Disagree: Drug Testing In The Workplace

Disagree with drug testing in the workplace?  Regardless of if you use or do not use drugs you may be against drug testing in the workplace.  Individuals have the right to hide their private lives.  The “right to be left alone” in the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”  Why should workers be forced to prove their innocence even if they are not suspected of using illegal drugs, such as marijuana?  The analysis of a person’s urine from a drug test can reveal much more information than simply if they use or do not use illegal drugs like marijuana.  Private information, including whether an applicant is being treated for diabetes, depression, heart conditions, pregnancy, etc.may be revealed to employers from the results of their drug test.  Drug tests violate a person’s right to their privacy and also submits them to a degrading test that is not entirely accurate.

Why are drug tests even important?  If an employee performs their job in a satisfactory manner, does their potential use of drugs outside of the workplace really concern the employer.  Urine tests can not determine when a drug was used; they simply detect the leftover traces or metabolites of the previously used drug substances.  For instance, a worker may smoke marijuana on a Friday night, may test positive the following Tuesday, but the effects from this drug will likely not affect their job performance the following week.  Drug tests do not measure job performance; they merely indicate whether an employee may have used drugs at some point in the past.

Drug testing is not even highly reliable at this point in time.  Drug tests yield false positive at least 10% of the time and possibly up to 30% of the time.  Unfortunately these unreliable tests are the ones used by many companies because they are cheaper.  More accurate tests do exist, but they are more expensive and error can still occur.  The tendency to confuse drugs that are of similar chemical compounds can lead to false positives in drug tests.  For example, some drugs that may lead to false positive include: codeine for heroin, Nyquil for amphetamines, and Advil for marijuana.  If drug tests that are widely used by companies are not truly reliable, then why should employees be subjected to such tests.

Even if a person has nothing to hide, drug tests in the workplace violate an inidividuals right to their privacy.  False positives for the use of illegal drugs could potentially ruin someone’s career.  Even if employees do use drugs, these drugs may not have a negative adverse affect on their performance while at work.  What someone does in their private life does not need to be disclosed to the company that they work for.  Employees have the right to their privacy and drug test in the workplace violate these rights and also infringe upon many other areas.


[…] Disagree […]

January 22nd, 2014 2:50 am

*This is an assignment for a business ethics course*

I agree that everyone has the right to a private life; however I don’t believe that drug testing in the workplace has to completely violate that right to privacy. Companies can put in place policies and procedures to minimise the intrusion into the private lives of employees, such as ensuring that the testing is relevant to the employer, evaluating who is required to be tested and then carefully selecting which drugs are to be tested for and establish how test results are treated.

I think the biggest question you raise is why are drug tests even important? There are a couple of reasons why I see drug testing in the workplace important; the first and probably the most important one is health and safety, and the second which you touch on is performance.

If you view drug testing from an employer’s point of view, they are responsible for the health and safety of the employees and customers at the workplace, they have a duty to maintain a safe environment for their employees; drugs have proven to be responsible for many accidents (Marijuana a major cause of accidents?), so eliminating or minimising the use of drugs in the workplace can only help to improve workplace safety. But does this duty to prevent harm in the workplace supersede an employee’s rights to privacy? I would say it does, IF the employer carefully selects who is required to be tested. Office workers may make mistakes in their work while under the influence, but would these mistakes be dangerous to human lives? Probably not, therefore the company requirement to test these people is minimal if not at all. However, employees in the construction industry who work with heavy machinery, for example, have a high risk of injury to themselves or others. An employer should have the right to know if these employees are fit for the workplace.

I agree that if an employee is performing their job to a high standard despite taking drugs outside of the work place, is it a concern? Probably not, but what about those employees who consistently don’t meet their job performance measures? Lower productivity, higher costs, and consequent lower profits account for $25 billion lost each year in the United States due to employee drug use (DesJardins, J., & Duska, R. (2001). Drug testing in employment). This must be a concern for employers. If knowing about drug use can prevent productivity loss, then employers should test for drug use, BUT only on those employees who are showing a lack of performance which cannot be contributed to other temporary known factors such as a death in the family, or a new parent who may be sleep deprived etc.

I would argue that drug testing in the workplace does not force employees to prove their innocence, nor reveal a person’s medical history. In New Zealand the Privacy Act 1993 and the Human rights Act 1993, in conjunction with common law, influence whether the requirement for drug testing is reasonable and takes into account the sample collection procedures, the method of analysis, and the handling of results ((Laws on Drug testing in the workplace). With these proper processes in place companies should only seek results of drugs which may affect employees work. If a positive result or a false positive is returned, the employee should be liaised with in a confidential setting, given the opportunity to seek further independent results, and the employee and employer can work through a mediation process. The employer is only interested in preventing harm, not punishing employees, and don’t forget drug testing is also a drain on the employer’s resources.

The discussion of reliability is a good one, if drug tests that are widely used by companies are not truly reliable then why should employees be subjected to such tests? Reflecting on your findings, one could argue that 70-90% accuracy is reliable and satisfactory. This aside, I think your concern is why employees are subjected to drug tests. Isn’t it to prevent drug use in the workplace and highlight any employees who are chronic drug abusers? Drug abusers are more than just people who smoke marijuana on Friday nights; drug abusers are dangerous in the workplace (The Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse). Drug testing may also prevent those “Friday night” drug users from taking drugs if they know that they will be subject to a test sometime in the near future, and if an employer prevents its employees from taking drugs over the weekend, and is alerted to drug abusers on their payroll then isn’t drug testing justifiable?

Companies should evaluate who is required to be tested, helping to minimise the intrusion into the private life of some employees. Company policies and procedures should test only those employees who, under the influence, could impact the employer’s duty to maintain a safe environment. Not all employees have jobs which have the potential to put the lives of other colleagues or customers in danger. Workplace drug testing should be limited to those jobs which pose major risk, such as construction workers, taxi drivers or pilots. And even once those high risk positions have been established, not everyone in those roles should be required to undergo testing. Employers would have no reason to test employees who, as you said, perform their job to a satisfactory manner.

Is someone’s privacy more important than death, or serious harm of another? Employers have a duty to investigate health and safety issues in the workplace, and drug abusers are a threat to people’s safety, not to mention a drain on the company through poor performance. Therefore there is a definite justification to drug test employees. Employee’s privacy can be respected by companies implementing policies and procedures which include only testing the relevant people, ensuring sample collection procedures meet government standards, and that these policies are made clear to employees and abided by. The aim of the employer is not to punish the ‘Friday night’ drug users, but to help prevent its employees from taking drugs in an environment where it is dangerous and inappropriate to do so.


Marijuana a major cause of accidents? What study says. (n.d.). Retrieved January
17, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/marijuana-a-major-cause-of-accidents-what-study-says/

DesJardins, J., & Duska, R. (2001). Drug testing in employment. In
T. L. Beauchamp & N. E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (6th ed.,
pp. 283-294). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Laws on drug testing in the workplace. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2014, from

The Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2014, from

Scholes, V. (2013). 71203 Business Ethics, Module 2, Learning Guide. Wellington, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Leave Your Comment