Employment Drug Testing
Drugs in the United States are a major concerned in the workplace. Governmental agencies, Fortune 500 businesses and other organizations in the private sector have been struggling with ways to deal with the problem. The primary objectives for these agencies and organizations are to be productive, to function in the best possible manner without wasting time and effort, and to provide a healthy and safe environment in the workplace. The ongoing drug use by workers in our nation creates a problem for employers, consumers, and other workers. I am going to discuss the brief history of employment drug testing, types of drug testing, legal issues that addressed employment drug testing, and some pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace.
Employers have taken the task of using drug testing in the workplace because of the growing number of accidents, absenteeism, and health and safety problems. These create poor performance and a less productive, profitable company. Employment drug testing puts employers in a collision with employees that feel that their personal privacy is being violated. Employees are afraid of how far an employer will go to check on their behavior in the workplace and possibly outside based on their occupation. Employees are also afraid of being suspended and terminated for a drug test, and employers are afraid of a law suit over an error in the testing, privacy matter issues, or any other violations. Some employers will look the other way as long as the company is doing well financially.
There are two basic incentives for employment drug testing. One is to increase organizational efficiency and productivity by reducing accidents, absenteeism, and safety concerns. A second goal involves the idea that drug testing will help in dealing with an increase of drug use in the workplace attacking the overall use of drugs in the United States. Employers accept the idea that drug testing will be the vehicle to eliminate any doubts of any manager or supervisor when it comes to an employee that might be missing too many days from work and whose performance has change completely. (Crow 1994).
Drug testing dates back to the 1970s, when several companies began marketing the relatively low cost scientific processes they were manufacturing to detect drugs in urine. These processes were originally used by crime laboratories, hospitals and drug therapy programs, but their use was expanded in the early 1980s to include the U.S. military and a collection of private employers. By 1985, drug testing had become a more common practice in an effort to combat substance abuse in the workplace (Bureau of National Affairs, 1986).
In March of 1986, the Commission on Organized Crime recommended that drug testing be conducted for the entire federal workforce. Estimates were as high as 400,000 for the number of federal workers that would be tested for drug use. Later that year, Executive Order 12564 was issued; it required that the United States largest employer, federal government, to lead the way in achieving drug free workplaces (U.S. White House, 1989). It called for each executive agency to prepare a plan to do the following actions:
(1) State the policy regarding the agency??™s reaction to drug use.
(2) Specify the role of employee assistance programs in helping drug users.
(3) Provide for training to identify and address illegal drug use by employees
(4) Articulate a process for treatment referrals.
(5) Provide for the identification of illegal drug users through testing.
On November 18, 1988 The Drug Free Workplace Act was enacted. This legislation applied to federal contractors with individual procurement contracts of $100,000, or more and to direct recipients of federal grants of any amount. The act requires that the employer certify that he or she will provide a drug free workplace in accordance with the directives of the act. However, it does not require drug testing or searches of suspected offenders.
Drug testing is being used more and more by employers. In 1985 only 18 percent of Fortune 500 companies drug tested their employees. By 1991 this number more than double to 40 percent. In 1988 The American Management Association surveyed these companies and there was an increase on pretesting of applicants and testing of current employees for drugs. Compare to the 1987 survey, there was a rise of 10 percent in companies that drug tested job applicants and increased of 8 percent for testing of current employees. The increase continued and 48 percent of Fortune 500 companies by 1991 used some type of drug testing. Companies with 250 employees or more had drug testing increased from 1988 at 32 percent to 46 percent by 1991 according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Hartwell 1996).
Types of Drug Testing
These types of drug tests are currently in use by public and private sector organizations. They include urine, blood, oral fluids, hair, and sweat. Urinalysis is the most common drug test used by companies and government agencies. Depending on the drug it can provide results on drugs used from two to five days. It will not give you results if the person is impaired at the time of the test or if the person is a drug addict. In 1988, the Department of Health and Human Services developed urinalysis drug testing guidelines. The drugs that were tested were marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines, and opiates. These drugs were the most widely used drugs of that time. (U.S. House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, 1988).
Blood tests are often used to determine to see if a drug and many times alcohol is in your system at the time of testing. Blood testing is mostly used by the police to investigate driving under the influence incidents. A drug found on the blood taken from you will show if you were impaired at the time of the incident. A test of the blood will identify an individual who consumes too much alcohol during the week. It is scary because if the employer can make you take a blood alcohol test based on your job occupation; you might lose your job if you went out and drank like a fish during the past week. Maybe you were just celebrating all week while on vacation.
Oral fluids or saliva testing are easy to collect. It is done just like doing a DNA test where a swab of the inner cheek is taken. This is difficult to substitute, and it detects marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines. Saliva tests indicate usage normally from eight to twelve hours from the time the sample is taken. Once the drug is taken orally the cavity is contaminated and makes it easier for detection of the drug that was just taken, than a drug taken eight hours before, by testing an oral fluid or saliva sample
The use of hair testing is the best method of monitoring an individual??™s history with drugs. The presence of drugs in hair comes from the bloodstream where any drug residue ends up in your hair follicles. On the average one and a half inches of hair will give a three month history of an individual drug use. This is a based on one half inch growth of hair per month. This test will give you a longer history with drugs than any of the other test mentioned earlier. It is also very easy to obtain and you do not need an observer waiting for somebody to provide you with a urine sample. Some of the problems with hair testing is that it might diminish the drug residue on the hair follicles by washing and treating the hair with hair dyes and other hair products applications. It might not disappear completely but these low levels can be erroneous because they can come from being in close proximity with a person that smokes marijuana or crack. Hair analysis is also problematic in that it may be subject to accusations of racial bias: dark hair absorbs more drug than light hair and the hair of black people retain the most of all (Patterson 1994). We need to know more about hair testing before it is use for testing in companies. The part that bothers me the most is that if I am hanging out with somebody who smokes marijuana in my presence I can absorb it through my hair follicles. It does not make sense to me but that is what I read. If it is going to be used, it should only be used as another confirming piece of evidence.
The sweat drug test can detect the presence of drugs through perspiration. By placing a bandage like a band aid on an individual you can detect drugs anywhere from one to thirty days. You can detect drugs as soon as one to two hours after placing the bandage or patch. There are a onetime use patch and cannot be reapplied, once removed. Obviously, you do not want the individual to place patch on somebody who is drug free and then putting it on himself creating possibly a bad test.
Employers have provided drug testing and drug education programs in order to improve the workplace environment by reducing cost, absenteeism, safety, and improving the overall effectiveness of the employees. Some employees are not happy because with drug testing because they feel that it violates their privacy rights and creates a hostile environment. They feel that if they have to be drug tested, what is next Am I going to be watch through cameras or surveillance devices all the time while I work If somebody gets fired, am I going to be next Is the company going to follow me to my place of residence Employees are afraid of dealing with anything that will reduce their privacy at work. Some in the workplace are concerned that drug testing might not be accurate and it can hurt innocent workers. The courts of this country continue to look at cases of drug testing in the workplace and violations of employees??™ rights.
The general issue of drug testing in the workplace is to reduce drug abuse and to provide assistance to those employees who needed the most. The continuous litigation by employees that do not want to deal with drug testing, those who have been drug tested but had to challenge the results, or the feeling of this type of testing interfering with their constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure is making the workplace a very uncomfortable place. Workers find drug testing unreliable and feel that there is not confidentiality when it comes to the results. (Abbey 1991) In another words, people talk and nothing is secret in the company. Some feel that somebody who might not like them will contaminate their urine sample or whatever other test was taken.
The specific issue of privacy versus drug testing by employers has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court several times. In 1989 after the case of Skinner vs. Railway Labor Executives Association, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) adopted regulation requiring drug testing on railroad employees after train accidents. The Supreme Court declared that federal employees may use drug testing without reasonable suspicion when there is a need for public safety (Mazaroff 1989). In the case of Hill vs. National Collegiate Athlete Association (NCAA) in 1994, the California Supreme Court upheld drug testing for athletes, with the understanding that their privacy was not violated because a random drug test was not found to be intrusive. (Meyers 1994).
The Court has ruled in subsequent cases that drug testing does not violate the right of privacy for workers, at least in certain occupations. The move toward employment drug testing is spreading in other parts of the world as well. We see this currently in drug testing for the Olympics, where freedom from drugs is made a requirement. As drug testing becomes more pervasive, though, workers are likely to object on privacy grounds.
The use of drug testing in the workplace certainly seems merited when one looks at the costs to employers and society from the number of employees who use illegal substances. However, despite the billions of dollars in costs associated with such substance use, drug testing may be doing little to resolve the problem. On one hand, drug testing does not produce evidence of intoxication while on duty and it typically proves only that employees used substances somewhere, sometime. ACLU, medical, and other research conducted by opponents of mandatory random drug testing argue that it is ineffective, unnecessary, and a waste of resources. In light of such evidence, employers need to adopt more effective drug policies in the workplace that actually use resources in an effective manner to reduce such use. The ACLU has urged employers to reconsider drug testing and examine a number of viable solutions that may prove more cost effective than drug testing. Not only do such alternatives provide a more effective approach to reducing drug use among employees, but they also offer a more dignified and less invasive manner of resolving the issue. This minimizes the issues of privacy and fairness raised by current drug testing policies. The Employment Assistance Programs (EAPs) are there to be use by employees. EAP counselors are there for employees to assist them in problems with drugs, alcohol, and other issues. If they cannot help with your problems they can refer the employee to a drug education program. Employers have to train managers and supervisors to be able to recognize the symptoms associated with drug use.
Drug testing has proven ineffective as a policy to curb the costs of employees using illegal substances or the numbers using them. Until employers are willing to rethink drug testing and examine more effective alternatives, they will continue to spend resources unwisely by attacking the branches of this issue and not its roots.
Abbey, A. and C. Redel (1991, April). “Drug Testing in the Workplace: Public and Private Sector Employers and the Courts.” Labor Law Journal (April 1991), 239-246.
Crow, S.M., L.Y. Fok, and S.J. Hartman. “Drug Testing in Labor Arbitration: Does It Impact the Decision-making Process” Journal of Managerial Issues 6 (September 23, 1994), 297- 310.
Bureau of National Affairs. (1986). Alcohol and drugs in the workplace: Costs, controls, and controversies. Washington, DC: Bureau of National Affairs.
Hartwell, T.D., P.D. Steele, & N.F. Rodman (1996, November 1). “Prevalence of drug testing in the workplace.” Monthly Labor Review 119, 35-42.
Mazaroff, S. and J. Ayers. “Controlling Drug Abuse in the Workplace: The Legal Groundrules.” American Society for Personnel Administration (Spring 1989), 1-16.
Meyers, J.F. “Hill v. NCAA: California Adopts a New Standard for Invasion of Privacy.” Employee Relations Law Journal (Summer 1994), 73-84.
Patterson, D. (1994). Drug testing technology. Behavioral Health Management, 14, 26.
U.S. House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. (1988). Oversight hearings on administration plans to drug test federal work force. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
U.S. White House (1989). National drug control strategy. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.