Legal, Ethical, and HR and Concerns
Workplace Drug Testing: A Boon or a Bane?
Legal, Ethical, and HR and Concerns Both pre-employment and incumbent work place drug testing is a polarizing and controversial subject, a subject which elicits equally vehement sentiments, and lucid, persuasive, and cogent arguments from both those who are fully in favor of the practice and from those who are adamantly opposed to it. The Viet Nam War saw unprecedented use of illicit substances by our servicemen, coupled with a significant increase in domestic, civilian drug usage as a byproduct of the 1960’s counterculture. The US military was the first body to organize a large scale, drug testing program in the late 1970’s, the need for which was punctuated by the 1981 crash of a jet aboard the USS Nimitz, which killed fourteen and wounded forty eight servicemen, many of whom tested positive for marijuana use in the post-accident investigation ( http://drugstestingbook.com/laboratory-accreditation-regulation/historical-overview-of-workplace-drug-testing-programs/, 2014). Shortly after this the Reagan administration, which had swept into office on a platform of a ‘return to traditional values’, officially announced his administration’s ‘war on drugs’. The first ‘call to arms’ in the war, in 1986 President Reagan signed Executive Order 12564, “establishing the goal of a Drug-Free Federal Workplace. The Order made it a condition of employment for all Federal employees to refrain from using illegal drugs on or off-duty” (Kruger, p.21, 1987). This rather broad mandate would affect close to a million federal employees, with the head of each federal agency tasked with developing and instituting a program to achieve a one hundred percent drug free, zero tolerance drug policy workplace. Increasingly during this period, according to Paul Armentano and Donna Shea, the director of publications and the legal director, respectively, for the pro-marijuana legalization organization, NORML, “ America’s national concern to combat illicit drug use has [turned into] national zeal towards eliminating drugs in society…and is highly disturbing because it shows many Americans have been so sufficiently blinded and scared by the federal government’s propaganda that [they are] now content to sacrifice their constitutional heritage and individual rights in order to ‘support the cause,’ (‘Historical Legal Basis for Drug Testing’, 2001). That which began with the military, then was adopted by the federal government, has now spread into the private sector, with the number of companies engaging in some type of pre-employment and incumbent employee drug testing burgeoning by approximately 200% every decade since Executive Order 12564 was signed into law.
Proponents of drug testing claim that the use of alcohol and illicit drugs cost the American economy between $60 and $145 billion dollars a year (Loup, 1994), and that such testing is an economic and, even a social and ethical, imperative, not only to remain competitive, but to ensure a safe workplace and environment. Detractors of the practice point to an abrogation of individual privacy rights, a presumption of guilt which is contrary to accepted American jurisprudence, a general lack of efficacy as a performance measure, and an erosion of the proper and most productive employee/employer relationship structure. Whichever side one lines up with regarding the drug testing debate, an irrefutable aspect of workplace drug testing is it’s increased, almost to the point of being endemic, prevalence on the American workscape. 84% of private US firms utilize pre-employment drug testing, more than double the 38% which did so a decade earlier in 1996, and 73% (representing approximately 70 million adults) have a random or ‘for cause’ workplace drug testing policy in place, as compared to only 36% which had such a policy in place in 1996 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). It seems that