Monday, October 25, 2010

Drug Testing

by Dick Mac

Since the 1990s, when drug-testing in the workplace became legitimized by the Supreme Court, I have maintained that employers should have the right to drug-test employees. I believe a company should have a specific policy written, and a system in place for how to handle positive results. I am concerned that drug-testing is sometimes used to isolate someone for termination, even if an employer knows other staff would deliver the same test results.

So, a company needs to decide why they are testing, and they need to be transparent about that; be honest about it so everyone understands your goals.

Are we testing because we want a completely sober and level-headed workforce?

Are we testing because we want to prevent the use and distribution of illicit drugs on our premises?

Are we testing because we are committed to a healthy workforce?

Many of the discussions about drug-testing are related to liability: how will workplace safety, and therefore our insurance rates, be affected by people using drugs?

Some of the questions to ask are: What drugs are we concerned about? What part of the workforce are we concerned about? What do we do TO the people who test positive? What do we do FOR the people who test positive?

If a company is concerned about workplace safety, and by extension insurance rates, should they be testing for legal as well as illicit drugs? Should this company be testing for alcohol?

So, once the company has written its policy and business continues, what comes next?

I assume these conversations are driven by insurance companies deciding that use of X, or the presence of Y, makes for a dangerous workplace. What happens when insurance companies decide that prescription drugs are no longer acceptable? Are they testing for pain-killers, sedatives, anti-depressants, diet pills?

When a prescription drug is found in the urine of an employee, what steps should be taken? After all, a doctor has prescribed these drugs; and it's possible that the drugs are needed because of an incident in the workplace; perhaps the employee suffers from treatable mental illness and can be successful with certain drugs.

Some companies have started terminating employees who tested positive for prescription drugs.

Hydrocodone is a powerful drug that is abused by some, and used as a pain-reliever by others. An employee was terminated because she tested for it, and although her doctor had prescribed the drug, her employer decided to terminate her.

Perhaps this employer could have met with the employee, learned about her condition, and see if there was some way to reach their goal of a safe workplace without terminating a long-time employee.

This company has knows that hydrocodone is a drug that could impair a person's judgment or motor skills, and they have decided that use of hydrocodone, even as a prescription medication, is grounds for termination.

If the list of drugs is no longer a list of "illicit drugs" but a list of "drugs that impair judgment" then what other drugs belong on the list? Certainly, alcohol belongs on the list: anyone who has had a few drinks is impaired, and a person who got hammered last night is still dangerous this morning. Prozac and other psychopharmaceuticals are, generally, mind-altering substances. If a person is generally depressed and prone to bouts of extreme mood swings, their judgment is impaired. Should they be allowed to use drugs that change their well-being? Where is the line drawn?

Can an employee be an active alcoholic in the workplace, but a person taking prescribed hydrocodone cannot? This makes no sense to me.

Any company that wants to use drug-test results as part of the criteria for employment, they should be clear about their methods, rationale, and desired outcome.

Firing people for using prescription drugs, without a thorough investigation, discussion with the physician, and an effort to find alternatives, is immoral -- it's just wrong.

Drug Testing Poses Quandary for Employers


U.S Doctor Medical said...

Hardly changed by this, as there are many people who take these medicines to solve the problems of chronic pain sufferers and unfortunately must take to well, to subsist and live with the pain, so there are drugs that are approved and regulated as Vicodin, hydrocodone say the most common or which require a prescription.

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