Should I Hire Someone with a History of Substance Use?

This post was contributed by Saint Jude Retreats.  

Are you on the fence about a hiring decision because the applicant used drugs in the past? Have you considered implementing drug tests, but you’re not sure whether to make them an employment requirement? Substance use is a charged subject for business owners and hiring managers, but there are many nuances you should know before you enforce a permanent policy or a reject a candidate immediately.

What the law requires

You always have the right to require a drug-free workplace, which means you can fire or refuse to hire someone who fails a drug screening. However, according to federal law, that does not mean you can discriminate because of past substance use. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects applicants and employees who were cleared of drug charges, as well as those who stopped using substances and participated in a treatment program[1]

If you do choose to hire an employee who no longer uses substances, you may hold them to the same standards as everyone else. That means if they start using substances again and they fail a random screening or their work suffers as a result, you may dismiss them or pursue other disciplinary measures, just as you would if an employee began using them for the first time.

What to ask the applicant 

The same disability requirements also apply to the interview stage. You may not bring up medical conditions, which includes substance use that required treatment. However, you may inquire about criminal charges and mention any that were revealed in a background check. You may also ask about casual use of illegal substances [2].

This is where it gets tricky for many interviewers, because you can’t imply that the applicant needed or sought treatment for substance use in the past. However, if you stick to questions about the recent past and you don’t ask the candidate to quantify their drug use, you’ll be safe. For example, you may ask if they’ve used illegal drugs in the past three months or if they currently drink alcohol, but you may not ask how often they used them or if they were treated for it.

Whether to implement screenings

There’s a big difference between ongoing substance use and a problem that was addressed years or months ago. If you’re interested in maintaining a drug-free workplace, you can implement a random drug testing policy among employees and/or require pre-employment screenings. Of course, there are several different testing methods too, so you may want to weigh the cost of the tests against the money you expect to save by administering them [3]

Every year, employee drug use costs employers an estimated $81 billion [4]. If you fear a decrease in productivity or an increase in injuries because of ongoing drug use, you can choose your screening method accordingly. The most cost-effective tests can only detect very recent substance use, but others go back several months. You may also collect samples on-site (for example, mouth swabs for saliva) or request that applicants and employees visit an off-site facility.

If you care about having a safe, productive workplace and earning the loyalty of clients and customers, you need to be selective about the staff you hire. It’s only natural to want to implement certain hiring standards, especially if your employees handle sensitive information, heavy machinery or large amounts of money. However, some employers miss out on qualified candidates because they can’t see past previous substance use. Keep an open mind. It takes humility and will power to overcome a substance use problem, and past problems are not the same thing as ongoing drug use.






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Kacie was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology.

Kacie joined CareerPlug as an intern while still in college in 2012. Post-graduation, she joined the CareerPlug team full-time as a Talent Specialist on the Recruitment Services side of the business, eventually working her way up to be the Recruitment Services Manager. From there, she learned her passion for the internal processes of what makes the business tick and explored other roles at the company, including Internal Support, Implementation, and Quality Management, before eventually finding her home in Design. She is now building a Creative Design branch off of the Marketing team.

Outside of work, you can find Kacie walking her dogs Bixby & Bean along Buffalo Bayou, hanging out with friends (and their pets), and tending to her 40+ house plants.

Jenny Leman


Native to Texas, Jenny graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and joined CareerPlug in 2017. She retired her first career path as a Registered Dietitian after 10 years, and has found her true belonging in business operations.

As CareerPlug’s President, Jenny leads all teams to an aligned effort toward achieving our vision. She works to build healthy and scalable internal systems to equip and empower the CareerPlug teams to bring their best for our clients. She loves contributing new ideas and rethinking the status quo. Jenny really connects with the company’s core values, but especially with our intent to “Keep Growing.”

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Chris accidentally started a 20-year career in franchising when he was 18 years old and took a job painting houses for College Pro Painters. That job turned into the ownership of his first franchise (a house painting franchise). While at Monmouth College in IL, he operated his business, played on the varsity football team, and studied to become a teacher.

The taste of entrepreneurship and desire to coach others led Chris deeper into franchising, working with a few franchise brands helping them grow their businesses. He lived in the Chicagoland area his entire life until recently moving his family to Austin, TX.

In his free time Chris coaches youth sports, especially youth football, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and 2 children.

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Use our templates to create an attractive careers page and job posting. Then promote it through our job board partners, as well as directly with your employees, customers, and social network.



Use our notifications and automations to be the first to respond to qualified applicants. Send texts and emails from directly from CareerPlug to convert applicants to scheduled interviews.



Use our prescreen questions and assessments to identify the best applicants. Then use our interview questions and scorecards to evaluate for the right things consistently.



Once you think you have found the right person, use our reference and background check resources to verify them. Then, send an electronic offer letter from CareerPlug to close the deal!



Hiring is hard, but partnering with us makes it easier. From posting jobs to scheduling interviews, CareerPlug allows you to automate certain parts of the process to improve your results and save you time.


Polly Schandorf

Engineering Manager

Joe Lepis

Engineering Manager

Clint Smith

Founder & CEO

Clint founded CareerPlug in 2007 with the simple idea that there was a better way to help employers connect with quality applicants. Today Clint works every day to fulfill CareerPlug’s mission: Make Hiring Easier. Leading by example, Clint loves spending his time developing new ideas and teaching others.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Clint worked in investment banking and strategic marketing; both experiences influenced the development of CareerPlug. He also spent a year away from the business world teaching 5th grade in Boulder.

Clint is passionate about helping others succeed and is involved in numerous mentoring programs. He and his wife, Sarah, are also foster parents. Clint enjoys family time, beach volleyball, and outdoor adventures.