Pros and Cons of Drug Testing in the Workplace

It’s no secret that the use of drugs is extremely widespread in the United States, and that punitive laws have done little or nothing to stop drug abuse. Over 20 million American adults use illegal drugs of one kind or another, and workplace accidents have been linked to the use not only of street drugs, but also to alcohol. The productivity level of people who are high or drunk is also considerably lower than those who are sober.

Millions of people are whisked to the emergency room every year because they have been injured at work. The accidents often involve not only people who are inebriated and incapacitated in some way, but also those who are hung over. Heavy machinery or equipment will often play a major role in these injuries. In order to protect workers from the consequences of their own or another’s drug or alcohol abuse, many workplaces have instituted drug testing to ferret out people who might pose a danger at work. As with most things that concern drugs, testing is often controversial, and arguments can be made both for and against.

The Pros of Drug Testing

When accidents and absenteeism increase and productivity decreases, managers and business owners will often worry that drug or alcohol use is responsible. Use of drugs affects not only the substance abuser, but those around him or her, making drug use a public rather than a private problem. There are a number of good reasons for workplace drug testing:

  • Random drug testing can help to reduce the number and severity of workplace accidents. Simply knowing that a drug test could be conducted at any time can help casual users ‘clean up their act’ before addiction occurs.
  • Workplace violence is often precipitated by alcohol or drug use. Real or imagined slights can result in fights or weapon use – people who are drunk or high have less control over their emotions than those who are sober and are more likely to react to what they may perceive as provocation.
  • Tardiness and absenteeism can eat into the profits of any company, even if no accidents have actually occurred.
  • Workers who are abusing drugs or alcohol can often be steered to treatment programs, and many larger firms have in-company programs to help employees get and stay sober.
  • Drug test kits are now very easy to use, and in many cases the entire test can be conducted on site. No special equipment is needed and the tester need not handle the sample in any way.

Workplace Drug Testing Cons

Although there are definite advantages to drug testing in the workplace, employers may encounter resistance to it, even from perfectly sober employees.

  • Some people will resent being tested for drugs. Naturally, those who are using drugs or alcohol at work will not appreciate random drug tests, but people who have never touched drugs or alcohol may look on drug testing as an invasion of their privacy.
  • Drug tests using urine or hair will only give an indication of past drug or alcohol use; these tests will not pinpoint immediate, workplace use.
  • The costs associated with drug tests can also be fairly steep, depending on what type of test is used and how comprehensive it is.
  • Drug tests can give false results; someone who has eaten a poppy seed roll for breakfast can be designated as a heroin addict, and many prescription medications will also provide inaccurate readings. In order to address possibly false results, all employers should be willing to repeat the test and challenge the results.

Drug testing in the workplace can help to reduce the frequency and magnitude of workplace accidents, lessened productivity, and violence, but it should be conducted with complete fairness and with a goal of helping employees who do have a problem, rather than just jettisoning them.

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