Workplace Drug Testing

Workplace Drug Testing

Employers do not have the right to conduct random workplace drug testing without the consent of the employee. However, the right to conduct drug testing has now become a standard condition in many contracts of employment. With increasing numbers of our population becoming habitual drug users, both illicit and prescription, employers feel entitled to be pro active in keeping drug abusers out of the workplace environment. Employees who use drugs for medicinal and recreational purposes often see this attitude as infringing civil liberty.

 Everyone agrees that to be under the influence of drugs in the workplace can create a hazardous situation for the employee, co workers and the general public. Few question a zero tolerance of and breath testing for alcohol on mine sites, for drivers carrying freight on road or rail, pilots of aircraft or drivers of school buses and public transportation. However, does it really matter if someone shows traces of cannabis in their system when their responsibility is limited to fixing a few screws at one minute intervals on a production line.

 Most people accept that paid employment implies restriction of liberty. You prioritize work next day over an invitation to a party, and security of employment over the desire for an immediate holiday. Finding a balance between what we need for financial survival and enjoyment of life is something that we all have to resolve,

 When the demands of survival require that we sell our “soul” to the company structure, you get compliant robots, or people who accept the need for compliance –but inwardly rebel.

 Workplace drug testing needs to strike a balance between safety and reliability in the workplace, and a person’s freedom to use their personal time in the way they choose.

 Many of the conflicts that arise about workplace drug testing are a “coalface” symptom of pressure from those on top and rebellion from those beneath on the socio-economic scale. Conflicts about workplace drug testing are often more about issues of power and control than genuine concern for welfare.

 Employers want accident free reliability for financial reasons – people can do what they like provided it doesn’t encroach into company time. Employees often use drugs knowing that they will be hung over or coming down whilst at work – it can be an expression of lack of respect for the workplace environment, and the “boss”.

 An issue not often looked at, much less investigated, is the use of illicit drugs and alcohol by those deemed to be in control of the workplace and the employees. Most CEO’s have to answer to others who only demand results. Some CEO’s in response to the pressure are caught speeding, DUI or doing illicit drugs. In between doing drugs – they have to make important decisions. No one has yet made drug testing compulsory before you take a seat in the boardroom, or before a nation declares war.

 Deadlines take many forms – time clocks, hourly billing rates, unrealistic time schedules and tight financial constraints. People often feel that time spent in the workplace environment is much like being a performing mouse trapped inside a wheel. When pressure to perform at work becomes compulsive and oppressive, instead of taking the risk of unemployment by having too many “sickies” – people often turn to drug use for headaches, and general malaise.

 Many people if truly honest would say they are “sick to death” of workplace issues and pressures. Very often today people can only speak the truth by making joke about it or using a figure of speech.

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One Response to “Workplace Drug Testing”

  1. Debbie Raphael says:

    Drug taking costs businesses through loss of productivity, theft, and health and safety issues. Employers can legally test for drugs if the employee agrees to it in their contract or pre-employment interview. In jobs where impaired abilities may cause harm employees should be either drug or impairment tested. (DesJardins and Duska, 2001)

    Many people question the ethics of drug testing, stating that it impinges upon our right to privacy in our leisure activities and is inappropriate because it only focuses on one type of impairment without setting performance standards to measure impairment by – employers should fire people for under-performance not for taking drugs. (Open Polytechnic of NZ, 2011). Drug testing is invasive and time consuming compared to other impairment tests and may not differentiate recreational drugs from performance enhancing or medicinal drugs. Drug testing treats people as a means to profit rather than respecting their human dignity and right to make choices. (Crawford, 1998)

    In this blog I shall explain why I disagree with prioritising personal privacy/dignity over drug tests; why I believe that Janet’s comment that workplace pressures cause drug taking is irrelevant; I shall discuss Janet’s point about managers taking drugs; and shall use this point to recommend that drug testing be done at a national rather than a workplace level.

    Most of the articles I read suggest that drug testing is only appropriate when the person tested may cause harm to other people. However the workplace is only one place where drug users can cause harm. Although people claim the right to privacy in their leisure activities, it is uncommon for drug taking to be completely private. Drug users affect friends, associates and family. Adults can choose to take drugs; unborn children don’t have that choice. Alcohol and drug abuse causes physical, behavioural and learning problems in children which can harm the family and community for generations to come. (American Pregnancy Organisation, 2011). Drug taking leads to extra tax payer dollars being spent on remedial education, health, prisons, policing, emergency services, government benefits and drug initiatives rather than in areas which could improve the country. One person’s choice in leisure activities can harm everyone. A New Zealand survey of drug users shows that more than 20% notice drugs affecting their life, 12.5% notice it affecting their family and work, but 28.5% of New Zealand women drink alcohol regularly while pregnant. (Ministry of Health, 2008)

    I once believed in freedom of choice for people. Since moving to an area of drug abuse I can see the effect drug taking has down the generations. I work with a man who smokes marijuana and sometimes spends his week’s wages on alcohol. His adult son and daughter both live at home and have intellectual and physical problems. His granddaughter has had many operations due to a brain defect. His children have no choice and one man’s decision costs. Therefore I don’t believe that privacy can be prioritised over drug testing because drugs too often cause harm to other people.

    Janet claims that work pressures can cause people to take drugs. I think this is irrelevant as many people experience pressure and some choose yoga, music or other outlets to relieve stress. The choice to take drugs is therefore the result of something other than workplace pressure. If we could pinpoint why people choose drugs then we could help prevent drug abuse. This is not something that workplaces have the resources or reasons to investigate.

    If drug testing in the workplace becomes common then many workplaces could fire drug users rather than rehabilitate them. The drug users would either end up on the dole or in workplaces with drug-friendly managers. This brings me to Janet’s other point – what do we do if managers take drugs? As Janet points out, managers can make decisions that affect hundreds of people. A bad decision can cause infinite harm. This raises three issues: the first is that workplace drug testing is implemented by management. If management takes drugs then tests don’t happen; the second is that if most workplaces drug test then drug addicts will end up in businesses with drug taking managers. This could exacerbate the problem rather than solving it and could harm local communities; the third issue is that there are no set guidelines as to which jobs and decisions can lead to harm through impairment. If these were listed then there would be criteria for when drug tests should be taken. This list would need to be standardised at national level.

    I believe that drug testing should be run at a national level because the harm caused by drugs affects the whole community, not just the workplace. Outside testers could test vulnerable businesses, including testing managers. Businesses could then get on with business. Computerised impairment tests could also be implemented wherever people do things which could cause harm, such as get into a car. This would remove some rights to freedom of choice, but only where others could be harmed. A national programme would list out all areas where drugs could impair performance; streamline testing policies; and deal with the causes of drug abuse rather than the symptoms. Workplaces can only deal with the symptoms. Workplaces have a profit making motive more rather than a social motive. Drug tests in the workplace are primarily aimed at improving profitability through targeting drug users who are likely to cost the business. A national testing campaign would have a social focus which, through rehabilitation, would help not only businesses but also all social services and extended families.

    DesJardins, J., & Duska, R. (2001). Drug testing in employment. In T.L. Beauchamp & N.E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (6th ed) Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (2011) Course materials. Business Ethics.
    Cranford, M., (1988). Drug testing and the right to privacy: the ethics of workplace drug testing. Journal of Business Ethics. health/illegaldrugs.html. Downloaded 15/01/12 Downloaded 19/01/12

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