The ethics of drug testing has become an increased concern for many companies in the recent years. More companies are beginning to use it and more people are starting more to have problems with it. The tests are now more than ever seen as a way to stop the problems of drug abuse in the workplace.
This brings up a very large question. Is drug testing an ethical way to decide employee drug use? It is also very hard to decide if the test is an invasion of employee privacy. “The ethical status of workplace drug testing can be expressed as a question of competing interests, between the employer’s right to use testing to reduce drug related harms and maximize profits, over against the employee’s right to privacy, particularly with regard to drug use which occurs outside the workplace.” (Cranford 2)
The rights of the employee have to be considered. The Supreme Court case, Griswold vs. Connecticut outlines the idea that every person is entitled to a privacy zone. However this definition covers privacy and protection from government. To work productively especially when the work may be physical it is nearly impossible to keep one’s privacy.
The relationship between employer and employee is based on a contract. The employee provides work for the employer and in return he is paid. If the employee cannot provide services because of problems such as drug abuse, then he is violating the contract. Employers have the right to know many things about their employees. Job skills and training can even be investigated by the employer.
The employee is to perform services and these services must be done in a certain manner. Someone who is incoherent because of drug abuse cannot be a pilot for example. This is why employers can test to see if characteristics or tendencies would affect performance.
An employee may not want to give a urine or blood sample. The employee may not want to include all of their references but this is besides the fact that an employer is entitled to them. More and more employers are starting to feel this way. “A 1996 survey by the American Management Association found 81 percent of major U.S. companies had drug-testing programs at that time compared with 78 percent in 1995 and just 22 percent in 1987.” (May 2)
The employer has a right to only certain information and the line must also be drawn in the procedure to obtain the information. For example a polygraph has been known to make mistakes so this cannot be the sole source of information.
The procedure in which the tests are taken is a major concern. This decision went all the way to the Supreme Court. Samuel K. Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association found that urine and blood tests were minimally obtrusive. The taking of blood was found to cause no real pain or risk and is commonly done in ordinary life. The taking of urine in a medical situation with no observation was also found not to cause intrusions. Drug tests check for illegal substances. With this exactness drug testing is the most efficient way to find which employees are using drugs.
While some could argue that a certain employee’s performance on drugs would be below the level of another employee’s performance that is not on drugs but is just a poor performer. This leads into the most important point of the entire essay that employees have the right to a workplace that is free from the many problems of drugs.
It could possibly be argued that since employers have to allow their employees time off and times of decreased performance due to problems such as sickness and pregnancy that they should allow excuses for drugs. However drug use is an addiction. Depending on the addiction it must be met frequently. Problems such as sickness go away but addictions are constant and not allowable. The work that the employee puts in should be their best. “Since the employer has purchased the employees time, the employer has a proprietary right to ensure that the time purchased is used as efficiently as possible.”(Cranford 6)
Many people have a problem with employees having to choose between their job and their drugs. For example what if the person is hooked and cannot do anything about their addiction. Should the person have to live with no means of income because of their addiction? It is a difficult question to answer. Addicts are people who have needs like anyone else. Should they be denied the means to basic necessities such as food and shelter that a job would provide? The solution to this problem should be found in treatment to the individual while they maintain their job. The drug testing itself forces employees to confront the problems that they have. It is possible that people will see companies as cruel when they try to get the most production out of their people. However, a work force that is clean and sober is a win for both sides. “The financial status of the company is inherently intertwined with the good of employees; as the corporation becomes increasingly profitable, employees are increasingly benefited.”(Cranford 8)
Some parties argue “placing employees in a position where they must choose between maintaining their privacy or losing their jobs is fundamentally coercive.”(Cranford 6) This decision is easy to make for most employees and they take the test. Those people who already are in employment and refuse become suspect. People who are applying for jobs and refuse are not considered at all or seen on an extremely negative scale.
Another argument that has a number of holes through it is the idea that what an employee does on their own time is their own decision. This should be allowable for most things even those on the borderline. An employer may not want their employees to go hunting or skydiving on the weekends because of the potential for harm to the investment a company has in an employee. However, this should not be enforceable because it has no everyday effect on their work. Unless the person perishes in a crash, skydiving has no effect on a person’s Monday morning management skills. Now if an employee is involved with illegal drugs on their own time the effects linger in their system. Even when there are no drugs in the system this is when the body craves more to satisfy their addiction. An addiction is not able to stay just within the bounds of the employees own time.
There should be an outline for giving the tests. The tests should be given only when the behavior is unusual and bizarre. The tests should be given without prior notice to reduce the chance that employees could foil the test. The employees that fail the test should be allowed to keep their jobs while receiving their treatment. Termination should only come after treatment has been refused or failed.