Posted by : Amanda Stein Friday, December 27, 2013




Drug and alcohol abuse by those in employment is the scourge of the workplace, with the potential to cause a loss of productivity, damage to a firm’s reputation, and personal risk to colleagues and clients. Drug use is often cited as being a contributing factor in increased levels of absenteeism and a high staff turnover. As it is costly and time-consuming to frequently hire and train new members of staff, many feel that mandatory drug testing should be introduced across all professions in an attempt to combat this risk to employers.


The legal implications of drug testing in the workplace

For many industries, including air and rail travel, maritime services, and roles involving heavy goods vehicles, the law stipulates that drug testing must be carried out to protect the welfare of passengers, other workers, and those who may come into contact with employees. In these cases, clear drug and alcohol policies will be made apparent from the commencement of employment, with many workplaces drug testing all candidates prior to a job offer being made. Regulations have been deliberately set in place by the government, and these must be adhered to at all times by an employer.

Lines become blurred for industries outside of these regulations; when is it essential, or appropriate to conduct drug testing amongst employees? There are calls for drug testing to become mandatory across all industries, making it much easier for a company, and its workforce, to understand the law. It is estimated by governing bodies that drug testing within the workplace has risen 277% since the mid 1980s, showing a marked increase in those who impose the practice to offset the physical and logistical costs of drug use by employees.

Aside from the few industries in which drug testing is a regulatory requirement, state law has little sway regarding workplace drug testing, leaving the practice to the discretion of companies. It could be argued that tighter laws and regulations are needed across the board, ensuring that all workers are tested similarly to avoid discrimination. It would perhaps also be useful to have tougher guidelines presented for the undertaking of drug testing; for example, a ‘universal’ policy regarding sample collection and assessment. Current guidelines, or lack thereof are unhelpful for both employers and their staff, and there is always a risk of one or other party abusing the system.


The benefits of drug testing in the workplace

Typically carried out by an external agency and laboratory, by a mobile drug testing unit, or by a specially trained member of staff with specifically purchased drug test kits, testing within the workplace can yield positive results, as long as a company’s drug and alcohol policies are transparent and communicated effectively to staff members.

Regimented drug testing within the workplace has been proven, by a number of nationwide studies, to increase productivity among the workforce, cutting absenteeism and reducing staff turnover. Drug testing is seen as a deterrent to those who may be considering consuming drugs or alcohol; sporadic testing, in particular, is highly effective in preventing the drug use by staff members who would lose their jobs upon a positive result. In discouraging drug use, regular testing in the workplace can also help to decrease the risk of incident or injury, helping companies to improve their safety records and retain a professional reputation. Whilst collecting samples of hair, saliva, urine, or blood could be deemed as costly in both time and money, research has shown that the beneficial results of these testing procedures can far outweigh initial expenditure.

Of course, whilst research continues into the effectiveness of workplace drug testing, so do questions surrounding its moral and ethical implications, although it could be argued that, while employers are bound by a duty of care towards employees, drug testing is integral to protecting the safety and interests of the workforce as a whole. In the past, drug testing has been accused of infringing upon workers’ human rights, affecting their civil liberties and eroding morale within the work environment; however, it must also be argued that drug taking by employees is a far greater risk to the wellbeing of their colleagues, and to safety of staff and clients, as well as being damaging to a company’s productivity and finances. The responsibility lies with employers to make their policies surrounding drug and alcohol use and abuse as transparent as possible; often, simply the threat of drug testing can be enough to deter workers’ from drug use.



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