The Arguments for and Against Drug Testing in the Work Place Essay Sample

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The issues of whether society should permit the business sector to test for the presence of illegal drug use by the employees, is one in which seemingly convincing arguments can be proposed to support it, as well as equally convincing arguments against the concept. In this paper, I will explore the controversy from several different perspectives, analyzing the most important arguments both for and against permitting businesses to engage in employee drug testing. I will begin this paper by first considering the arguments for permitting businesses to engage in drug-testing employees for illegal substances. Then I will consider the arguments against permitting drug-testing. Summing up the paper, I will decide who has the best argument for their beliefs and explain a possible rationale for those beliefs.

On current trends within two years it will be almost impossible for recreational drug users to get a job with larger companies. Drug testing at work is probably the single most effective weapon we have against adult substance abuse. It is a proven, low cost strategy which identifies those needing help, reduces demand, cuts accidents and sick leave, improves attendance and increases productivity. (Cross, 1997) Yet drug testing is highly controversial, according to Cross, it penalizes users with positive drug tests that can bear little or no relation to work performance, encourages knee-jerk dismissals and discrimination at interviews. It costs money and invades privacy. Despite all this, almost overnight it has become fashionable to talk of testing millions of people at work for both alcohol and drugs.

Perkinson states, “The government’s own Forensic Science Agency carried out over a million workplace drug tests last year, with a rush of interest from transport, construction, manufacturing and financial services industries”(1997). This stampede to test follows spectacular drug testing success when many had declared the mega-war against drugs all but lost. The drugs industry accounts for eight percent of all international trade according to the United Nations. Education, customs, police, crop destruction and prison sentences have failed to deliver so drug testing has become highly attractive, even at the cost of civil liberties. Eighty percent of all large companies already spend over two million a year testing for drugs at work, affecting forty percent of the US work force. In 2010, up to eighty percent of all workers will be covered by drug tests (Hock 2009). 
 The Arguments for 4 Every office, factory, train operator, airline, construction company and hospital is affected with serious risks to public health and profitability. Workplace drug testing in America is being forced on employers for economic and safety reasons. Drug companies that don’t test will go bust.

Their insurance premiums will go through the roof. US studies show that substance abusers (including alcohol) are thirty-three percent less productive, three times as likely to be late, four times as likely to hurt others at work or themselves, five times as likely to sue for compensation, and ten times as likely to miss work (Cialdini 2003).
 Cross also explains that when the State of Ohio introduced random drug testing they found absenteeism dropped ninety-one percent there were eighty-eight percent less problems with supervisors and ninety-seven percent decrease in on-the-job injuries. These results are so striking that many companies are now screening job applicants. The American Medical Association’s own figures suggest up to ten percent of all doctors may abuse either alcohol or illegal drugs, including cocaine, crack and heroin. That’s almost 10,000 doctors, treating perhaps 200,000 patients every day. In an operating room with one anaesthetist, a consultant and two junior doctors there is a fifty percent risk that one of the team is a substance abuser. (Bernbach 2007)
 Other arguments for testing are that drug testing is cheap.

Breathalyzers cost forty dollars with virtually no running costs while urine tests costs twelve dollars for drugs. They only have to be carried out on a few to be effective. Positive test rates have fallen  from thirteen percent to five percent in a decade. According to Cialdini, “This is a method that works.” He also explains that random testing is barbaric unless introduced sensitively as part of a comprehensive package of education and access to confidential treatment. The primary aim should not be to attack the employee, but to discourage the drug use, offer help and treat the individual. The most effective programs are those where the workforce approves a humane, compassionate and fair anti-drugs policy. 
 There are many arguments against drug testing from the high cost to infringing on a person’s rights. When it comes to actual drug tests many of the arguments surround the inaccuracy of the tests rather than the cost.

Kurdek stated that,”There are many unresolved problems with testing: for example cannabis tests are almost useless with positive tests weeks after use. What blood levels are acceptable for illegal drugs? Who should be tested? How often and what action should be taken (1998)?
 Some argue for tests only where performance is poor. But by then a fellow worker may have lost an arm, a leg, an eye or a hand – a patient her own life. The aim of testing is to prevent mistakes, not to allocate blame after the event. It is unfair to force workers who are not even suspected of using drugs, and whose job performance is satisfactory, to “prove” their innocence through a degrading and uncertain procedure that violates personal privacy. Such tests are unnecessary because they cannot detect impairment and, thus, in no way enhance an employer’s ability to evaluate or predict job performance (Perkinson 1997).

Employers have the right to expect their employees not to be high, stoned, drunk, or asleep. Job performance is the bottom line: If an employee cannot do the work, employers have a legitimate reason for firing them. However, urine tests do not measure job performance. Even a confirmed “positive” provides no evidence of present intoxication or impairment; it merely indicates that a person may have taken a drug at some time in the past.

Urine tests cannot determine when a drug was used, they can only detect the “metabolites,” or inactive leftover traces of previously ingested substances. For example, an employee who smokes marijuana on a Saturday night may test positive the following Wednesday, long after the drug has ceased to have any effect. In that case, what the employee did on Saturday has nothing to do with his or her fitness to work on Wednesday. At the same time, a worker can snort cocaine on the way to work and test negative that same morning. That is because the cocaine has not yet been metabolized and will, therefore, not show up in the person’s urine (Bussee 2004).

Innocent people do have something to hide: their private life. The “right to be left alone” is, in the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” It is unfair to force workers who are not even suspected of using drugs to “prove” their innocence through a degrading and uncertain procedure that violates personal privacy (Berbbach 2007).

Analysis of a person’s urine can disclose many details about that person’s private life other than drug use. It can tell an employer whether an employee or job applicant is being treated for a heart condition, depression, epilepsy or diabetes. It can also reveal whether an employee is pregnant (Bussee 2004).

The drug screens used by most companies are not reliable. These tests yield false positive results at least ten percent, and possibly as much as thirty percent, of the time. Experts concede that the tests are unreliable. Although more accurate tests are available, they are expensive and infrequently used. And even the more accurate tests can yield inaccurate results due to laboratory error. A survey by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a government agency, found that twenty percent of the labs surveyed mistakenly reported the presence of illegal drugs in drug-free urine samples. Unreliability also stems from the tendency of drug screens to confuse similar chemical compounds. For example, codeine and Vicks Formula 44-M have been known to produce positive results for heroin, Advil for marijuana, and Nyquil for amphetamines (Bussee 2004).

Actually, there are no clear estimates about the economic costs to industry resulting from drug use by workers. Proponents of drug testing claim the costs are high, but they have been hard pressed to translate that claim into real figures. And some who make such claims are manufacturers of drug tests, who obviously stand to profit from industry-wide urinalysis.

Many state and federal courts have ruled that testing programs in public workplaces are unconstitutional if they are not based on some kind of individualized suspicion. Throughout the country, courts have struck down programs that randomly tested police officers, fire- fighters, teachers, civilian army employees, prison guards and employees of many federal agencies. In Washington, D.C., for example, one federal judge had this to say about a random drug testing program that would affect thousands of government employees: “This case presents for judicial consideration a wholesale deprivation of the most fundamental privacy rights of thousands upon thousands of loyal, law-abiding citizens….”(Thompson 1999).

In 1989, for the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of testing government employees not actually suspected of drug use. In two cases involving U.S. Customs guards and railroad workers, the majority of the Court held that urine tests are searches, but that these particular employees could be tested without being suspected drug users on the grounds that their Fourth Amendment right to privacy was outweighed by the government’s interest in maintaining a drug-free workplace. Although these decisions represent a ruling, it does not affect all government workers, and the fight over the constitutionality of testing is far from over. The Fourth Amendment says that the government cannot search everyone to find the few who might be guilty of an offense. (Bussee 2004)

In addition to California, seven states have enacted protective legislation that restricts drug testing in the private workplace and gives employees some measure of protection from unfair and unreliable testing: Montana, Iowa, Vermont and Rhode Island have banned all random or blanket drug testing of employees (that is, testing without probable cause or reasonable suspicion), and Minnesota, Maine and Connecticut permit random testing only of employees in “safety sensitive” positions. The laws in these states also mandate confirmatory testing, use of certified laboratories, confidentiality of test results  and other procedural protections. While they are not perfect, these new laws place significant limits on employers’ otherwise unfettered authority to test and give employees the power to resist unwarranted invasions of privacy. Here in Texas, they still drug test both in the pre-employment stages and randomly (Bernbach 2009).

In both situations each case identified various arguments for their beliefs. The argument against drug testing holds more tangible evidence than the argument for it. They provided judicial rulings, factual evidence pertaining to reliability and validity of the testing procedures and true cases supporting their beliefs. One particular argument against drug testing, I believe, holds the best resolution for everyone: Employers have better ways to maintain high productivity, as well as to identify and help employees with drug problems. Competent supervision, professional counseling and voluntary rehabilitation programs may not be as simple as a drug test, but they are a better investment in America (Jespen 2002). However, in this day and age the quickest solution is usually seen as the best.


Bernbach, J. (2007). Job Discrimination II: How to Fight…How to Win. Paris: Voir Dire Press.
Bussee, R., (2004). Employee’s Rights: Your Practical Handbook to Workplace Rights. New York: Sourcebooks.
Cialdini, R.B. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Cross, S.E. & Madson, L. (1997). “Models of Self: Self-Construals and Drugs.” Psychological Bulletin, 122:5-37.
Hock, R.R. (2009). Forty Studies That Changed Psychology: Explorations Into The History of Psychological Research. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Jepsen, L. & Jepsen, C. (2002). “An Empirical Analysis of the Matching Patterns of Non-Alcoholics and Alcoholics.” Demography, 39:435-453.

Kurdek, L. (1998). “Perceived Social Support of Drug Users in Cohabitating Relationships.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54:504-509. Perkinson, R.R. (1997). Chemical Dependency Counselling: A Practical Guide. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Thompson, L. & Walker, A.J. (1999). “Women and Men in Marriage, Work, and Alcoholism.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 51:845-872.

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