Employer drug testing

(Prompted by the recent GQ thread.)

Myth: If you’re willing to break the law to use drugs, you’ve shown a disrespect for authority, and you might sell trade secrets or embezzle from the company.

Reality: Speeding, jaywalking, and underage smoking/drinking are crimes. Nearly everyone has done one of those, and people who commit these crimes know they are breaking the law. Yet no one has ever shown a correlation between these victimless crimes and any unethical behavior on the job. There’s no reason to presume a correlation for drug use, either.

Myth: Drug testing prevents workers from being high on the job.

Reality: Urine and hair testing measures past use. It answers the question “what substances has this employee used in the past two months?”, not the far more important “is this employee sober right now?” You could smoke a handful of joints and drop acid, have no idea where you are or what you’re supposed to be doing, and pass a urine/hair test five minutes later.

There are impairment tests available that will measure ability to perform the job. Rather than testing for chemicals in hair and urine, you can measure job-related skills such as reaction time and mental acuity.

Any questions? (More to come later.)

All other things being equal, I would prefer my employees not to be drug-users. As I understand the law, an employer cannot normally require employees to pass on-going drug tests. (Continuing drug tests can be be required for certain jobs where drugs would be an obvious threat to safely, like pilot.)

Employers are allowed to require drug tests at initial hiring. That’s less effective, but it’s all they’re allowed to do, so most of them do so.

As a newcomer to this idea (I started that GQ thread, which left GQ territory rather quickly) I am pretty shocked about the whole thing.

My view : what I do on my own time is none of my employers business, as long as it has no effect on the quality of my work, or the time spent at work. (I do see a point for regular drug testing in certain professions, but desk jobs ? I think not)

I agree with you, Mr2001.
I’ve come to believe that drug testing is largely a control issue. When presented with the facts (ie impairment testing), many employers revert to “Because I said so”.

Privacy. How much do you get? I think I could show masturbation to be a detriment to my workers. People who masturbate at home regularly are more prone to spend extra time in the bathroom at work. They have an unbalanced hand - eye coordination between right and left hands. Callouses can be a dexterity problem also. They also tend to have their minds on sex more than the average person and this could cause accidents. Yep. Time to start mandatory masturbation testing. Anyone found to have masturbated in the last 30 days is suspended pending completion of a twelve step “I will not touch myself” program.

Other than the fact that one requirement is currently legal and the other is not, how is this any different from “All other things being equal, I would prefer my employees not to be married or pregnant”?

I can think of a dozen ways in which married and pregnant employees are a liability to employers - more costly to insure, more likely to call in sick, more likely to take maternity leave, more likely to need special accomodations in the workplace, more likely to use company time and equipment for personal communication. Responsible drug use can only be detected by chemically examining urine and hair samples (i.e., has no impact on behavior or performance at work), but you can easily infer that an employee is married or pregnant simply by observing how she acts at work.

What criteria do you believe an employer should be able to use to (ahem) weed out potential employees?

Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I don’t think the correlation is always that someone disses authority by using illegal drugs. I think use of illegal drugs could also be construed as a security risk based on a person’s susceptibility to being influenced by others. While it is true that “Speeding, jaywalking, and underage smoking/drinking are crimes,” they are not the type of crimes that other people can use to influence or subvert one. Just a WAG – never studied this issue. One site from Canada asserts that safety is the issue re: drug testing in the workplace:


Another site blames the testing on employee absenteeism & the desire to reduce employer/company liability: http://www.urineluck.com/laws.cfm

>> My view : what I do on my own time is none of my employers business, as long as it has no effect on the quality of my work

I would say using drugs is very likely to have an effect on the quality of your work. I also think employers should be allowed to demand employees be law-abiding on their time off work as breaking the law would probably lead to arrests, jail and other things disruptive of work.

I have the impression that the fed govt is to a large exent behind the custom of workplace drug testing. I’m not sure if the govt simply ordered employers to “do something” to reduce drug use by their workers, or if they offered the employers some sort of inducement to “do something,” such as a discount on something or a tax break. Either way, employers wanting to meet the govt standard of “doing something” found that the cheapest/easiest thing they could do was the type of drug testing that reveals past use, so that’s what many of them started doing.

The employer does not necessarily give a damn want employees are doing for recreation on their own time; he or she just wants to satisfy the govt as easily/cheaply as possible. Neither the govt officials nor the employer cares that this type of testing is far from being the most effective thing to do. The officials just want to be see to be taking action re “the drug menace” and the employers just want to satisfiy the govt.

Another factor might be that the companies who perform the drug tests have found a way to increase business: persuade (by giving campaign contributions) govt officials to require some group to purchase their product or service.

Ok. Anybody who wants to hold a job can no longer drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes when they’re away from work. We need a clean living work force, don’t you know.
Also … does your rule about breaking the law apply to all empoyees? Does the CEO who bribes his way out of a speeding ticket, cheats on his taxes, imports Cuban cigars for himself, employs a relaxation therapist every once in a while, etc … count?

In short, your standards are completely unrealistic and slightyly elitist.

>> I have the impression

Your “impressions” are quite irrelevant here unless you can show them to be correct. Seeing how the Feds have limited rather than expanded the circumstances under which employees can be tested I would say your “impression” is quite wrong.

I alwas considered a pre-employment drug test to be a coarse-adjust test of potential employee judgement. If you’re dumb enough to fail the test, you’re too dumb to work for the company.

I can’t find a cite yet, but I remember in the early days of the Reagan administration, the House of Representatives had a bill before it to require drug testing of all Federal empolyees. It was on a fast track, until…

An opponent appeared at the subcommittee meeting with a bunch of sample cups, and asked for urine samples right on the spot from committee members. Every single one refused, and the bill died a quiet death.

yojimboguy I hate to question your story, since you are not known to use bogus material. However, for some reason that seems to flash all the signals of an Urban Legend.

I assume you mean the drug dealer could influence his customers in some scenario like “you better give me those company secrets or I’m not selling you any more drugs.”

How is underage drinking or smoking any different? If a minor wants cigarettes or alcohol, he has to find someone to supply him with it, and that person would be able to exert the very same influence - “you better give me those company secrets or I’m not buying you any more smokes.” Since nicotine and alcohol are far more addictive than, say, marijuana (which is the most easily tested drug), the influence would seem to be even more of an issue. But…

Myth: An employee who uses drugs is susceptible to outside influences.

Reality: This myth relies on incorrect assumptions:

  1. An employee who tests positive is an addict, and therefore depends on someone to supply him with drugs. The majority of drug users, however, are not addicts. A drug test tells you nothing about habitual use - the guy who tests positive for marijuana may have smoked a joint two weeks ago at a party.
  2. There is only one source for the drugs. However, this is never the case. We aren’t concerned about nicotine addicts being “influenced,” because an employee who smokes can stop by any gas station or supermarket to get a fix. Likewise, a habitual drug user–the only kind who could possibly be influenced–is almost certainly going to have a list of dealers, and his drug-using friends will have their own connections. No single person can exert control over the employee.
  3. The situation will come up, and the employee will give in. A typical drug dealer has no motive to extort company secrets for his customers, and likely doesn’t even know where his customers work.

Why are we not concerned about married employees’ spouses extorting company secrets (“you better give me those company secrets or I’m leaving you”), when sex is no less addictive than marijuana or LSD? Because it’s a far-fetched scenario and it’s a judgment call for the employee, much like “there’s a stack of money in the cash register, should I steal it?”, not a logical consequence of being married or using drugs.

If that were the case, why wouldn’t the employer simply observe the effects of drug use on the employee’s work, and fire him for being unproductive?

By resorting to chemical tests, the employer has already admitted that drug use doesn’t noticably affect the employee’s work.

No, I lived in DC as a Federal employee at the time, and it made big local news. There was a watered down version of the bill passed in 1986. But the early (defeated) bill was for blanket testing of ALL Federal employees, not just new hires, not just those in certain “critical jobs” like drivers, pilots, etc. I can assure you, there was GREAT DEAL of attention paid to that bill in the local media. The story has to be somewhere in the archives of the Post or the Times, but I haven’t come up with the right search terms to tease it out.

Also should be considered the rate of marijuana use in the U.S. Depending on where you get your stats, if we fired all illegal drug users today, we would effectively wipe out 1/4 to 1/3 of the work force. Those pot heads must not be making all the trouble some would have us believe. Looks like they might even be otherwise productive employees.

Lets look at the employers side for a second.

How about this scenario: A worker who needs money to support an expensive drug habbit figures he could sell company secrets TO ANOTHER COMPANY for a little extra cash. Is that not a realistic concern?

Because it is not illegal. You could debate that perhaps there is a double standard, but at this point in time, drugs are against the law and alchohol and smoking aren’t.

If I am an employer, I don’t really want to spend my valuable time trying to figure out if my employees are addicts or if they only smoke up once and awhile at parties. As an employer, I don’t want to have to worry about an employee stealing from me or constantly showing up to work late or hungover.

Also, please stop saying “reality” since it is really just opinion.

A tip for concerned employers;
Put sleep monitors in your employees’ homes. Or better yet, devise a chemical test for lack of proper sleep.
Sleeplessness is a major cause of accidents and lack of productivity.
Again, impairment testing would go a long way to addressing these workplace problems. Piss testing simply doesn’t.

Not sure where you are MsSmith but underage drinking and smoking in the most of the U.S. is a crime.

Ok. How about this scenario: A worker who needs money to support an expensive habit of donating money to Benny Hinn figures he could sell company secrets TO ANOTHER COMPANY for a little extra cash. Is that not a realistic concern?

We should start mandatory religious screenings in the work place. People do crazy stuff for religion. :eek: