Nearly two decades ago, the Supreme Court upheld the right for employers to test for drugs in the workplace. Since then, the belief that certain drugs are hazardous when used at work has become a national standard for occupational safety practices (Zezima.) The concern has been about the use of both illegal and prescription drugs, the latter of which have become increasingly used among the public. This paper will discuss the benefits and rationale for mandatory drug testing for all employees who are hired and on the job.
One of the most pressing reasons that employers are anxious to develop mandatory drug testing for employees is that they frequently face a higher exposure to liability because of accidents that occur on the job when drugs are involved (Gluck.) The United States Department of Labor reports that approximately 10 to 20% of workers in the US labor force who have been involved in fatal accidents on the job tested positive for illegal drugs as well as alcohol. When employers catch their staff using or abusing chemicals, they frequently respond by getting them involved in sobriety programs, which are quite costly and are generally paid for by the company itself. This can be a tremendous benefit, ultimately, to the employer who can then hire the person back without having to go through the expense of hiring and training a new person. In addition, the employee benefits in many ways: by becoming free from addiction, and by becoming healthier financially, emotionally, and spiritually (Gluck.)
A significant benefit for workplace drug testing is that it promotes more responsibility among workers who could possibly cause harm to themselves or others by coming to work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One way to understand how vital it is that people who are in professional work settings are not under the influence is to consider the following situations:
• a surgeon who is operating on a person, any adult, parent or child
• the driver of a bus or train who is driving children to school
• the driver of a truck who is tailgating another driver on the interstate
• an airline pilot who has hundreds or even thousands of people on his or her flight
• a builder who is constructing new offices or homes
• a midwife who is delivering several children each day (Hartley.)
Any of these situations could result in devastating injury and loss to those people directly involved as well as extending to countless others who are indirectly affected.
Mandatory drug testing in the workplace can be helpful in identifying staff who are needing help addressing their chemical dependency; many times, people have addictions are extremely secretive and can be deceitful. In such situations, which are common, testing for drug use circumvents the issue because honest self reporting can be difficult or nonexistent, especially when people involved have a great deal to lose. In such situations, people risk losing their professional careers or occupations as well as their reputations. If companies follow appropriate and valid procedures to obtain informed consent, and mandatory drug testing in the workplace can be a valuable deterrent to employees who might normally be experimenting with drugs or alcohol or using them on a regular basis.
The use of workplace drug testing can potentially significantly enhance the issues of health as well as safety on the job, because it serves as a disincentive for people to abuse drugs and alcohol. Therefore, it helps people to avoid experiencing any negative health effects from such addictive behavior and as a result, it reduces the chances that accidents and injuries associated with drug and alcohol use will occur. Clearly, drug testing in the workplace can provide an objective and usually accurate means to determine the facts about someone’s drug use (Hartley.) In situations when a manager or boss is responsible for the safety and welfare of his or her staff, which is the case with virtually every work setting, a strong case can be made for mandatory drug testing at work.
When mandatory drug testing occurs in the workplace, there are certain ethical standards that must be respected in order to avoid violating employee rights. These principles include:
• informed consent, in which the employee needs to know prior to a person taking the position he or she must be abstinent and out drug testing in the workplace is part of the standard procedure for new and ongoing employees;
• confidentiality, i.e., that the results of any workplace drug testing will be kept private;
• repeat tests will be conducted whenever a drug test has been positive, and the employees must be given a chance to explain test results that are positive, since some prescription medications and supplements can affect the results; and
• providing addictions counseling or rehab as an option for positive drug test results as well as assistance in changing to a more appropriate work environment if necessary.
The benefits of mandatory drug testing at work are many for both employers and employees. For managers, supervisors, and department heads, drug testing can promote workplace safety, thus avoiding accidents or injuries that can be damaging on a financial, physical, and emotional basis to both the individual employee as well as the company. In addition, positive drug testing results can help an individual seek help when he or she might not otherwise be in a position to ask for or accept this assistance. In such cases, drug treatment can result in a longer and healthier life for people both in the workplace as well as in their personal lives.
- Gluck, Samantha. “Employee Drug Testing, Pros and Cons.” 2013. Small Business.com. Web. 25 October 2013.
- Hartley, Elizabeth. “Should Workplace Drug Testing Be Allowed?” 24 July 2011. About.com. Web. 25 October 2013.
- Zezima, Katie. “Drug Testing Poses Quandary for Employers.” 25 October 2010. the New York Times. Web. 25 October 2013.