The concept of workplace drug testing has been in existence for many years now, but it remains a controversial issue for many businesses. Employers insist they have the right to choose employees who do not use illegal drugs, while employees insist that workplace drug testing is a violation of their right to privacy, which is guaranteed by laws in their respective states.
By those arguments which support both sides of the debate, we can discern that indeed, there are advantages and disadvantages of workplace drug testing. Here are some of the pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace.
Advantages of workplace drug testing
It promotes a safer working environment
Perhaps the single biggest advantage of workplace drug testing is the fact that it promotes workplace health and safety. After all, it is undeniable that employees who use or abuse drugs pose a safety risk in the workplace. This is especially true of employees who are working safety-sensitive jobs such as handling hazardous chemicals, operating heavy machinery, or driving vehicles for the company. If any of them work while impaired by their drug of choice, whether it’s ice or alcohol, the risks of a workplace accident happening are significantly high, and that accident could lead to injuries and even deaths. When that happens, it’s going to expose employers to a whole array of liabilities that arise out of drug-related work accidents.
It helps reduce potential legal liability of employers
When workplace accidents occur, employers potentially face legal liability, especially if the accident occurred because of failure on the part of the employer to maintain a safe working environment. Without drug testing at work, there is no way for an employer to positively identify workers who pose a risk to everyone in the workplace with their drug use or abuse.
A workplace drug testing program therefore partly represents an employer’s effort to keep the environment at work safe for everyone. Drug testing in the workplace can help minimise workplace accidents, which in turn reduces the potential legal liability of employers themselves.
It helps employees with drug problems
While it’s true that there are companies that immediately sack—often in accordance with their own drug and alcohol policy—an employee who fails a drug test, there are many thoughtful employers who actually give such workers a second chance. In companies with established drug and alcohol testing policies, workers with drug problems can benefit from drug tests, especially if they work for employers who are dedicated to helping them in any way they can.
Many employers help workers who test positive for drugs by helping them get into recovery or rehabilitation programs at their expense. This way, employees get a chance to get clean and be free from drug abuse, and the employers can still keep the experienced worker after completing the program without the hassle of having to hire and train a new employee for the job.
Increased safety leads to better productivity
Drug testing leads to reduced accidents, which is a pretty good indicator that a workplace has indeed a safe working environment. That can only motivate employees to become more productive, knowing that their employers are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe while at work. Companies that have implemented a comprehensive workplace drug testing program have consistently reported an overall improvement in job performance as well as employee morale. Accident rates drop when there’s a drug testing program in place. The same can also be said for absenteeism, tardiness, employee theft and behavioural problems that are often associated with drug use and abuse.
Less employee turnover and reduced recruitment costs
Workers who abuse drugs are more likely to change jobs often. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that a drug-abusing employee could change jobs as often as three times annually.
Which such a high employee turnover rate, employers will be forced to spend more on recruiting new workers to replace them. A drug testing program, however, can impact employee turnover in a good way. A poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) revealed that 16 per cent of organisations saw their employee turnover rates drop after drug testing programs were put in place.
Improves staff morale
Drug abuse in the workplace is often synonymous to trouble for everyone in it. When employees see that a drug testing program is being strictly implemented, it impresses upon them how committed their employer is to providing a safe working environment for everyone. That raises morale among staff, which is always a good thing for any organisation.
It helps families of drug-using employees
Many organisations implementing drug testing programs also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in place. As its name suggests, an EAP is designed to extend help to a troubled employee, including those who have tested positive for drugs. Assistance could come in the form of counselling. Some EAPs even have counselling programs for the loved ones of the employees concerned.
Reduces potential workplace conflict/violence
Drug abusers tend to behave a little more aggressively, particularly those who are hooked on stimulant drugs such as ice or cocaine. With the implementation of a drug testing program, the organisation will be able to pinpoint and deal with drug abusing employees before any incidents of conflict and violence ever take place.
Pre-employment drug testing can screen drug users before they’re hired
Pre-employment drug testing may be seen by some employers as an unnecessary cost on their part. The ability to screen drug users and potential drug abusers before they’re hired, however, is certainly worth the trouble.
It helps educate workers about the dangers of drugs
Most drug testing programs often form part of a comprehensive company drug policy which aims to increase awareness about the dangers of drugs. This is usually achieved through information campaigns, seminars, trainings, drug forums and the like.
It deters workers from using/abusing drugs
While there is no guarantee that a drug testing program will make drug users in the workforce drop their habit altogether, the possibility of getting tested randomly should give them something to think about if they care about their jobs or careers.
It creates a healthier workplace
Drug abuse carries with a number of health risks. The deterrent effect of drug testing at work, combined with the education of employees on these health risks, can significantly contribute to make the workplace a healthier one.
It boosts the reputation of an organisation
A drug testing program does more than just identify drug users in the workplace. It also shows how committed an employer is to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. That elevates an employer’s reputation not only in the eyes of his workforce, but of other organisations and the general public as well.
It reduces employee theft/fraud
Drug abusers are in constant need of money to fund their drug habit. Some resort to borrowing money from friends and family, but others turn to stealing. Some would actually steal directly from co-workers, while others commit fraud to the detriment of the employer. A drug testing program will be able to identify these drug abusers and deal with them appropriately, which can effectively reduce employee theft or fraud.
It reduces health insurance costs
As previously stated, drug abuse typically brings about a lot of health issues. Naturally, employees who abuse drugs incur higher medical costs than those who don’t. This means more frequent health insurance claims, which of course translates to higher premiums. A drug testing program can help the employer take appropriate action on drug abusers in the workforce, and that should help reduce insurance costs.
Problem workers can be screened out
Workers who abuse drugs are more prone to absenteeism, tardiness and huge drops in work performance. While some employers can afford to put up with some problem workers in their organisation, other employers could not. They will need drug testing to identify these drug abusers and problem workers, and take appropriate action.
It reduces exposure to workers’ compensation claims
When an employee suffers a work-related injury or illness, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation to cover your medical costs and the days of work you miss because of that illness or injury. However, employees who test positive for drugs after an accident is likely to be denied workers’ compensation, and rightly so.
Disadvantages of workplace drug testing
The costs can be high
For employers, the most obvious disadvantage of workplace drug testing is the cost of keeping such a program running. Contracting drug testing companies for the program does not come cheap, after all. Depending on the drug test method used, an employer could spend approximately $28 to $40 per person. The cost becomes substantially higher when the employer conducts pre-employment drug testing as well. They will be spending a significant amount of money on people whose hiring remains uncertain until the results of their tests come back.
Accusations of violation of privacy
There’s also the general sense of opposition to workplace drug testing, and much of that opposition revolves around the idea that it violates employees’ right to privacy, and they can cite specific state laws that guarantee that right. When a business insists on workplace drug testing, it can sow the seeds of resentment among employees, and employee resentment often leads to reduced productivity and, therefore, lesser revenue for the business.
Unfair dismissal suits
Workplace drug testing is also often at the centre of unfair dismissal suits filed by former employees against the company. Employees who test positive for illegal drugs and are subsequently sacked often file suit, saying they have been wrongfully terminated. Even if the plaintiff loses the case, the company still stands to lose money because lawsuits of any kind will always come at a certain cost in terms of not only attorney’s fees, but also downtime needed to fight the claim in court. A solid, well-communicated drug policy framework is essential to prevent a lot of these headaches.
Drug testing is essential
Nevertheless, a workplace drug testing regime remains essential for companies, especially in today’s world of easy-to-obtain drugs and alcohol.
For employers in the transport, construction, engineering and mining industries, a drug and alcohol policy which provides for drug testing at work is an absolute necessity. Safety for personnel and equipment is paramount.
That’s not to say that it isn’t in the white collar sector, because a worker impaired by drugs or alcohol will always be prone to committing mistakes in judgment, regardless of whether that person is driving a forklift or operating a computer. Those mistakes can still cause harm, like in the case of a doctor showing up for work under the influence of drugs and injecting a patient with the wrong dose of medication. Or of an office worker reporting for work while high on ice and assaulting a co-employee.
When all is said and done, there really is no place for unsafe use of drugs and alcohol – especially at the workplace.