Drug testing in the Workplace

Testing employees or job applicants for drug or alcohol use invokes a controversial area of policy and law that is still establishing its parameters. Today, in many industries, drug testing has become a everyday business, just like a job interview for example. Drug testing at the workplace is up 277 %

since 1987 ( American Civil Liberties Union ) and as a result Employee Privacy is becoming increasingly an issue, not only for employees and employers but also for lawyers and unions. While increasingly employers have to ensure that their employees are fit for duty the use of drug and alcohol testing is becoming more and more an controversial issue.
On the one hand, drug abuse is a serious problem especially in the US, where 5 % of the worlds population consumes 60 % of the entire worlds supply of illegal drugs. Nine percent of current employees and 12% of job applicants test positive for illegal drug use, the U.S. Department of Labor has reported. Given these numbers, and the fact that drug abuse is estimated to cost business $100 billion per year in lost profits, it is no wonder that many businesses are considering drug testing. On the other hand for many employees drug testing can seem unnecessary, disruptive and a violation of privacy. Drug testing opponents also claim that drug testing is often inaccurate and unproven as a means of stopping drug use. Given those facts the question arises if drug testing for job applicants as well as for current employees is the best option to choose for employers.

The topic has gotten more and more attention during the last years and the drug and alcohol testing laws are still changing rapidly. In addition they vary tremendously from state to state. A number o state courts have set out rulings defining when and why drug tests may be given. Considering all the states and their particular laws cant be undertaken in this paper. Therefore, the considerations are of general character and are not to be distinguished between different states.
The right to privacy is the right to be left alone. It is highly valued in the U.S society that employees have privacy rights at work, subject to some limitations. The US and state constitutions give the employees a right to privacy, but it does not apply in the employee’s relationship with his employer. Many states sanction some sort of drug testing in the workplace but many do not regulate it much. In these states it is a employers right to ask for a drug test without a warrant or a particular reason. The can choose employees randomly just by drawing a name.However, this applies only for the private sector. In the public sector the workers have additional protections. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment to the US constitution prohibits the government from searching or ordering a search of a person’s bodily fluids without a proper reason to do so. For the government to legally require drug testing, it must have a need to drug test that is so strong that this need outweighs an employee’s constitutional right to privacy. Otherwise the test violates the fourth amendment, prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.Companies cannot usually conduct blanket drug tests off all employees or random drug tests. However, the courts have generally ruled that companies may test for drugs among employees whose actions could clearly cause human injury or property damage if their performances would be impaired by drugs, and in cases where there is good reason to think that employees are using drugs. Additionally there are a number of employees who, because of their specialized positions or type of work, can be tested more freely for drugs and alcohol use. For example the Department of Transportation requires drug testing for some critical positions, such as Airline Pilots and other high risk jobs. Another factor that has to be considered is if the company or government uses reasonable and accurate procedures to test. If they do drug testing of public employees is usually legal. Furthermore it has to be distinguished between testing job applicants and testing existing employees. It is more common to test job applicants for traces of drugs and just a few requirements have to bee fulfilled to legalize the test. These requirements include:
– The applicant knows that such testing will be part of the screening process for new employees
– All applicants are tested similarly and a state-certified laboratory administers the tests
Besides those requirements there has to be a reasonable suspicion of drug use based on the following facts:
-direct observation of drug use or of physical symptoms
-abnormal conduct behavior while at work or significant deterioration in work performance
-a report of drug use reported by a reliable and credible source or any kind other evidence drug possession usage or selling

Once the decision to drug test someone there are several actual drug testing procedures. Although there are a lot of different methods the vast majority of drug testing procedures is either urine analysis or hair testing. Blood tests for drug purposes are very unusual because those tests can detect drugs only for a very short period of time, usually not even a day. Other methods such as the saliva and sweat testing are often discussed but it is still not clear how accurate they are. Among the two most popular methods, urine analysis and hair testing, employers usually choose the urine analysis. Even though, hair testing is more accurate and can detect drug use for months or even years after use, it is common to pick the cheaper method which is urine analysis. Nevertheless, urinal tests can detect drugs for a couple of weeks at the most.
The urine drug testing is broken down into two basic types:the urine drug screen and the urine drug test. Neither of these tests actually test for drugs in the urine. They are looking for drug metabolites. A drug metabolite is what is left over of the original psychoactive molecule after the body breaks it down and passes it through the system.
Drugs, in order to be detected in the urine must be absorbed, circulated in the blood and deposited in the bladder. This process takes approximately three hours for most drugs–except alcohol— which can take only 30 minutes. Thus, an individual who was tested just 15 or 20 minutes after using drugs would probably (but not always) test negative unless he was a chronic user who would have identifiable drug residue in his/her urine at all times. Chronic users of marijuana, for example, may test positive for marijuana use several months after use of the drug.
A nice illustration of the actual drug testing procedure is given on the “BBC Sports Homepage for the UEFA ( European Football Association ) “. Every single step of the procedure is described and one extract states, ” Having washed their hands, the athlete takes the pot and produces the sample. Their midriff and genitals must be clearly visible so the testing officer can see the urine going directly from body to pot. ” This reveals how serious drug tests are considered not only in Business companies but as well for any kind of athlete.

Once someone is tested positive there are several scenarios and consequences that could occur. If the person is a current employee the employer might have legally-justifiable reason to fire or deny a promotion, while potential employers might justifiably refuse to hire the person. If someone is fired for failing a drug test or injuring himself and then test positive, state or local drug testing laws (or other laws) might even allow the employer to deny the unemployment, worker’s compensation or disability benefits. As previously stated drug testing laws vary by municipality and state. Additionally, by example, the Feds encourage treatment and rehabilitation verses punishment. Lastly, not every employer and state has a mandatory zero-tolerance policy. So, there might be a second chance.This chance could mean that instead of firing the employer might offer an employee assistance program or ask to attend a drug treatment program. Usually both parties benefit from those kinds of solutions because it costs employers a lot of money to fire employees and hire replacements. So, treatment programs might be a cheaper alternative and produce sober, grateful, more-dedicated employees. However if a person refuses treatment after failing drug testing, he or she is likely out of a job even if it is a responsible, recreational drug user who doesn’t really need formal help. Even by accepting treatment the employer might be under no obligation by law to give time off or sick leave pay.
Persons who does not want to submit drug tests do not have to, that is their right but they might face the same consequences as someone who failed the test. Those persons are essentially proven guilty.
The worst possible consequence of drug use is imprisonment but it is not likely. . There is still too much controversy over privacy invasion and drug testing accuracy and as previously indicated the Federal Courts encourage treatment and rehabilitation, not arrest.

After providing the facts concerning this controversial issue the next section of the paper focuses on the alternatives o drug testing, the pros and cons as well as the authors own opinion in some parts.
The first and major question is, if it is any business of anyone no matter if employer or government what the employee does in the time out of work. Drug testing is not done in the employee’s home. Testing is always done while the employee is on the job, about to start work or immediately after work. Nevertheless it is the employers business when drug abuse, even though done in private life, will effect performance or safety on the job. The employer should have the right to be concerned about an employee’s substance abuse at home if it may adversely impact on his business production and on his or other’s workplace safety. Everyone should have the right for a healthy and safe workplace environment. Nevertheless, employees also still have rights to privacy and accuracy in testing. Employees that will be tested should get a notice before the test is administered. Furthermore it should be guaranteed that accredited laboratories advise the tests. Lastly, the test results must be treated in the same manner as other confidential personnel information.

There are categories of employees who will need to be drug tested regarding to security and safety concerns. The first category would be the employees working with weapons such as in the military or police departments. These people are in charge of the public safety and they need to be drug free, because they need all their potential and skills to be able to do their job as they are supposed to do. Another category that should be tested is firemen, doctors and even nurses. For example, firemen have one of the most dangerous jobs. They have to fight against natural forces, and their job is about saving lifes. They cannot do their job properly and it is even dangerous for their own safety if they use drugs. In the same way, doctors (and nurses, the ones that are directly connected to the patients) are not allowed
to make mistakes. One example is prescribing medicine or a wrong diagnosis. This can really hurt the patient, and even kill him. Also, employees driving a vehicle or flying aircrafts should be submitted for drug testing. They are responsible for other people’s lives and it would make sense that these people agree to be tested. For example, it is important that a bus
driver or pilot agrees to be drug free. A study was conducted at Stanford University in which airline pilots smoked relatively weak government- issued marijuana cigarettes for the test. Each pilot was then tested on computerized flight simulators. The testing resulted in simulated airline “crashes” right after the marijuana use. (http://www.ohsinc.com/what_every_employer_should_know_part2.htm)
More alarming was the fact that it also resulted in “crashes” a full 24 hours later, after every pilot reported no residual effects and each had stated they had no reservations about flying. Another category for drug tests is employees that work for the government. The main reason is not because of the public safety, but more because of the illegality of drugs. They have to respect the laws and be examples in being drug free. Drug users are approximately three times more likely to have an accident, one-third as productive, and have a much higher rate of being tardy and absent than other workers.

Another study by

the U.S. government found that those who illegally use drugs are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or another person in a workplace accident. Also they are 5 times more likely to be injured in an accident off the job which, in turn, affects their attendance and/or performance on the job. But there are also limitations to drug testing. False positive drug-test results can occur after eating a lot of poppy seed or drink herbal teas made from coca leaves. These are cross-reactants that look exactly the same to the laboratory as illegal drugs. But if the test is done properly, a second test is conducted
using a different testing process that serves to confirm whether or not the first analysis was accurate. Additionally, the employee always has the right to explain the false result. There are voices that say that drug testing has nothing to do with impairment and everything to do with discrimination and is a violation of human rights. They argue that drug testing deters highly qualified workers from applying, discriminates against medical marijuana patients and hat there is no differentiation between responsible use and abuse. As a matter of fact, drug testing can lead most likely to a higher unemployment rate. Looking at the numbers of employees that are involved in drugs and that would test positive, this is an issue for the government. To reduce this number, drug-abuse prevention programs in companies could be
undertaken. As a result, some of those who do apply would probably stop using drugs because of fear of being caught, and some who are later “caught” could undergo treatment and go straight. The U.S. Navy had a decrease to fewer than 4% down from 28% of its active personnel engaged in illegal drug use since the 1980´s. This is specifically due to the implementation of a comprehensive drug-abuse prevention program, including random drug testing of all active and reserve duty personnel. Additionally to these programs, company wide anti-drug abuse policies, drug awareness programs and employee assistance and rehabilitation programs can be adopted and implemented.

To conclude, I would say that I definitely agree with alcohol and drug testing. Moreover, I think that not only specific categories should be tested, but all employees. There is no need to distinguish between categories, because it is a fact that in the United States.drugs are illegal and taking a closer look at the issue reveals that almost everyone using drugs can hurt someone else when the performance is influenced.
Even athletes who just compete for themselves affect their performance and this has consequences for a many people. People who bet on them or spectators who paid money to see a good performance are betrayed in a certain way.
The number of drug users is shocking and the government and employers have to react to this fact accordingly. A recent national Gallup survey shows that even employees demonstrated an increasing intolerance among drug abusers and an acceptance of employers taking strong steps to provide drug-free workplaces. 28% of employees who were asked what they thought was the greatest problem facing the United States today answered “drugs”. 22% of employees whose companies have drug-testing programs feel it is “not strong enough”. Lastly, 97% of employees favor drug testing in the workplace at least under some circumstances. I strongly believe that addicted people can have a bad influence on their job environment and non-users should absolutely have the right to work in a safe working
environment and to not have their jobs and benefits undermined by drug abusers.