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Most of us have had to take a drug test at some point or another. You probably know, then, that even when there’s nothing to hide, awaiting results is a nerve-racking experience. After all, false positives do exist.

So, what happens if you do fail a drug test?

The short answer is, it depends on the reason you’ve been asked to take the test. Typically, drug testing is implemented by prospective or current employers and probation programs. So below, we’re going to cover what happens if you fail a drug test in each of these contexts.

North Carolina Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Many companies require that prospective employees pass a drug test ahead of hire. If you happen to fail this test for whatever reason, it’s likely that you won’t get the job.

The good news is, there aren’t really instances where you would face any legal consequences. Employers have no legal obligation to report failed drug tests to the police or any other law enforcement agency. In fact, in most cases, doing so would be a privacy violation, therefore an illegal act.

If the job is for a commercial driver or operator of heavy machinery, however, the employer may be required to notify the DMV of any failed or refused drug tests.

This could result in the loss of your commercial driver’s license, but won’t result in criminal action, unless you’re later caught operating a commercial vehicle without a license.

Employee Drug Testing Programs in North Carolina

There are employers that opt to drug test employees periodically, which is legal in North Carolina. In some businesses — think healthcare or transportation — a clean system is important to safety. Employers may also receive incentives from insurers or the government for implementing drug testing programs.

If you’re a current employee and fail a drug test, it’s likely that you’ll be terminated. However, unless you’re a commercial driver, the consequences will likely stop there. This is because your employer is prohibited from reporting the results to any regulatory agency.

North Carolina’s Probation Drug Testing Programs

Probation programs usually require that probationers remain sober and refrain from engaging in additional criminal activities throughout their term. To ensure that they do, most programs require ongoing drug testing.

If you fail a drug test while on probation, this could result in one (or more) of several consequences. The punishment will depend on factors such as the nature of the original offense, terms of probation, and discretion of your probation officer.

The Warning

In many cases where this is the first drug test failed and the only violation of an offender’s probationary terms, his or her officer will issue a formal warning. That warning may be the only consequence they face.

Community Service and Rehabilitation

If the probation officer believes that you will be able to refrain from future drug use, he or she may issue community service after the first warning. However, refusing to attend these programs will result in jail time.


When rehabilitation fails or isn’t an option, the probation officer may require you to attend counseling sessions aimed at addressing underlying mental and emotional issues that may compel drug or alcohol use.

Fines or Jail Time

If you have a continued pattern of failed drug tests or other probation violations, your officer may impose new fines or jail time. Generally, jail time is limited to a few days or weeks, although in some cases you could be required to serve out the rest of your sentence behind bars.

Greensboro Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer

Your primary takeaway?

You should experience no criminal consequences for failing a drug test – unless you’re on probation and fail a court-ordered test. If you’re asked to submit to drug testing otherwise, it’s important to know your rights and be aware of the potential consequences of failure.

For questions about the particular circumstances surrounding your case, reach out to your North Carolina probation attorney for advice.

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