to ask about any applicable prescriptions. Then once they confirmed that it was prescribed, the lab sent over the results and they were fine. I think that you would be fine even if you were applying elsewhere now since I’m sure all labs follow a similar procedure.

    5. Merry and Bright*

      I think I posted something about this a few months ago. But this really happened in a London jail a couple of years ago. I can’t get the link to post from my phone but Google ‘Poppy seeds Brixton prison’.

  13. Lia*

    I used to work in hospital collections, and I can tell you (from pulling credit reports to track people down) that MANY people who were in otherwise good situations can find themselves bankrupted by circumstances beyond their control. I can think of a number of people who wound up having accidents or injuries requiring extended hospital time, owing 70-80K plus (AFTER insurance!) who had good jobs and filed bankruptcy due to those overwhelming medical bills.

    One piece among others, sure, but it shouldn’t exclude someone from employment.

    1. Coffee and Mountains*

      When I ran credit reports I was really surprised how many people had filed for bankruptcy. It’s more common than I thought.

    2. Stick'em with the pointy end*

      It’s been widely reported that 60% of all bankruptcy filings are due to medical bills. I believe it, too – I had a couple of medical tests that ended up costing me thousands, after insurance. At least I had the money although I wasn’t happy about parting with it. So many folks are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t even handle a $50 emergency, never mind this.

    3. some1*

      I work in Finance and personal bankruptcies that are due to medical bills are allowed here.

  14. Pwyll*

    The other thing to keep in mind is that I’m fairly sure if the employer runs a credit check and decides to take adverse action or not hire you, you have the right to receive a copy of it. So, if there’s any question over what the report contains that you might want to clear up, request a copy of it from them.

    1. Observer*

      Legally, the employer needs to provide the information if they decided to do anything based on it.

    2. OP*

      That is indeed true! It’s especially annoying because, seeing that the one negative I have is the result of identity theft, I keep track of my report myself, but you never know if the company doing the screening is going to come up with different information.

  15. Coffee and Mountains*

    I was in charge of background and drug testing for a finance company in the IT department about 10 years ago, so YMMV. But the few people that did have positive drug tests usually got to re-test (yeah). I only had one person fail the second test (and maybe five total that failed the first one).
    We ran a full background check with credit. The only thing I ever remember getting to see was if you were reported by someone for not paying a bill or if you had filed for bankruptcy. It’s been a while, so maybe it was different, but I don’t remember seeing if you had a Victoria’s Secret card or a loan for a Lamborghini or whatever.
    We were mostly looking for criminal infractions involving stealing or other things that would flag you for that. I don’t remember anyone ever failing the background check. Maybe one person. But it wasn’t a common thing.

  16. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    What I’m about to say is my own anecdotal experience and only relates to the drug test but I hope it gives you some comfort, but basically I did the same thing. Woke up with heinous allergies, popped a Claritin, got a phone call that Co. wanted to hire me could I be at the drug testing place in an hour? And I panicked! But I went, took the test, disclosed to the nurse( as you did) and everything was fine. I’m sure yours will be too, because you’ve gone the full disclosure route. Good luck!

    1. OP*

      Thank you so much for sharing, especially considering that you are in The Claritin Club too! ;)

  17. SH*

    I’ve never had to take a drug test as a condition of employment. Before testing, would I give a list of medications or just wait for the results to come in and explain to my employer why I tested positive for whatever?

    1. Foxtrot*

      You fill out a form that includes prescriptions. I’ve never been on a prescription at the same time as a drug screen, but I think they prefer you take the bottle with your name on it to the appointment. Don’t quote me on that, though.
      Over-the-counter stuff should be fine. They know those chemicals are fine for anyone.

      1. OP*

        That was the weirdest part – there was no place on the form to write down prescribed medication! The only prescription medication I take regularly is a birth control pill, so it was pretty moot for me, but it was odd for sure.

        1. Screening Co Employee*

          There’s a reason for that! The meds your on are your business, not your employers’. They don’t want to know. So they just do the test and, if it comes back positive for something, you have the chance to get in touch with the person double-checking it (called an MRO). It’s at that point that you would provide your prescription information straight to the MRO, who works for the testing company, and it would be kept private from your employer.

          1. Foxtrot*

            Oh, maybe this is why I had the form? Every time I’ve been tested, I’ve gone through a third party who just gave my employer a pass/fail result. They wouldn’t say *why* you failed to your employer, but would let you know personally so you could bring in necessary prescriptions.

            1. Another HR*

              The third party company that we used for drug tests did reach out when the drug screen came back with a positive and the new hire had so many days to respond as well as provide info about a prescription. Then the lab sent HR the result afterwards. If someone failed and that means they did not provide a prescription to the MRO within so many days, then the results did say failed – opiates or whatever. If they provided a prescription to the lab, then the drug test came back as a passing screen and we did not get any info about prescriptions. So we only got the name of the drug if it was considered a fail.

        2. Emilia Bedelia*

          I took a drug test for a new job recently, and the testing place told me that they would send me the results, then I would have 3 days to respond BEFORE they would send the results to the company. I was on prescription opiates a few weeks before the test, so I was very nervous, but everything came back clean-but even if I had to explain, my company would have only heard that I passed. (This was LabCorp, by the way.)

        3. James M*

          It’s almost certainly illegal for them to compel this disclosure. Medical privacy rules are really serious. Improperly requesting PHI, especially asking some unrelated party (the testing lab clerk for example) to collect PHI, could literally end the company and put the executive who made that decision behind bars. That’s why the explanation phase of a positive drug test result is always post-hoc and why the testing lab can’t and won’t take any information of that sort.

      2. Mike C.*

        I did this, and they still freaked out that I tested positive for meth. Luckily they weren’t unreasonable and spoke with my doctor and everything was fine.

          1. Mike C.*

            I have to get through the workday somehow, don’t judge me! :p

            Just kidding, I prescribed a common medication that is an enantiomer (non-superimposible mirror image) of methamphetamine.

            1. Aurion*

              I can just imagine getting the rejection phone call from HR and spluttering a response about enantioselective receptors vs drug tests. At least I would splutter because I’m not very eloquent when taken off guard. But yeah, no one would believe me anyway–kick it back to the prescribing doctor.

              (Sometimes I have to resist my chem geekery when casual conversation with my parents involves topics like this.)

    2. Noah*

      I work in the airline industry, so my experience is specific to DOT regulated testing. I take Adderall for ADHD and that shows up as positive for amphetamines because that’s what it is.

      When you go to the drug testing facility they don’t want to know anything about what prescription drugs you take. Their only purpose is to collect the sample and send it to the lab. Once it tests positive at the lab, it is turned over to a physician called a medical review officer (MRO). The MRO will contact you and ask if you are on any prescription medications. If yes, they will ask for the prescribing physician’s name and contact info. I assume they verify it is a valid prescription with them, but I don’t really know.

      As long as everything checks out, the result is presented to your employer as negative. I think if the MRO can’t get in touch with you within a certain timeframe, they can contact the designated representative at your employer.

      1. Mike C.*

        That’s exactly what happened to me (I work in aerospace manufacturing) and it was bizarre to me when the testing facility wasn’t interested in my meds, the info on the bottle or anything like that.

        1. Juli G.*

          Yeah, I think that’s confusing for people but a lot of these testing facilities aren’t trained to read results.

    3. BananaPants*

      In most cases the testing company doesn’t care what you’re taking and won’t document it even if you try to tell them. If the initial screen is positive for something, they do a GC/MS type of test to determine exactly what it is; this can help them detect false positives. That test can tell the difference between, say, Benadryl and an opioid.

      If the more accurate test doesn’t clear you, as is common with ADHD drugs and opioids, the testing company’s medical records officer will contact you to obtain a list of prescriptions and the names/contact info of the prescribers. If what you tested positive for is something for which you have a valid, legal prescription, the result will be forwarded to the employer as a “pass”. This way, the tested employee’s medical information is not disclosed to their employer.

      (This is in the private sector; I have no idea how it works in government employment).

  18. Ashley the Paralegal*

    John Oliver just did a piece on how background checks and how there are many errors are out there that cause people to unfairly lose out on jobs and financing because of misreported information to credit check companies who don’t do a very good job of fact-checking the information. Here’s the link in case any of you want to watch. https://youtu.be/aRrDsbUdY_k

    1. OP*

      If I wasn’t already married, I’d be checking for John Oliver, best believe. LOVE HIM! And, as usual, he’s right.

    2. R*

      It can definitely happen with background checks too. Or companies considering arrest records or charges that were dropped/ no conviction.

      1. Ashley the Paralegal*

        I’ve heard of this happening with arrests that never turned into convictions. Pretty sad concerning there’s supposed to be the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

  19. Dangerfield*

    Do any of the companies that require credit checks periodically recheck any employees? It seems a little short-sighted to assume that only new employees will be in financial trouble. Surely an employee who’s been with your company for years is in a much better place to steal to cover their financial problems as they know the flaws in your money handling procedures?

    1. Sandra Dee*

      At my current place of employment, if you move from a staff to a management role, you will be rescreened, background and drug screening as part of the promotion process. We are a healthcare organization, so drug screening in pretty standard.

    2. Ama*

      Given that both the bosses I had who were busted for financial misconduct had been at the employer 10+ years and were in trusted upper management positions, yeah that does seem short sighted.

      Both those employees would have passed anyway because they had excellent finances. They both had been double dipping from employee reimbursements because they felt underpaid and entitled to extra compensation, neither were in any kind of financial trouble.

    3. Zelenu*

      Yes. I work in the mortgage industry and because of the SAFE act, my credit is part of the licensing process. I can’t work without my license – it renews annually and requires credit and back ground checks (every 2 years I think for the checks)

    4. JAM*

      My HR team just realized that while they run criminal and credit checks on new hires to our finance team, they don’t run checks on transfers into the team. Then they realized they weren’t sure they wanted to keep both of these checks as they are now and have plans to ask about only convictions that fall into class A or B felonies (typically violent or newsworthy) or resulted in a prison sentence (not jail). It’s interesting how many companies don’t audit their current procedures, let alone the firm that performs them.

    5. Mechelle*

      I had been with my employer for twenty years with no hint of any issues. One day I received an email from HR saying they need my consent as I was randomly selected for a background check and credit check. I needed to consent to it within something like three days or I would be placed on disciplinary action and that I would receive the results of the checks in 45 days. I spoke with my manager and she said the she had been selected the year before. Apparently they constantly “select” employees for this. Only criteria is that you haven’t had a check in the past two years. We do have access to financial information. But somehow I made it through twenty years not even realizing it was an option. It was fine. But it was unnerving as it as totally unexpected.

  20. Katie F*

    I’ve been drug tested in nearly every place I’ve ever worked. Most of them, it was part of the second round of interviews, although I did have one (a local government job) that took place after I was offered the job but before I started. They basically just told me to hold off giving notice until results came back.

    I’ve never undergone a credit check, though – and unless the job involves handling large sums of money or is in some financial industry i have a hard time understanding why they’d want one.

  21. MindoverMoneyChick*

    My company did both the drug test and credit check this because one of our clients required it for anyone working on their projects. But we were very upfront early in the interview process that this would be the case so people could self-select out as needed. And you had a heads up on the day your drug test would happen. I guess I understand the point of the surprise test, but year that whole things sucks, putting a pall over your new job excitement like that.

      1. MindoverMoneyChick*

        The client was a major international bank that had gone through some bad press. We were a training development company who in no way could impact the company’s finances in a negative way, but I guess could have divulged proprietary information on company processes.

        They were very cautious and concerned about security breaches of any kind. We had to majorly overhaul a lot of our IT processes to work with them.

  22. Tris Prior*

    I had been at a new job for a month when I got an email from HR saying that I needed to complete a background check. WTF?

    It was a long form requiring me to put in starting and ending salary of, like, every job I had had, ever. And supervisor names and phone numbers. And of course it was needed immediately. I was scared I’d get something incorrect and be fired.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Sure, because no one would commit fraud during their first four weeks! Everyone knows you wait six months, then you steal…. [rolls eyes]

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually do think that’s probably true :)

        Easier to do it once you’re trusted and ensconced in the company and given more access.

        1. fposte*

          I think it depends on what kind of theft we’re talking about. Embezzlement, yes. Walking off with a case of something from the back, no.

  23. Bee Eye LL*

    My sister in law was married to a guy who turned out to be a pedophile that stalked teens via Craiglist. He got busted in an online sting and had his photos all over the local news and paper. Somehow, he beat the charges but not before running up a bunch of credits cards in my sis-in-law’s name, defaulting on a vehicle loan, and more. She ended up filing for bankruptcy and he got off scott free. For her to get turned down a job due to a credit check would be a real travesty. Thankfully, she’s doing just fine now.

    As for drug tests – scheduled ones are stupid and costly. You’d be better off with a surprise test somewhere within the first 90 days during the “eval” period most employers put on new hires. Otherwise you’re just wasting money.

      1. Oryx*


        I had to take one for the prison which I sort of understand. But every other job? Just seems completely unnecessary.

      2. Bee Eye LL*

        GROSS indeed. We have our own little clinic and so the nurse stands in the doorway and listens while you go into the cup. At least they don’t watch but they might as well.

        1. Tris Prior*

          I have never felt like more of a criminal than the one time I had to take a pee test for a job. Having to leave the door open, having the nurse squirt blue stuff in the toilet so I couldn’t dilute my pee with toilet water (which as someone who’s never done drugs would not even have occurred to me!).

          1. Bee Eye LL*

            Also they put tape on the toilet handle, seat, lids, etc. Try to make it all tamper proof. It’s humiliating.

          2. Senator Meathooks*

            Not to mention that using the toilet water wouldn’t work anyway – it’s too cold.

        2. Katniss*

          I worked at a sober home for awhile and always had to watch the women pee when we tested them. It never stopped feeling creepy.

    1. Hlyssande*

      A friend of mine had an ex do the same thing with credit cards, leaving her on the hook because obviously there was no way to know if she really hadn’t taken them out.

  24. Ashley the Paralegal*

    Opps! I didn’t realize I couldn’t post links. Sorry about that Alison! Here’s my comment without the link:
    John Oliver just did a piece on background checks and how there are many errors are out there that cause people to unfairly lose out on jobs and financing because of misreported information to credit check companies who don’t do a very good job of fact-checking the information. If you want to watch it, google “John Oliver background checks” and it should be one of the first links that comes up.

      1. Ashley the Paralegal*

        Okay, that makes sense. Well in that case, sorry for the double post. :)

  25. Anon Moose*

    The only bright side I can think of doing the testing on day 1 is they had to pay you for that time (unlike if you had not started yet.) Ugh.
    Credit checking is so fraught. Because you can go through bankruptcy/ have bad credit for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with your ability to do a job/ be trustworthy. It can be biased against people who are long term unemployed for example. But some studies also show that banning it altogether doesn’t have the intended effect either:

    1. Ife*

      Sounds like banning credit checks on potential employees is a lot like rent control, it can end up hurting some of the people you’re trying to help.

      I am confused by this claim though, because I thought that most employers only do credit checks on their final candidate(s), not on the whole candidate pool:

      “A single job opening these days can get hundreds of applications. Since hiring managers can’t interview every candidate, they need some way to narrow the field. Filtering out people with bad credit helps them bring the number of applicants down to a manageable size.”

      The article is claiming that in lieu of filtering out candidates by credit score, they are using other criteria like more education/experience requirements. I’m not following how being able to run a credit check on one single candidate, or a handful of finalist candidates, will narrow down the applicant pool.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, that was in a podcast I listened to, and I didn’t get it either. You don’t check credit until you get to finalists, so I don’t really see that weeding down the applicant pool. Unless they think people will self-select out if you put “requires a credit check” in the job description or application, but that doesn’t seem very likely.

        1. Anxa*

          this varies. I’ve had to complete reference and background checks before several interviews.

      2. Anon4Now*

        I would love it if “a single job opening” could get a lot of applications. I started 2015 with two open reqs, and am in July 2016 with four. Recruiting is much more difficult that people realize.

  26. TR*

    Depending on the role, another reason they do credit checks (other than embezzlement, identity theft, etc.) is to make sure you wouldn’t be a target for bribes and the sort, also due to financial desperation. At least that was part of the rationale explained to me when I was hired by the federal government.

    1. TR*

      Just a possible explanation for why they would test someone who doesn’t handle a lot of money at work. Not saying it’s good or bad.

  27. Anon Moose*

    According to the EEOC:
    If an employer decides not to hire, keep, or promote you based on financial information in a background report, it must tell you — orally, in writing, or electronically. Specifically, the employer must:

    give you the name, address, and phone number of the company that supplied the credit report or background information;
    give you a statement that the company that supplied the information didn’t make the decision to take the adverse action and can’t give you any specific reasons for it; and
    give you a notice of your right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information in your report and to get an additional free report from the company that supplied the credit or other background information if you ask for it within 60 days.

    If they don’t do these things or you expect it was discriminatory, report to the EEOC and the FTC.

    1. Emp Atty*

      This, plus a lot of states have laws addressing what an employer can do with a background check. Most say they have to give you a chance to dispute the results. So, OP, definitely look into that if there is a problem.
      Many states are introducing ban the box legislation, which (in general) requires an employer to wait until after a certain period (after the first interview, or after you are conditionally hired, depending on the state) to conduct a background check. Some laws, including New York City and DC’s state that an employer may not even tell you that being hired is conditioned upon a background check until after you are conditionally hired.
      Even if they’re subject to one of these laws, this doesn’t excuse how your employer sprang this on you – they should have told you before they did, but maybe this provides some context?

      1. Juli G.*

        Oh, really? What’s the point of not informing people of the backgrounds? Is it to make sure those with less “clean” backgrounds aren’t discouraged from applying?

    2. Juli G.*

      It’s becoming very risky to have across the board rules on any sort of background checks. The EEOC really pushes employers to allow candidates to respond to any infractions and have them evaluated as individuals (which I think is great!)

  28. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Stupid drug testing policies. My company recently (w/in last two years) promoted 3 different men who all have obvious drinking problems. One got made partner. But, hey, alcohol is legal and, afaik, they weren’t tested.

    Oh, and, women do not get promoted much at all. Whether or not we drink. Makes me want to bring in psilocybin chocolate to nibble on.

  29. Julia*

    At what point, should one push back on filling out forms, background checks, etc before starting a job. At what point, should you be getting paid for your time?

    It sounds like the OP spent a sizeable portion of the day filling out forms before he had started. It took me 10 hours to fill out all the paperwork needed for my government job.

  30. AtomicCowgirl*

    I’ve always worked in transportation and warehousing and drug tests are standard operating procedure at most of the companies I’ve been at, including at my current company. We are in the wine industry and whenever we make an offer it is contingent on background check and drug screen; we’ve had candidates who failed both, most recently one applicant whose background check turned up two social security numbers attached to his past, one of which was not his. Drug screens are important for the group I manage as half of them are forklift operators and being impaired in the workplace would be a safety hazard. While I recognize that drug screens cannot adequately be used to identify addictions, they do help rule out individuals who might be at risk for theft or for accidents. When we make the offer to a potential new hire we do make it clear in the offer process that the position is contingent on their ability to pass both checks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They don’t test for alcohol abuse, which is far more prevalent, and they don’t test for current impairment, which is the only part that’s actually relevant to you as an employer.

      If you’re concerned about safety, you should be using performance testing, not drug tests. Performance testing will catch it if someone is under the influence of alcohol and legally prescribed drugs too, or even just compromised by something like fatigue, and it’ll catch it in real time — none of which drug tests do.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They’re usually computerized measures of hand-eye coordination and response time. They’ve been used by NASA for years on astronauts and test pilots!

          1. Mike C.*

            Ok, if it’s good enough for test pilots and astronauts, it should be good enough for everyone else.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Does anyone else remember the episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where Dr. Johnny Fever does a test of his reflexes on the air, and he actually does better while high? I think it was administered by a police officer trying to prove to listeners that they shouldn’t do drugs or something.

          3. Foxtrot*

            For what it’s worth, all of these positions say that they *can* be subjected to random drug screenings at any point. NASA is just working with a limited budget and I don’t think it’s worth the cost to them.

      1. DMC*

        I’m not clear on how performance tests would help for a new hire. Sure, the person might not be high at that moment, but if the person tests positive for heroin, cocaine, or some hard core substance and will be working around controlled substances, in health care, or in sensitive positions (driving, elderly, etc). then it’s not going to be wise to hire someone who likely has an addiction to illegal, hard-core drugs….

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, first of all, plenty of people use recreational drugs without having an addiction.

          Second, most drug tests catch marijuana and little else, because marijuana metabolites can stay in your system for up to 30 days, while everything else is out within a few days.

          But yes, performance tests are not for pre-hire testing. They’re for on-the-job safety testing.

          It’s also not going to be great if you hire someone who’s an out-of-control alcoholic, or who steals to support their gambling addiction, or sexually harasses your employees. These are risks of hiring, and you deal with it by having rigorous hiring standards and good management. The possibility that your employees might use drugs in the privacy of their own homes doesn’t justify the privacy invasion.

          1. DMC*

            That is why I said “likely” to have an addiction and I mentioned harder drugs. Personally, I think with all the marijuana laws it really is silly to exclude recreational marijuana users, but the reality is it is required in many industries, it’s still against federal law, and employers DO have heightened liability in our litigious U.S. society (at least). So, I really don’t fault employers for jumping through all the hoops. We do background checks after not having done them for decades after an incident where were basically told outright by our outside advisor, “Sorry, you have no leg to stand on and it’s impossible for me to effectively defend you if you’re not doing background checks.” After that, we started doing them. No one likes them. We don’t. Employees don’t. But it’s something that’s necessary because our legislative scheme exposes employers to a great deal of liability.

            1. DMC*

              And I should clarify – criminal background checks. Of course, we were checking references, etc.

          2. Violet Fox*

            Not to mention all of the other things they can find from urine, such as if a person is diabetic, if they are on any other sort of prescription medications, possibly for long term illnesses, if a person is pregnant (the last one for women obviously), etc.

            1. AtomicCowgirl*

              Most companies wouldn’t bother paying the $$$ for such an extensive screen. We do a standard 5 test.

              1. Violet Fox*

                I still would not put it past some companies to see a woman is pregnant and then decide she “didn’t pass” the drugs test. Yes, there are a lot of companies out there that would not do that, but there are always ones that will.

                Even if it is not common, it is still massive invasion of privacy.

        2. LBK*

          Those drugs are out of your system in a few days, assuming you’re just using a urine test. Given that, I don’t see how a one-time test at the time of employment is useful, because it’s pretty easy to get around with a minimal amount of planning unless you’re truly so addicted that you can’t go 3-4 days without getting high (and I’d think that would be so readily apparently that you wouldn’t need to test for it).

        3. TL -*

          There are a couple of labs in Massachusetts where some drug testing would have been helpful.

          I do think that in some healthcare/forensic fields, where access to controlled meds is common, you could justify drug testing (abuse rates and stress levels in those fields are generally high.) But other than that – it’s hard to justify.

      2. Emmy*

        I think some might test for alcohol usage. I know that policy at one of the delivery companies my husband worked for had a “no alcohol for 24 hours before you drive any equipment.” (Now, of course people broke that rule often.) And all of the companies he’s worked for have an incident=instant drug test. They also have randoms where someone shows up and tells you to go in right then. It has never mattered for him as he only drinks coffee. If they had a “no coffee” policy, he’d be in serious trouble all the time.

        I am consistently surprised by the applicants who know ahead about the drug tests and then fail them anyway.

      3. AtomicCowgirl*

        To be fair, I’m not saying that drug tests are **yay super awesome!!** They are, however, standard procedure in many workplaces, including mine. I imagine that eventually more companies will come around to eliminating them, but I don’t expect it anytime soon and it is something every job seeker should be aware of if they are trying to land a job in a corporate or production environment. We also have a lot of government contractors where I live, and my husband is a self-employed contractor who carries a very high security clearance. Laughably, we are also a state where medical and recreational marijuana are legal and I would be in no way surprised if about half the people I work with aren’t at least occasional recreational users. While many positions are low risk for post-hire testing, I’d hate to lose a good employee because of their off-work pot use.

        Screening for alcohol in my industry is more problematic. While it seems at first blush that it would make sense to screen for alcohol abuse, there are plenty of positions in the wine, beer & spirits industry that involved frequent ingestion of an item you are selling, making or testing. We have our fair share of functional alcoholics, to be certain, and there are always a small number of employees with very serious addictions that I can only imagine have a horrible time being around alcohol at work all day. It doesn’t happen terribly often, but we do on occasion happen upon cartons that have been opened and have bottles that have been unsealed or are missing and then hidden back in the center of a stack. Screwcap beverages make it even easier for someone to do this, especially in a large warehouse where there are plenty of places that get little traffic.

  31. ThatGirl*

    I worked at my current workplace as a contractor for over 5 years before I was brought on full-time.

    I got the job via a Craiglist ad and one interview, no references, no background check, nothing.

    After I was hired “for real” I had to get a full background check and drug testing. I found it hilarious, because if I had been so reliable and unimpaired up to that point, why would I suddenly stop?

  32. AR*

    First off, I hate credit checks, they don’t really tell anyone anything except how bad they are at managing their own monies. My company won’t do them unless that person is directly involved with taking in certain information, and then we also let the candidate know up front (after the offer) and advise them not to put in their notice until AFTER we have all of our background checks complete (including the drug test). We also don’t tell them about the drug test until we are taking them down, but we don’t even give them a start date until after it comes back clear. I have had many prospective employees calling in on a daily basis while the results are pending because they want to give their notice. My answer is always the same “Wait until the background testing is completed first”. It’s irresponsible to let someone give their notice before completing and receiving back all of the background test information. Companies that wait until after the employee starts or gives notice to do the appropriate checks drive me nuts!

  33. anon for this*

    I live in a state where pot is still illegal but I’m a recreational smoker. A year ago when I was interviewing I had stopped smoking temporarily and I interviewed somewhere and it went really well and they gave me a packet of info. Only after I got home did I look through it and see that there was a form for a lab — if they made an offer, I’d have 24 hours to go to a certain lab and get a test. I didn’t get an offer but I was so nervous because I didn’t know if enough time would have passed.

    So then I interview somewhere else and go to Denver for a vacation and while in Denver, where it’s legal, I get the job offer. I was super paranoid they’d spring a drug test on me but thankfully they didn’t. As it happens, the company was in Denver for a conference a couple months ago and several people took advantage of the local culture so clearly this is not a concern where I work now.

  34. Jadelyn*

    At my org – which is a credit union, so we require background/credit checks for literally every person we hire regardless of position (including temps) – we are always super careful to stress DO NOT GIVE NOTICE AT YOUR CURRENT JOB UNTIL WE TELL YOU THE BACKGROUND CHECK HAS CLEARED.

    Hiring managers get cranky about this because essentially it means pushing their new hire’s start date out by two more weeks, since they aren’t even giving notice until post-BGC, but we have all put our collective HR feet down on this one. We actually had one young woman last year who either didn’t understand the sequence of events, or the hiring manager wasn’t clear with her about it, and she put in her notice before we got the results…and then she failed the background check. :(

    I know that our org also does its best to work with candidates who have potentially-unfavorable results; the report comes back, then our specialist reviews it and contacts the candidate to discuss any problematic results. The candidate can explain, provide supporting documentation, etc. in order to let us make a decision based on the most complete and accurate information we can get.

    TL;DR There is such a thing as a compassionate and responsible way to handle background/credit checks for prospective employees, and I really wish more employers would run their stuff this way.

    1. Coffee and Mountains*

      Yeah. Where I work now, we only run the check on the finalist, but we don’t make you an offer until the check is clear (we do criminal only). We only drug test if you drive on the job or if you have an accident or appear to be impaired on the job.

    2. OP*

      Agreed – in my case, I’ve turned down three interviews since I accepted and that’s a big part of why I was so annoyed!

  35. Mike C.*

    Are there certain types of jobs that are legally mandated to drug screen for every employee? Does it have anything to do with being a government contractor?

    Like, I understand testing someone who works with heavy machinery or is a pilot or something, but other office related positions it seems rather silly.

    1. Champagne_Dreams*

      Yes. Any company who does any work for the government must drug test all employees. And there is no exception for the states where pot is legal, and it doesn’t matter whether you have a valid prescription for that pot. Federal law trumps.

      1. Juli G.*

        It’s interesting how many employers are federal contractors. I worked at my company 4 years before I found out because it was pretty indirect to what I did.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Hmmm… that doesn’t line up with what I’ve heard about some of the government agencies with large setups in Colorado, but I may be misunderstanding. My friend said they had to “put their foot down” and tell employees to stop smoking pot on the premises; but I don’t remember what, specifically, he said about drug testing.

      3. Rat in the Sugar*

        They actually only have to test certain employees who work with sensitive info or are going on base or whatever. My company does contracting with the DoD among other people, and we only test the emloyees who are going to be working on contracts, not admin staff.

      1. Nina*

        Yep. I’m doing an externship in a medical office this summer and we all have to do drug tests, although we can schedule them on our own time. 90 day limit. Just wish I didn’t have to pay for it out of pocket. :(

      2. Liana*

        Eh. The medical industry is a pretty broad field – I work in a hospital, in an office, but have zero interaction with patients or sensitive equipment. What I do on my own time really has no bearing on what I do at work.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Yep. Government contractor. We are subject to random tests. Included in the job description, so if you don’t want do them, don’t apply.

      The only testing I ever objected to was a full pre-hire physical for a desk job which included a drug test. Really creeped me out. I partially understood why; the company did industrial cabling fabrication and installations and the technicians needed to be physically fit. But I was offered a desk in the corporate office. The exam probably wouldn’t have been so bad, except the company used a low-cost clinic filled with parolees and accused persons out on bail getting weekly or daily drug tests.

    3. OP*

      My new job is indeed an office position and it’s one of those “zero tolerance policy” deals – because God forbid you wind up with a degenerate who once smoked a doobie at an Alicia Keys concert! *shout out to Deputy Dwight Schrute*

    4. Noah*

      In the airline industry, anyone in a safety sensitive position is randomly screened for drug and alcohol use. That is a pretty broad list. It includes pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, flight followers, load planners, ground staff, and many layers of management who might make operational decisions.

    5. some1*

      Businesses get a discount on their insurance if they can say they are a drug free workplace.

      1. SH*

        I’m in an office related position and my company threatens to test but never does. I live in NYC and weed is legal-ish (small amounts have been decriminalized) so it’s probably up to the employers discretion as to whether or not my infrequent use is a problem.

  36. RVA Cat*

    Somewhat paranoid question here, but – I trust it would be a massive HIPAA violation if the lab detected that the employee was pregnant or had some other medical condition unrelated to drug use and then shared that with the employer?

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I am not involved in drug testing, but from what I know of blood tests in general, a drug screening could not show anything unrelated — there’s no measurement of hormone levels or anything like that, so there would be no results to indicate anything unrelated.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. You have to test *for* specific stuff, and they don’t want to pay to test for stuff they don’t have to.

    2. Not a Lawyer*

      IANAL, but I don’t think it’s legal to test for anything other than what you’ve agreed to be tested for. You agree to be tested for specific drugs (depending on the “panel” you’re submitting to) and nothing else. So, even if it’s possible to detect a condition via the testing method, it’s not legal unless you explicitly give permission to test for that condition (i.e. pregnancy).

  37. Liana*

    I’m chiming in with the majority of commenters (and Alison) on my disdain for drug testing and credit checks. I am actually really, really passionate about how much I dislike required drug testing, no exceptions. As Alison mentioned in a comment above, you can do performance testing, which is more likely to catch impairment, including with alcohol abuse, which a drug test isn’t going to catch. Somewhat relevant: I’m also a proponent of legalizing weed, but I wonder how drug testing works in states like Colorado – do they test for marijuana?

    1. Toby*

      Even if it’s legal in your state, I think you’ll find that it will still be prohibited by at least the larger, publicly held employers.

      I know if they legalized it here, my company would still keep on with their zero tolerance and random test policies. I’m sure the insurance companies would screw you to the wall if you discontinued an existing drug testing policy – since it is the general nature of insurance companies to exploit any possible opportunity to raise rates.

    2. Laura*

      Yes, that’s pretty much what most drug tests are looking for. But not very many employers in Colorado drug test AFAIK. The state culture is very pro-marijuana, and thus so are many companies.

    3. some1*

      My company has offices in Colorado. When the law was passed, they amended the policy so employees in that state get don’t get tested for pot, but every other employee does.

      1. Liana*

        Interesting! I guess that’s about what I expected from most companies though. I have yet to be drug tested for any job, so I don’t have any firsthand experience of what it’s like.

  38. Susiecq*

    Something similar happened to me where they made me a job offer and ‘tentative but probably solid’ start date and then sent the background and drug test over. I didnt put in my two weeks even though I accepted until the results came back because you just never know! I told them that after the results came back fine and they were totally ok with me pushing the start date back one week since that’s how long it took to process the stuff.

    I took it as a good sign they didn’t bat an eye over it and it was a good intuition. I’ve been here a month and they’ve been great.

    1. Coffee and Mountains*

      This is so interesting to me too, because, although it’s not super-common, it’s also not super rare for a background check to take a few weeks (I think the longest I saw was 3). So if you’re focusing on a two-week start date, and your check doesn’t finish in time, you’re SOL.

  39. Champagne_Dreams*

    Look, the employer can’t do a background check before making an offer. “Ban the Box” legislation in many states and municipalities has made that illegal. We are literally FORCED to wait until after the offer is accepted before we can begin the background checking process. It sucks for everybody because it adds a level of start-date uncertainty that nobody likes. But it’s the law.

    We do say in our offer letters that start date is tentative and contingent on successful passing of background and drug checks. If a candidate will not give notice at their current job until after all checks have come back clear, we are totally understanding of that. But the choice of when to give notice and the choice to read (or not read) and process the info in the offer letter is completely up to the candidate.

    In my industry, we don’t do credit but we do everything else. Required to by health care provider statutes and government-contractor statutes.

    1. LBK*

      It sucks for everybody because it adds a level of start-date uncertainty that nobody likes. But it’s the law.

      To me, the most logical reaction to this law is to just stop doing background checks, which I think is meant to be the spirit of the law anyway. The idea is to stop penalizing people in perpetuity when they’ve already served their time and paid their debt to society, not to just make their job situation even more precarious by doing the background check later in the process.

      1. Coffee and Mountains*

        I’m assuming part of it is also a privacy issue — not running background checks willy-nilly on people that they aren’t serious about hiring.

        1. LBK*

          Given that background checks cost money, I don’t think most companies are doing that anyway. That may be an unintended effect, but the “Ban the Box” group and movement is explicitly for the purpose of fighting discrimination against ex-cons.

        2. JAM*

          A lot of companies apparently pay their payroll companies to do these background checks. I know at least one sells a bundle and it has very high limits. The problem is, that company violates so many legal rules on those background checks and doesn’t even send the dispute letters and that’s bad news. It might be cheap because the services they are providing aren’t in compliance and can get you sued.

    2. Anon Moose*

      The idea of Ban the Box is to stop employers from eliminating people off the bat for having any criminal record at all, whether it was relevant or not. So waiting until the offer stage means it can be used as part of a whole package vs. an immediate disqualification.

    3. Liana*

      Okay, but the point of “Ban the Box” legislation is not to make new hires wait in limbo until their background check clears, it’s to prevent discrimination against people with any kind of criminal record, and to help ex-cons reintegrate into society. Companies who choose to do background checks aren’t forced into the position of making offers contingent on a check – as LBK said, they could just choose to not do background checks if it’s not relevant to the job. And in many, many cases, (I’d argue the majority of cases) it’s not.

      1. Champagne_Dreams*

        There are a lot of industries where the background checking is simply not a choice. Anybody who provides services to the federal government, anybody in healthcare, anybody in banking, the list goes on. Any industry that has its own special regulations is going to have a requirement for criminal and drug testing slipped in there somewhere.

        The federal government has been pretty clear that any employer that is subject to the Federal Drug Free Workplace Act is not allowed to exempt pot from the testing, regardless of the state the employee lives in/works in.

  40. One of the Sarahs*

    OT – This is just me being nosy, on the subject of tests…. Here in the UK, if you want to work with children/vulnerable adults, you have to get a Criminal Records Bureau/Disclosure and Barring Service check, which looks up criminal convictions – do you have that kind of thing in the States?

    1. Mockingjay*

      Yes. My state actually has an online service for criminal checks. You pay a fee [All major credit cards accepted] and a report can be downloaded.

      It might be useful to request a report for oneself, especially if you have a common name or have been a victim of identity theft.

      1. One of the Sarahs*


        It’s also good to get periodic credit reference agency reports – it’s important to know what shows at your address/in your name, because it’s pretty easy to get someone else’s debts Disassociated from you (as long as you’re not still in a relationship with them), here in the UK, but better to do it ahead of time (eg my mum only found out my brother’s bad financial dealings were affecting her when she was buying a new sofa – same surname, same address, even though he’d moved out years ago, he was using her address with a mail forwarding thing…. little ∞¢#ª that he was!)

    2. Anon Moose*

      Even in places where there are now laws where you can’t background check until later, such as “Ban the Box,” jobs with children and vulnerable adults are generally excluded. You still need a background check for those jobs, yes.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Teachers and other such people also have to submit fingerprints in order to get licensed in most (maybe all?) U.S. states.

  41. Florida*

    Does drug testing help companies with their insurance rates? There are companies here that do not allow employees to smoke tobacco. They don’t have any way to test for it, but if you are ever caught smoking, even if it’s on your free time, you are fired. Everyone says it’s because it helps with their health insurance premiums, but I don’t know if that’s true.

    What about in a heavy machinery environment? Would you have cheaper liability insurance if you had drug testing?

    If that’s the case, at least the companies have some economic justification that makes more sense than the oh-so-successful war on drugs.

    1. DMC*

      It can also come into play with liability. If you have a sensitive area (Mental Health Facilities, Nursing Homes, etc.) and you don’t background check or drug test, and something happens, your negligence as an employer is going to come into play and the opposing attorney is going to highlight the fact that you couldn’t even be bothered to drug test or background check and — see, you would’ve likely excluded that person had you done so. It is very hard to defend an employer on negligent hiring who does not do such things, especially in certain industries.

      1. LBK*

        I guess my issue with that line of thinking is that there’s no urine test for, say, being extremely tired, which can make you just as prone to accidents and mistakes as being under the influence. I was pretty out of it at work last week because I stayed up too late watching Netflix, not because I was shooting up (damn you, Damages!).

        Linking drug testing to negligence is particularly illogical if the person isn’t using at work – the idea that a mistake could be the result of someone using drugs in their free time is bizarre and only succeeds because there’s still so much moral judgment associated with using drugs. Not to mention that what’s arguably the least serious drug (marijuana) stays in your system much longer than anything more dangerous. You’d have to be testing people every 3-4 days if you wanted to ensure your sample size was reliable enough to catch hard drug use. One pre-employment test is usually going to be completely meaningless.

        1. DMC*

          The fact is, it does actually affect an employer’s liability if a negligent hiring suit were to happen. That’s not the fault of the employer. That’s the fault of our society.

    2. Oryx*

      I know one of the major hospital systems here will not hire you if you are a smoker. For that I think it’s more of an optics/perception thing. Doctors who smoke doesn’t look good.

      1. Florida*

        We have a timeshare resort here that won’t hire you if you smoke, even outside of work. I can understand them not wanting you to smoke at work for image reasons. But why can’t you smoke at home?

        1. Non-Smoker*

          Just a guess, but maybe they assume most people who smoke aren’t going to be able to go without smoking for an entire work shift. I’m inclined to agree that’s probably true.

          1. Laura*

            Nailed it. I had a coworker who was a heavy smoker, and he was eventually fired partly due to his constant “smoke breaks” that took well over 10 minutes each time.

        2. JAM*

          Thirdhand smoke is another issue. If you are working with fabrics or people in close proximity the smoke on your clothes can linger and cause issues in other spaces. I had a nurse at my cancer center who always smelled of smoke when she changed my IV. I was super sensitive to smells during treatment and would gag every time. I really never realized it till then.

      2. Sigrid*

        Yeah, all of the major hospitals in my state are clear that they don’t hire smokers — hiring is contingent on passing a nicotine-specific drug test, and you’re subject to random nicotine tests throughout your tenure there. If you are fail a nicotine test, you’re fired. (This is for doctors, at least; I don’t know about other hospital employees.) That’s pretty common throughout the country now, although I will note that Tennessee passed a law forbidding employment discrimination by smoking status, so hospitals aren’t doing so there. In medical school, we’re all warned very strongly to stop smoking if we do, and never ever start if we want to be employed at a major hospital.

        It’s almost entirely an optics thing. It’s difficult to convince patients of the dangers of smoking when half your doctors are outside lighting one up.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          What if someone has been using patches to quit? They are definitely not smoking, but there’ll be nicotine in their system.

          1. Semi-nonymous*

            In my area hospitals it’s actually an official nicotine ban, not smoking ban. The current staff at the time the policy went into place was grandfathered in, but the newly hired staff from then on was required to be tobacco and nicotine free. They also made the hospital campuses smoke free and removed all the cigarette disposal cans – which meant that the staff and people there in the waiting rooms (lots of people waiting on a loved one’s all day surgery) all went and smoked on the sidewalk across from the parking lot, and absolutely littered the tree lawn with cigarette butts.

            They also offered free stop-smoking classes and programs and aids like patches, and then added an extra cost to anyone on the health insurance that was a tobacco or nicotine user – and the cost was super high.

      3. T3k*

        Could it also be a health situation as well? My mom and I are both mildly allergic to cigarette smoke to the point even being behind someone who’s smoking or near someone who just got back from a smoke break for a few minutes is enough to start making us feel nauseous and dizzy. I’ve had to ask coworkers to leave my vicinity time to time because this.

    3. i'm anon*

      Companies can pass at least part of the insurance premium hikes onto their employees, though–the Affordable Care Act allows for employers to force employees who smoke to pay significantly more for their insurance than employees who don’t.

      1. OP*

        I used to smoke and I think that’s so unfair. I have always stayed very fit, ate right, don’t have children etc. and I’m being charged extra while another woman who was very overweight and had several high-risk pregnancies (gestational diabetes) somehow paid less for insurance than I did. How the heck was she costing the company less? I don’t think anyone should be penalized, because if I have a coworker that chooses to drink excessively, for example, that’s….somehow okay.

  42. DMC*

    Credit checks I’m lukewarm on and think, unless you have a serious financial position, they aren’t relevant. However, drug tests are good things to do in certain industries, in my opinion (as are, in some cases, criminal background checks). People who work in healthcare, have vulnerable populations, access to many controlled substances, etc. No, drug tests don’t catch actual impairment, but I certainly think it is reasonable for employers in certain industries to drug test.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Lots of the most dangerous substances don’t show up or clear quickly.

      For instance, cocaine clears pretty fast (around 48 hours for most people) and THC can stay in someone’s system for a year +/-. Also, alcohol is legal, but every substance-abusing coworker problem I’ve had that actually put me at risk was people with hangovers or inebriated.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        This is my issue too – and alcohol abuse is so, SO much more common than drug abuse, and harder to get actual treatment for (apart from being told “hey go to 12 step”, which is not helpful for a large proportion of people) in most places.

        1. Drinkin' on the job*

          And alcohol abuse is way easier to hide in plain sight.

          You have to thoroughly cover your tracks if you’re snorting or injecting anything and there’s no hiding that you’re lighting up at work… but it’s totally normal to keep a bottle of water or coffee creamer or mouthwash or whatever at work, so it’s feasible that no one would suspect or even NOTICE that they’re not what they appear.

    2. anon for this*

      To me your last sentence pretty much says “no, they don’t work, but they’re reasonable anyway”. Very puzzling.

  43. Wrench Turner*

    I had a mandatory binding arbitration agreement sprung on me almost a month after being hired. Jerks.

    1. Mike C.*

      That garbage should be outlawed. Save arbitration for parties who enter into it willingly as equals.

      Also, I have to wonder how far those can go in labor situations. You can’t sign away protections given to you by law.

      1. Yorkie*

        Actually, you can sign away protections given to you by law. That’s why companies pressure people (customers and employees) into accepting these; they trump the normal legal recourse you have. There are several major legal rulings.

          1. DMC*

            I’m curious why so many people seem to hate arbitration agreements. I think they are pretty awesome, for the most part, for both parties. They save the burden on the courts, they are faster and cheaper, and both sides get to mutually pick their arbitrator (and arbitrators are usually retired judges or, sometimes, retired attorneys). Both sides can still have attorneys, do discovery, present their cases, etc. So, I’m genuinely curious about those who dislike them, why? I think arbitration is a much more civil and efficient process for both, and the arbitrator still has to apply the same law. Other than it being harder to appeal, I’m not keen on what the big disadvantages are (and I’ve found most arbitrators do actually try to give more fair judgments so that they will be mutually selected in the future — if they stray to far to one side or do something absurd, word gets out and folks just don’t want to use them, anymore…and if they do do something eggregious, a party CAN appeal). So is it just the difficulty with appealing? Or is there something else to them that people find objectionable?

              1. DMC*

                Thank you for the link. I’m specifically referring to arbitration agreements in the employment context, because so many labor laws allow for the recovery of attorney fees, which means every person with a half decent case can find an attorney to represent him or her, in an employment case, with little to no money up front.

            1. Violet Fox*

              Actually usually the big company gets to pick the arbitrator, and they tend to pick people who rule in their favour who keep doing that so they will get business from the big company. It really really sucks for the little guy.

              1. DMC*

                I have handled a lot of arbitration agreements in different companies and I have never seen a one-sided arbitration selection clause. If there is one, it would very likely be overturned promptly by a court the moment challenged.

                1. Violet Fox*

                  A lot of the cases where people have to deal with arbitration clauses, they cannot afford to take it to the courts to challenge it.

            2. OlympiasEpiriot*


              Let’s see, where to begin. Well, the fact that arbitration clauses are used to eliminate the possibility of class action suits (because who is going to individually pursue a $30 credit card fee all the way through alone, or who’s going to hire a lawyer for that…but, an AG with lots of complaints about a biz and their randomly applied fees could do that as long as a class action suit is not barred could) is definitely a BIG stroke against these weasel words.

              Arbitration to settle all employment disputes up to and including harassment and assault in the workplace (not unknown in the financial sector) is another good reason.

              Arbitration decisions are not published, making referring to case law in these situations a joke. Also, they are not tracked in any public database.

              Arbitration schedules are frequently discontinuous and the arbitrator is chosen by the deeper pocketted side. Your claim that ‘doing something egregious gets out’ is specious when it comes to the typical person. I’m extremely involved in civic life but barely know details about the judges we are expected to vote on without some digging in public records. How can we expect Jane Doe or John Roe to have that kind of insider knowledge?!

              1. DMC*

                I can understand that perspective, but not its practice because that hasn’t been my experience. Just like in court, in arbitrations, each side is almost always represented by attorneys who DO know the arbitrators and their decision histories. In all the years I’ve been involved with arbitrations, I can only remember one case where the person did not have an attorney–about the same rate as with court litigation. It’s almost unheard of for a client to represent themselves in employment cases because of the plethora of statutory attorney fee recovery provisions. Also the only entity who really benefits in a class action lawsuit are the attorneys. The plaintiffs get almost nothing.

                1. DMC*

                  And of course, I am referencing employment arbitration agreements since that’s the topic here. I have no experience with consumer arbitration agreements. In fact, because of certain case law in my state, the employer even PAYS the cost of arbitration AND both sides mutually pick the arbitrator.

                2. OlympiasEpiriot*

                  I would also hazard the opinion that society benefits by a control on some sleezy practices by the company who has to change their behaviour as a result of a class action. This isn’t only about a few people getting some money.

    2. Yorkie*

      Did you turn it down? What exactly would they do after you’d been there a month already and didn’t sign it?

      1. Noah*

        They could terminate your employment in an at-will state, assuming you don’t have an employment contract.

  44. Corporate Drone*

    The reason many companies do credit checks as a condition of employment is simple. The credit bureaus saw an opportunity to sell their data into a new market, and did so by convincing employers that there is somehow a link between one’s credit worthiness and one’s trustworthiness. There is none.

    How much do you want to bet that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling had stellar credit? I rest my case.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, the idea that people who don’t desperately need money are unlikely to steal money is pretty ridiculous. I get that an honest person is more likely to crack under financial pressure and do something he wouldn’t ordinarily do, but eliminating honesty but potentially desperate people from your pool does nothing to keep dishonest, greedy people out of your pool.

  45. Menacia*

    I think that all of the drug testing and background checks need to be done prior to the job offer or at least before the person is on the job. We hired a guy here in our IT department who had not had the drug testing done, two weeks go by, and by this time I had trained him (for hours), and he was starting to work on our highly security-minded environment when the company finally got the results. He tested positive for marijuana (I was wondering why he was nodding off during my training sessions with him in the afternoon), and when questioned about it actually tried to argue that he did it recreationally after business hours. Thankfully my company has no exceptions to a positive drug test and he was let go. But what a waste of my time, I was pissed! Now HR does not allow anyone onsite without them completing a drug test.

    1. LBK*

      He tested positive for marijuana (I was wondering why he was nodding off during my training sessions with him in the afternoon), and when questioned about it actually tried to argue that he did it recreationally after business hours.

      …you don’t think he might have just been tired? I think a lot of people tend to get a little sleepy after lunch, that’s why 5-Hour Energy had a whole ad campaign around “that 3 o’clock feeling”. It’s bizarre to me to assume that he was high and that’s why he was nodding off, and that he couldn’t possibly have actually just been using at home (something all the smokers I know have never had a problem doing).

    2. Mike C.*

      Uh, what? Marijuana doesn’t make you tired, especially if it was taken outside of work hours for you to only see effects in the afternoon.

      This post makes absolutely no sense. Why in the heck are you thankful?

      1. Liana*

        Well – in all fairness, that’s not entirely true. Medical marijuana is well known to help with insomnia, and as someone who has taken it recreationally (both for chronic insomnia and for other reasons), it definitely makes me tired, at least. It’s dependent on the strand and on the person, though. However, I agree with the spirit of your comment.

        @Menacia – there are any number of reasons he could have nodded off in the afternoon – the 3:00 slump is a pretty well-documented phenomenon. His nodding off and his recreational marijuana use are likely not related.

    3. CoffeeLover*

      Ya, marijuana can stay in your system for months if you’re a regular user. Drug testing for non-safety sensitive positions is not allowed in Canada for this very reason. Employers cannot fire people for the things they do in their spare time if those things don’t impact the quality of their work… it’s unlawful termination (again, in Canada). I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll leave it at that. As LBK said, I highly (ha!) doubt this guy was smoking on his lunch breaks.

    4. Ashley the Paralegal*

      This is a great example of a company losing a potentially awesome employee over a silly zero tolerance policy. What someone does in their spare time should make no difference to an employer as long as it doesn’t affect their work and I can’t imagine that it would have in this example.

    5. On the Phone*

      A marijuana high only lasts two hours, so for him to be high during his training sessions he would have to be smoking joints/ eating brownies at lunch, which seems pretty unlikely without you noticing and also can’t be proven by a urine test (that is, the test doesn’t distinguish past from current use.

      Also, “sleepy” is not usually a criteria used to determine if someone is high.

    6. anon for this*

      I’m baffled as to why you’re incredulous that he might have flunked a urine test because of off hours recreational use. That’s utterly plausible, as has been explained many times in this thread. I’m also baffled as to why you’re so grateful that you wasted your time training someone only to fire him for what he does in (almost certainly) his free time. There is zero conflict between being a recreational pot smoker and being a competent IT person.

      A recreational pot smoker and competent IT person (who has never consumed pot at work and never “nodded off” from pot, I think you’re maybe thinking of heroin?)

  46. CoffeeLover*

    I got a job offer while in university to start the following fall (a year in advance). I graduated and went to Europe for 6months before starting. 3months into my trip and about 8 months after the offer, I got an email asking me to submit some forms for a background check (I’m Canadian so credit and drug tests aren’t a thing). I was really annoyed. I work for a multinational firm, so I ended up having to stop in to some random office in Switzerland to submit my form. I wasn’t the only one in that boat since several future coworkers were also travelling, and I’m not sure how this would have worked out had this not been a multinational firm. Why they didn’t get us to sign-off on the background check during the offer stage boggled the mind. More importantly, don’t just do things for the sake of checking off a box. Either the background check matters or it doesn’t. If it matters, have it completed before the offer. If it doesn’t, then don’t have it at all.

  47. KimberlyR*

    I didn’t read everything so this may have been said before…
    Regarding drug screens and OTC or prescription medication use, when I had to schedule drug screens for potential employees, if something popped as positive, the lab called the potential employee directly to ask about it. If there was some valid reason (OTC med, prescription from physician), they would get the documentation needed and release the result to us with no identifying data about the medication. We would know something popped for them because the test took an additional couple of days to come back and the format was slightly different on the results, but we had no way of knowing what medication(s) the potential employee took. Thats also why, when people would try to proactively give me a copy of the prescription/doctor’s note/etc, I would have to turn it down-the lab would contact them for that information if needed, but I had no reason to have that personal information on the potential employee.

    1. James M*

      Out of curiosity, how did the process go when the drug being tested was cannabis and the individual being tested was a licensed medical marijuana user?

  48. Pi Curious*

    The surprise test is awful. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Just this week I unexpectedly had to take a pregnancy test at the doctor’s office and I straight up couldn’t go.

  49. Mimmy*

    This is going to sound nit-picky, but the OP knew about the background checks and drug screen on the initial application, so I don’t understand why this came as a surprise.

    That said, I don’t like that some employers seem to require you to have the drug screen done immediately or else. Not everyone has the luxury of just dropping everything in the hopes of finding an open appointment within 48 hours.

    For the record, I’ve never had a real issue with drug testing or criminal checks and actually think they’re appropriate for certain jobs, i.e. driver, pilot or direct care worker. Credit checks? Hmm…definitely for jobs where you have any level of responsibility with money.

    1. OP*

      Just to clarify, it was on the paper application that I was given when I came in for the interview (not in the original posting or anything like that). My issue was that they scheduled my start date knowing that the checks wouldn’t be completed in time, so they put me in a position where I’d already turned down other interviews and, God forbid something went wrong, I’d be fired after starting.

    2. OP*

      I forgot to add that, after they requested my references and spoke with them, they called and made the offer. I was told that I was going to the office to fill out new hire paperwork (they specifically listed what I’d be filling out), so that’s why it was a surprise to me in this case.

    3. Kelly L.*

      Because once you’re told you have the offer, you think they’ve already done everything they’re going to do.

      -Background check? They might have done it already, while checking your references. Unlike drug tests, it’s not like your reputation goes and pees in a cup. It could happen behind the scenes without your knowledge. When a similar thing happened to me, they did break out a whole new set of paperwork for the background check, but I didn’t know ahead of time that there would be this new set of paperwork. I thought, “Oh, I signed off on it, they hired me, so they must have gone ahead and done it and I passed.”

      -Some hiring processes have you sign off on stuff they’re not going to actually do. So if you get the offer and there’s something you signed a waiver for, but which hasn’t actually happened, you might think “Well, I guess they don’t really do that after all.”

  50. Sigrid*

    My husband’s engineering firm has a rule that anyone involved in an accident while on company time/property has to get a drug screen right away, meaning that when one of his engineers had her *parked* car backed into by a hydraulic excavator on a job site the other month, she had to go get screened. As if the fact that her personal car is now totaled wasn’t bad enough! (The car was parked in the appropriate place, for the record. Where cars go, not excavators.)

    1. James M*

      I believe I would go to a law office in that situation, and not a drug testing facility.

  51. Nah*

    I’m so glad I work in a field that never drug tests. You’re probably an outlier if you *don’t* occasionally smoke pot in my industry!

    I probably wouldn’t take a job that wanted to drug test me or run a credit report (and fwiw I have an 800+ FICO). I just think both are such an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Nobody needs that information about me to determine whether or not I can do my job, and I don’t want to work for an employer that thinks otherwise.

  52. De Minimis*

    I know when I worked for the feds they didn’t really start going through your background check until you’d been on the job a couple of months–think it was mainly due to backlog and wanting to save money [agencies are charged by OPM for each investigation.] You don’t even fill out the background check paperwork until you’ve got a tentative offer.

    1. De Minimis*

      I also remember when I was in public accounting I had to do a pretty involved financial background check, but it was more about checking my creditors to see if they were clients. If you owe above a certain amount of money to a creditor, you aren’t allowed to work on audit engagements involving that creditor [assuming they’re a client.]

  53. Noah*

    The drug testing conversation always seems strange to be because I’ve worked in the aviation industry since I was 18 years old. Every job I have ever had involves pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing. I guess I’m just normalized to it because I’ve always had to do it.

    For our random testing, someone meets you at your desk, hands you the chain of custody form, and you have to go immediately to the testing facility. Once you present yourself at the testing facility you have to complete the process. If you leave without providing a sample it is considered a positive test. It sucks when you have to sit there drinking water for an hour or two.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I’ve always worked in manufacturing (or the offices of companies that had the bulk of their employees on the manufacturing floor) so drug testing has always been part of my career too. I agree with post-incident testing for alcohol and drugs that might be *currently* in your system, and I kind of get it in theory for jobs involving heavy equipment – but I think what is done in practice is stupid and not actually effective.

      However, even with an example like yours – we had an employee pulled for a random screen, so they gave him the paperwork and told him to go to the testing facility. He was concerned he would fail, so apparently he swung by a local shop that sold him something (to drink? fake urine? I don’t remember the details) on the way to the testing facility (it conveniently was located just a block a way – they know their customer base). He passed the test (whether because of what he purchased or if he didn’t have enough of the drugs in his system, can’t say). However, the dumba$$ then went and bragged about it, *at work* in the breakroom. One of the guys he bragged to told the shift supervisor, and next thing the dumba$$ knew, he was in a cab with the plant manager back to the testing facility, and then sent home until the results of that test came back. He failed that test, and was fired.

      If you are concerned enough about your work drug test to fake it, don’t brag about it to your co-workers, and especially not *at work*. I’m anti-drug test, but I’m also anti-dumba$$.

  54. phedre*

    Especially after the Great Recession (whose effects are lingering for many people), I don’t feel that credit checks are particularly useful unless you are hiring for a position that has access to large amounts of money. Many Americans are still repairing their credit from being unemployed/underemployed for years – I know that my own credit isn’t what it could be. It’s not abysmal, but I am FINALLY paying off my credit card and building savings. It’s still going to be years before my credit score gets significantly better. I would hate for that to count against me. Thankfully none of the jobs I’ve had for have ever asked to run my credit score. Hell, the last two places didn’t even do drug testing.

    I also live in WA State, so of course legalized marijuana has changed some of the math around drug testing. Most employers here don’t care as long as you’re not high at work. There are still some exceptions of course – government or if you’re using heavy equipment, etc.

    1. Ashley the Paralegal*

      Not to mention a lot of debt on a credit report is medical related and what kind of jerks employer holds that against you.

      1. phedre*

        Yeah it’s ridiculous! My soon-to-be husband has $75,000 in medical debt (literally no other debt) from ending up in the ER while uninsured (pre-Obamacare days). We’ve been turned down for apartments for this even though we both have a clean rental history and landlord references.

  55. Jill*

    Yes! Boo to drug tests which will only show you what I’ve used TODAY. I worked with a guy who was with our organization for nearly 25 years, had a stressful year, and ended up turning into a drunk, even coming into work three sheets to the wind and puking in his garbage can on multiple occasions. He was finally urged to retire.

    But the drug test he took 25 years previously couldn’t have predicted this type of behavior. Stupid!

  56. Kelly*

    The people who do our drug testing have told us that there is a threshold number that you have to pass before you test positive for drugs – and that level is an amount that tests for “abuse” and not “use.”

    False/Positives usually run in the 5-10% range – so yeah, if it’s just ONE allergy pill the chances are it’s not even going to register. If you’d been taking them several times a day for a week – might be a different story and you’d want to let them know that.

  57. Ms. Didymus*

    I despise credit checks for any position.

    Someone who has bad credit is not inherently a criminal and someone who has good credit is not inherently not going to steal your money.

    There has not been enough research to show any correlation between credit and job performance or credit and likelihood to steal from employers. Instead, there is a lot of evidence that suggests people who have bad credit are more likely to be poor and not as well educated. So all these checks do is further harm an already disadvantaged group.

    1. De Minimis*

      Also too, I think companies should have adequate controls in place to make it extremely difficult for an individual to steal undetected. If you’re that afraid of someone stealing, you haven’t done your job as far as setting up financial controls.

      Not that it excuses stealing, but it’s not that hard to segregate duties, count petty cash on a regular basis, or even just require two signatures on checks

  58. Ashley the Paralegal*

    I know the idea behind credit checks to hire someone “responsible”, but I think one could actually make the argument that someone might be a better employee if they had a lot of debt. After all if they are just a few paychecks away from defaulting on loans or losing their home, they are probably going to be doing everything they can not to lose that job. Just a thought and either way, I still find them ridiculous, regardless of job field.

    1. JM in England*

      This is in a similar vein to it making more sense to hire someone unemployed than already working. The unemployed person will take the job to clear their debts, will be more grateful for it and therefore more likely to stick around and make it work………………

  59. I drink and I know things*

    I’ve a question about credit checks..does it matter if you’ve moved around a lot? Does your credit score travel? For example I’m originally from Sweden, moved to college in Ireland where I took out a loan to cover college that I’m still repaying (and I’ve had about 10 late payments over the past 4 years) then 2 years ago I moved to the UK, first to Scotland (where I had an overdraft) now to London. I’ve just been offered a role at one of the Big 5 investment banks, no mention of contingency’s in the offer letter but It does say they’ll run a background/credit check based on my address history..so huh???

    1. Violet Fox*

      Depends on the country really what they can get, and who does the background check. If they are done by the police in the country, then they will get just a yes or no, if they are done by a private firm I have no idea. On top of that I would take it as a pretty safe bet that all of those countries also have different privacy laws when it comes to what can and cannot go on a background check, what sort of criminal background do they consider relevant, same with financial background.

      I know that where I live now the police do all of the background checks, and just send the company back a yes or no depending on the sort of job and what sort of checks are required. The company is not allowed even to know if the person has a criminal record or not. They also are required by law here to inform about credit checks, and you can send letters to the companies that do these to block your credit checks without your explicit consent (one of my coworkers did this since she has issues with people stealing the mail where she lives).

      Some of this also depends on the laws in the UK if they are allowed to deny you a job based on the credit checks, and they might have to disclose that they are looking at doing a background check, but really you probably need a UK and a EU expert as to how these things works, because it is a ton of depends on the local laws.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      Caveat: my information could be out-of-date, so if I’m wrong, someone else in the UK correct me….

      Scotland and England are covered under the same credit scoring system – and my info isn’t current, but in the late 90s/early 2000s, credit scores in the UK didn’t look at your overdraft, or how much was on your credit card, but how many items of credit you had (eg 5 cards, 3 loans, an overdraft and 3 “buy now pay later”) – but what would show up were late payments, if there were to UK credit institutions.

      (It felt a little bit counter-intuitive, but someone with a credit card that they were spending on, and paying off, with a balance on their card, was seen as less of a risk than someone without a credit card, in the bank I worked in, because it showed someone else had approved them, and they managed their money well).

      The credit scoring in the UK won’t pick up things from outside the UK, in my experience. This can penalise people who have come here from/worked abroad, as they don’t have eg 5 years clear credit score, but a large investment bank should be used to having employees from all over the world, so will have ways round that (eg maybe they’d use a credit score from Ireland too, depending on how many years they care about, which might take longer) – or may just decide not to, and maybe you’re on a different clearance than someone who has eg 10 years clear history.

  60. Anon in Cascadia*

    I live in a weed-legal state and it’s common for companies to mention drug testing in their ads, but then never require the actual testing. I guess they figure applicants will weed themselves out, and no stoners will apply.

    1. Ms. Didymus*

      Just a heads up: even in states were recreational use is legal, an employer can still test for it and they can still decide not to hire you for your use.

      1. James M*

        In my state the law very specifically states that no hiring decision may be based on a drug test result for marijuana for a licensed medical marijuana patient. However, companies that do pre-employment drug testing rarely acknowledge their intent to comply with this statute, and it’s fairly obvious that some of them simply violate it. So it’s not just recreational users who have concerns here, it’s also medical marijuana patients who should have very solid reasons to believe they are protected by law (the language of the statute could not be more clear), but they still aren’t.

  61. Patti*

    Interesting drug testing story for those that are concerned….

    I was recovering at home from Gastric Bypass and Gall Bladder surgery when I got a job offer (think 4 days post surgery). I was told I had to go that day for a drug test, which I was sure I would fail. I explained that I was on big time pain medication and why, their response was to take the test, and on the back end if there was any issue they would contact my surgeon for the list of drugs used. Amazingly, it came back totally clean. I still don’t know how that happened, and I can say for sure I don’t have much faith in the accuracy of the tests.

    1. James M*

      Pretty much everything on the typical panel is metabolized beyond the point of detection within hours. The one exception is marijuana, which is detectable for weeks or months in a urine test, and for *years* in a hair follicle test. Make no mistake: “drug testing” means marijuana, period.

  62. E*

    Just wanted to point out that job positions that deal with valuable information, not just money, may also be subject to credit report review, if the employer deems it necessary. I have a very low level security clearance (work for a govt contractor). Every employee here is required to get this clearance, because we all work with PII (Personally Identifiable Information) like social security number or date of birth. I personally wouldn’t ever consider selling such info on a black market, but I can see how someone in need of money might be tempted.

  63. HR Lady*

    Hey all,

    There are about 400 comments on here already, but I don’t see a single one explaining this practice. So let me try to clarify a few things. The reason the practice is so commonplace today is due to discrimination laws and the new “ban the box” laws in which employers are LITERALLY not allowed to ask about a background check until a contingent offer of employment has been made. Meaning, you have to have intent to hire a person BEFORE you can request this information.

    That being said, the HR person should’ve prefaced the offer of employment as being a contingent offer of employment and explaining that the start date would be XX/XX/XXXX pending the results of a background check, drug screen, and credit check.

    Believe me, as someone who fills jobs for a living, it is frustrating on our end too. No one wants to offer employment to an individual and then have to retract it.

    Also, I should point out that it is in every company’s best interest to run a background check and drug screen. If a company fails to complete any due diligence to looking into the past transgressions of a possible employee – and then it turns out that employee is, in fact, a danger to their current staff – then the company can be held liable for any damages (emotional, physical, etc.). So to protect themselves a company has to look this information up. Likewise, for drug screens, especially for positions operating heavy machinery.

    My advice to this person is that it sucks that it wasn’t more clearly communicated that the offer is contingent upon a clear background check, drug screen, and credit check – but that they generally have no reason to worry.

    1. Ms. Didymus*

      Ban the box laws do not prohibit employers from asking about background checks until an offer is made AT ALL. This is a pretty crazy interpretation of those laws.

      I live in a ban the box state and all that it does is prohibits asking about CONVICTIONS prior to an INTERVIEW.

  64. Kittens McGhee*

    My best employment drug-test related dialogue ever:

    Employer: “Say, Kittens McGhee, your screening came up with something concerning…”
    Me: “Not the [ADHD medication name] again! I told them about that, and I even showed them the bottle! Sheesh, did they not write that down?!”
    Employer: “No, no, that’s not the issue… it’s…uh, *looks at paper* what’s ketoacidosis?”
    Me: “Oh.”

    Good times.

  65. Job Seeking Recent Graduate*

    So while we’re on the subject; what exactly does, “handling money” encompass? How broad or narrow is this classification? How large of a net are we talking about here?

    Does holding a security clearance, like, counterbalance poor credit? Asking for a friend.

    Anecdotally, my spouse and I recently learned his sister was using his SSN and name to establish utilities and services for herself in another state, and not paying the bills. Consequently they went to collections and effected our credit and our ability to get a new apartment when we moved across country for graduate school, which is how we learned about it, (I have no idea how she got his SSN). SIL has very bad credit, very very bad, multiple bankruptcies, defaulted loans, the whole works, she’s an actual sh!tshow. She’s the risk!

    Related, but not… why do many employers require a drivers license for jobs that don’t have local-travel as a component of the duties and responsibilities, (I don’t have a DL, I have an ID, I don’t drive, and haven’t for 12 years, I get around just fine). The requirement seems kind of arbitrary and limiting, but I acknowledge that I don’t know the full picture. If I were writing a job description that required this kind of credential I would call attention to why, but that’s me.

  66. Honeybee*

    I’m so glad that in my state (WA) it’s illegal for companies to run a credit check on employees that don’t handle money! It should be like that everywhere. There’s no reason for it, and it shouldn’t be a routine thing – it’s such an invasion of privacy.

  67. Ally*

    Being in construction, I get drug tested all the time. When ever I’m on a new job or project or every few months.

    Usually they ask you before the test, what drugs you have taken in the past 10 days. I usually write down anything I may have taken in the past month just to be clear and always include standard OTC painkillers (e.g. the one with codeine) as they may give a false positive and I probably can’t remember when I took them.

    Usually they get an immediate response based on a colour indicator thingy on the lid of the test. Eg if the indicator turn pink, you may have traces of opids.

    If its a positive, they send it to lab which looks at the derivatives and other chemical and they should be able to determine what the actual drug is – e.g. they can seperate codine, morphine and herion based n what is in your pee.

    It would be fairly unlikely that the lab test said it was a illegal drug and you hadn’t taken anything.

    (Note – this applies to Australia, construction/mining industry tests – no idea about US test but I assume it would be the same)

  68. lost and confused*

    In another thread you gave advice to wait to give notice at your current company until after the background check has cleared, but most of the responses came from the US where 2 weeks notice is common. I am in the UK in a similar position, and not sure how to bring this up, as the background check is expected to take 4 weeks and my notice is also 4 weeks, meaning they will have to wait another 2 months for me to join (having already gone through several rounds of interviews for the last 2 months). They are expecting me to give notice and setting the start date for a month from now (which is when they expect the check to clear), but I am understandably apprehensive.. Not sure what to do in this situation at all..

  69. Mary*

    I received my final paycheck 2 weeks late after being let go, in Utah you have to pay within 24 hours. When I got the check I noticed they charged me $350.00 for “pre-employment” (background and drug) She said I signed the paper of getting the employee handbook, I told her of course I did, but was never handed one, and my bad was signing it without one but figured it was all the normal company policies. I asked her for receipts of what it cost because after several years of working and actually seeing invoices for background and drug testing it never cost us that much money. They said no to the receipts. I know this did not cost the company that much money, can they legally overcharge for the tests and profit from it.

  70. alan torres*

    Me he embrujado, cuerpo y alma, y amo … Amo … Te amo. No deseo separarme de ti desde este día

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