In most cases, recreational drug use is seen as a victimless crime and a harmless activity. This attitude changes in the workplace if the drug use impairs performance to the detriment of other workers or if the work involves public safety, in which case tolerance for drug use drops significantly. Another reason why tolerance for some drug use is so high is because the attitude is a reaction to the apocalyptic warnings emanating from law enforcement and government, given that people know that mild marijuana use, for instance, is not the mind- and life-bending experience often claimed. Many do not see the problem as being as dire as it is made out to be, and so they do not see it in the way earlier generations did.
Casey J. Dickinson notes the increasing use of pre-testing for applicants as a way not assuring that the person hired does not use drugs. Drug testing is only one part of this effort as employers want to know more about the people they hire, including using background checks, fitness checks, and drug screening. This can be onerous for employees, or potential employees, when the different services are offered by a number of vendors so that gaining employment becomes something of an obstacle course (Dickinson 5).
This can raise concerns about employee privacy. The trend has been for more drug testing for some time, and almost one-half of Fortune 500 companies required or planned to require drug testing for employees by the end of 1987. Many argue against this move, seeing such a requirement as virtually always illegitimate as it overrides an employee's or applicant's rights to privacy.
The employer has a duty to the employee to refrain from harmful treatment, which in this case is what some say drug testing would be. It is also pointed out that the relationship between employer and employee is contractual, an economic relationship to satisfy the economic interests of both parties. Each party is responsible only for the responsibility it takes on voluntarily, and this might not include information gathered through drug testing.
Many CEOs avoid testing so as not to create hostility with the workforce, though it is often recommended that they institute testing to protect themselves. Others find that drug testing goes beyond the employer's sphere of influence. Other business leaders either accept that drug testing is not beyond their sphere of influence. Even those who accept the idea of testing in some circumstances may also deny the validity of such testing for the most part and suggest that the employer needs to justify any action he or she takes in this regard.
Even if all are in general agreement that drug testing for certain hazardous jobs is proper, there is no agreement on what constitutes a hazardous job and what level of hazard has to be achieved. Various authors see drug testing as ethical in certain circumstances, though they may differ on what those circumstances may be. Clearly, though, it is not as simple as the employee has to give the employer all the information requested, though some proponents of testing would make the claim that it is that simple because the employer can terminate employees at will and can set the terms of employment. That would be a legal argument and not an ethical one, however, and many see the need for an ethical justification for drug testing in the workplace. Everyone has to work, they reason, and employers should not place undue burdens on employees to they cannot work or cannot tolerate the conditions of employment. Employers should adopt this same view, of course, to retain employees, something that also reduces costs and improves performance. Challenging the privacy rights of the employee without good cause only increases workplace tensions and can cause more harm than the drugs.
At the same time, increased testing has been implemented in the face of evidence that drug use incurs a major social cost, including a cost in the workplace. The figures used are often questionable because of difficulties in measuring losses of productivity and profits that would result from one single problem. As evidnec for broader societal costs has developed, though, there has been a rise in anti-drug policies that can be seen in increased testing of job applicants and current employees alike for drug use:
Measuring workplace drug use with data acquired from testing applicants and employees initially revealed fairly high levels of drug use. Over time, they have declined. but, as most critics of drug-testing policies and procedures continually remind us, testing, as currently performed, reveals previous rather than current use, which is the stated concern among drug-testing proponents. (Tunnell 3)
The increase in drug testing has created an entire industry dedicated to providing such testing facilities for businesses, such as relatively small companies like HireRight Inc., based in Irvine, California, a company that does employee background checks and drug screening for employers. This particular company recently went public (Gomez 4). Such companies have a clear interest in fostering drug screening programs and in making the need seem even greater than it may be. For some types of employment, though, such services are necessary and welcome, again for jobs like those cited above, meaning bus drivers, train engineers, and pilots. One of the jobs with a particular emphasis on drug testing today is that of airport screener, a semi-governmental job that involves background checks and drug screening before employment and sometimes as a condition of ongoing employment. Hollis Gillespie notes that one of the ways of getting ajob at the airport today is to live a squeaky-clean life, for TSA screenrs, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants all must undergo a criminal background check, proof of citizenship, drug screening, and an English proficiency test (Gillespie 74).
The U.S. is not alone in demanding drug tests for many employees. S. George writes about drug testing in the UK and says there is a growing trend towards this sort of pre-screening there as well. An analysis of a number of workplace specimens showed the prevalence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, and heroin, supporting the idea that regular monitoring is necessary to determine the true extent of drug use in the workplace and that this is particularly important in safety critical areas (George 69-71).
Sandy Smith sees a need for employers to institute a program of drug testing if they have not already done so, and she cites a survey to the effect that workplace drug use has increased over the last few years. Respondents to the survey supported the generally supported drug-testing in the workplace, and they tended to place the greatest emphasis on drug testing for those working in occupations where one person has direct responsibility for many other people. Analysts point out that m any employers believe the problem only happens in other companies and so do not implement a program of their own, and when employers finally do institute a testing program, they are often surprised by the results. Indeed, it is often found that instituting attesting program can cause many employees to simply walk off the job rather than be tested. Smith says the first step toward eliminating workplace drug and alcohol use is to establish a drug-free workplace policy that answers a number of questions:
1. What is the purpose/goal of your program?
2. Who will be covered by your policy?
3. When will your policy apply?
4. What behavior will be prohibited?
5. Will employees be required to notify you of drug-related convictions?
6. Will your policy include searches?
7. Will your program include drug testing?
8. What will the consequences be if your policy is violated?
9. Will there be return-to-work agreements?
10. What type of assistance will be available?
Once the policy is written out and disseminated in black and white, testing may be implemented. Blood testing is done only in extreme cases, while hair tests are more reasonably priced and less invasive, and urine tests even less expensive. Of all the drug tests given each year, it is estimated that 90% are urine tests. Some people believe it is relatively easy to cheat these tests, but even if some products might be ingested to thwart the testing, this works only for scheduled tests. Unscheduled tests have a better chance of uncovering drug use for most employees (Smith 45).
It is also important that the company provide the means for current employees to get help with their problem so they can overcome their drug use, and this should be part of the program.
Surveys show that many people know someone who has a problem with alcohol or drugs and who also know that those people do not get the help they needed. It is interesting that in spite of this, many thought such help existed, apparently believing that their own friends and relatives just failed to find it. It is suggested that this is not the case and that the services are not as readily available as…