Hair follicle drug testing is one of the most common drug screening techniques. It involves removing a small amount of hair from the employee’s head with scissors. The strands of hair are then sent to a lab and tested for drugs in the employee’s system.
Hair follicle tests are less common than urine drug tests, which have a shorter detection window. There are some benefits of hair follicle testing over types of testing like urinalysis. However, some factors make hair drug tests less effective compared to other drug tests.
Pro: hair follicle drug tests provide a longer window to detect drugs in the system
A hair follicle drug test screens for signs of drug use by the employee in the past 90 days. This is a long detection period and may indicate drug abuse by the employee. An employer would use this drug screening method if they would like to know about the employee’s past drug usage.
It gives a whole snapshot of the employee’s relationship with illegal drugs. Hair follicle testing is a worthwhile way of testing pre-employment candidates. It is not easy for a frequent drug user to quit the drug(s) they are on for 90 days.
Con: it is expensive
Hair follicle testing is on average more pricey than urine and saliva testing. This is because the lab process of screening the sample is more in-depth. Also, this type of testing cannot be conducted at home, which ensures that it will have a higher cost than the others.
Most of the time, the employer pays for the hair follicle test as it may cost over $100. It is an extensive drug screening process and the employer must recognize that they are paying a premium.
Pro: tests are harder to cheat
It is common knowledge that it is possible to cheat on certain drug tests. This is not the case for hair follicle testing, as it is nearly impossible to adulterate the sample. Metabolites, which stay in the bloodstream for 90 days, eventually settle in the hair follicle.
Washing or dying your hair will not remove these metabolites from the hair strands. The results will be the same regardless of the efforts the employee may take to beat the tests.
Con: hair must be present and a certain length
If the employee has just shaved his or her head, the process also becomes more complicated. In this case, the lab tester will have to take a sample of hair from the person’s underarms, legs, or face to procure a sample. The sample of hair must be large enough to resemble the size of a cotton ball. Hair length is also an issue, as labs need at least an inch long strand of hair to garner an accurate test.
There are cases where employees do not grow abundant amounts of hair on their bodies. This scenario makes hair follicle testing a challenge and may force the employer to choose an alternative testing method.
Con: it is a feared method
Employees who have used illegal drugs in the past three months may decide against even taking a hair follicle test because they know that it is very likely that they will not pass this type of drug test.
Because of this, an employer may institute hair follicle testing to see who is serious about working at their company. Drug tests may be stressful in general for employees, and this method arguably causes the most employee or potential employee anxiety.