At what point is seeking personal information in the workplace a violation of one’s privacy? Is it only justified at certain jobs? Should all drug use be treated the same? Should drug testing be at the discretion of the employer or employee? These are some of the questions that have made drug testing such an ethical dilemma. It is such a complex subject that there appears to be no clear solution to it. Although employers should have access to some information, such as education, a line must be drawn as to what is relevant information and what is a violation of one’s privacy.
Is Drug Testing Ethical? Unfortunately the question of whether drug testing is ethical or not is by no means a yes or no question. So many factors need to be taken into account before deciding the answer to this question. And even then, the decision may or may not be “correct.” Joseph R. Desjardins and Ronald Duska have come up with two arguments that they believe establish the results of drug testing as relevant information. The first argument states that the drug can affect or hinder performance at a particular job. The second states that drug use may harm the individual, fellow employees, and/or a third party, such as customers (Shaw 100).
The first argument claims that drug use affects one’s performance in the workplace. Employers clearly want all their employees to perform at a maximum level, but is this performance level required? As long as employees are performing at a satisfactory level, there is no ground for drug testing. Testing employees for drugs is warranted only when performance is clearly under what is required.
The second stronger argument defends drug testing because it can potentially prevent harm to one’s self and others. Employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public. Drug testing helps them do this. Although it is hard to dispute this argument, not all employees need to be under this scrutiny. In the Confederated Umatilla Journal (CUJ), the author argues that random drug tests deem an employee to be guilty until proven innocent (CUJ). Drug testing should be based on whether performance is possibly impaired by alcohol or drugs, rather than if performance is satisfactory or not. These grounds would warrant such a test, while random tests question the integrity of employees.
These arguments do make valid points, but are incomplete in determining whether drug tests are ethical or not. Many other issues need to be addressed and analyzed. Should All Drug Use be treated the same? There are certainly different kinds of drugs, some more harmful than others. If drug tests are conducted, certain drugs should have bigger repercussions. This is a very delicate issue because of its subjectivity.
In testing for drugs, there is no discrimination as to what substance is being used. Drugs are drugs. In the CUJ, the author states that marijuana users are placed in the same level as other cocaine, heroine, and other drug users (CUJ). In fact, it continues to say that these tests target marijuana users because it stays in your system 8 or 9 times longer than other substances such as cocaine or hard alcohol. This appears to be unfair, for many would argue that marijuana is not as harmful as other substances. But it does stays in your system for a longer period of time, making it easier to detect.
How accurate are these tests? The accuracy of these drug tests is also a very important issue to discuss. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Shari Roan addresses this issue. She and some colleagues reviewed 710 random urine tests and found that 12% of the may have been inaccurate (Roan). If the tests are not 100% accurate, how can they be used to determine the hiring of a certain individual? The same logic can be applied to lie detectors used in the courtroom. Because lie detectors, although pretty accurate, are not perfect, they are not allowed to be used in any way to judge a court case. If this is so, the there is an argument against using drug tests in the work place. Employees can always question the accuracy of the tests if they aren’t accurate 100% of the time.
Not only are these tests inaccurate, but there are numerous ways to get around them. The Fort Apache Scout (FAP) mentions that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found 650 products made with the intent to fool a drug test. Unfortunately, the selling of these types of products is a thriving industry today (FAP). People now see drug tests and ask themselves, “How can I get around it?” as opposed to, “should I stop using drugs?” These tests no longer target substance abusers, but people who do not have access to these products. If products are made specifically to alter the results of these tests, it seems odd to use them to determine the employment of individuals.
Whose Decision is it? In cases where drug testing is required, the employer makes the decision. From the perspective of the employer, serious drug use will ultimately affect one’s performance at work, which can be harmful to the company. Should employers be given this right to find out this information? Angela Stelmakowich, in her article “Random drug testing deemed off-limits,” argues that random drug testing is “intrusive and an unreasonable exercise of management rights” (Stelmakowich). She continues this argument by stating that urine analysis indicates the presence of a substance in one’s system. It does not necessarily prove impairment. If this is so, the results of drug tests are not relevant information and should not be used as grounds for employment.
Other times, drug tests are voluntary, in which the decision is up to the employee. Just like with other information, employees can choose which information to disclose. This process creates problems when employees refuse to take the test. People who are drug free will have no problem taking the test. As a result, it draws some negative attention to those who choose not to take it. In addition, drug testing can lower the morale of people forced to take it. In schools that require drug tests for students in extra curricular activities, testing could possibly keep students from joining sports or other clubs (Scholastic Action). Being forced to carry out a test that questions your trust or integrity is by no means a pleasant experience. For this reason, this process is not very effective.
What to do? The drug tests conducted today seem inadequate and a poor indicator of performance at one’s job. It’s apparent that the whole drug testing procedure needs to change or be eliminated altogether. John Bevis, in “Random drug tests started,” stated that what he does after work is his own business. He was not advocating drug use, but privacy and one’s rights (CUJ). Random drug tests, a policy many companies are using today, violate one’s privacy. The value of trust is then lost if employees feel they are forced to partake in these tests.
The employee and employer are too subjective and involved to be making a decision about drug testing. Introducing a third party may be a solution. A committee that determines whether a drug test is valid for a particular occupation can be created, or if an employee’s behavior warrants a drug test. This committee has to be objective and must have no loyalties to any of the parties involved. Adopting this process would eliminate the randomness of drug tests and give grounds for conducting such tests on employees. Employees would now know why they are being tested upon.
By no means are drug tests invalid or useless. The process used in the workplace, however, needs to be changed. The accuracy and trust issues alone are grounds for at least modifying the current policies regarding drug testing. So why is drug testing such an important issue? The issue of drug testing goes way beyond whether an employee is using drugs or not. It is a moral question one’s right to privacy. If drug use is considered relevant information, should we also consider education?
How about criminal records? Previous employment history? Diet? Hobbies? Religion? Some of these might seem absurd, but employers can make a valid point as to why this personal information can affect one’s performance or behavior in their work. So where is this line and who should decide it? Some of the issues of drug testing can be solved by introducing a committee to examine the situation and seeing whether a drug test is relevant. Allowing such tests, however, open the way to other issues previously discussed. What personal information should or should not be disclosed? This more universal question is almost impossible to answer.