Drug Testing And Privacy

When it comes to drug testing at work, this has become an ethical issue that sees many people divided. On the one hand, we have the proponents of workplace drug testing who see it as a way to protect the safety of their workplace, the public, and employees. On the other hand, those who speak against mandatory workplace drug testing see it as an infringement on individual privacy rights, and this brings to light ethical questions that can pit employers against their employees. So is workplace drug testing a privacy infringement? Like most questions of ethics and morals, there are two valid sides of the argument to be examined.

Drug Testing Types and Goals

When a workplace introduces mandatory drug testing, what they are trying to do is identify those workers who could be considered under the influence at work. There is more than one type of drug test employers can subject their employees to: breathalyzer, blood, hair and even psychological profiling, but the most common is a urinalysis.

Urinalysis Drug Testing

Urinalysis drug testing involves employees giving a urine sample which is then tested for levels of drugs or metabolites. Urinalysis testing, however, is not a definitive process with 100-percent definitive results. It can involve several various screening or confirmatory tests. Often it is the type of drug presence that is being tested for that determines the urinalysis method to be used. Other elements of urinalysis testing are the cost of the various testing methods, as well as the knowledge necessary of those conducting the testing procedure.

Breathalyzer Testing

Breathalysers are used to detect any presence of and concentration levels of alcohol in the subject’s breath. These results are known to directly reflect the amount of alcohol in the blood. Breathalyzers test strictly for alcohol, not for drugs. If a breathalyzer cannot be performed for some reason, a blood sample can also reveal blood-alcohol levels.

Hair Strand Testing

Hair strand testing can reveal past drug use and which drugs were used. Generally, hair strand testing will reveal drugs that have been used by the subject over the last three months, so it is not effective in showing very recent or current use. Used in conjunction with other tests like urinalysis, it can help reveal a complete picture of the subject’s current and recent drug use.

Psychological Profiling

This type of testing explores the efficacy of psychological testing to reveal an individual’s likelihood of using illicit drugs. The method has proven somewhat ineffective in its ability to determine an individual’s present or future drug use.

Critics of Workplace Drug Testing

Critics of workplace drug testing find it to be intrusive and an infringement on basic privacy rights. Regardless of the testing methodology, personal information is being collected and shared. People have asked exactly what rights are being denied when an employee who partook in the use of drugs or alcohol the night before the test, while not on work time, faces workplace consequences for those actions.

Another point of contention is that drug testing reveals other personal physical results than just drug, alcohol, and metabolite levels. Random testing, in particular, troubles critics of workplace drug testing as employees do not have the power to influence their results by, say, avoiding that night out on the town the night before a drug test is scheduled. Do employers have a right to this information solely due to their status, or should the sharing of that information remain with the discretion of each individual employee?

Supporters of Workplace Drug Testing

Supporters of workplace drug testing believe that, especially in certain occupations where an employee’s actions could harm or put others at risk, employers have the right and responsibility of ensuring the mental acuity of their employees.

Some drug testing proponents also believe in the fairness of mandatory drug testing for potential employees so the employer can make the most informed decision as to who they want to hire for a job. If they are paying an individual fair wages to do a job, doesn’t the employee’s mental ability and potential impairment have direct relevance to their ability to do the job and worthiness of that wage and position?

The issue of workplace drug testing brings many safety and privacy questions to the forefront. Like all ethical questions, both supporters and critics have valid viewpoints and concerns.