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Ethical Considerations when Drug Testing in the Workplace

Posted By: Thomas Shaw, 7:05pm Monday 01 June 2009    Print Article

Most people don't realise that I have a background in HR. While studying at university, I undertook a number of business ethics units, to focus on behaviour in the workplace. This is a snippet from a report I wrote titled "Ethical Considerations when Drug Testing in the Workplace" from 2002.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own view on the ethical considerations about drug testing. But there must be some underlying common arguments to help the discussion.
  • A libertarian position believes that people should be permitted to indulge in activities that do not cause harm to others and that this applies even when those activities may harm the person carrying them out;
  • An opinion that some drug use, however defined, is inherently wrong;
  • A related opinion that addiction is wrong; and
  • A middle ground that has no particular view on the morality of drug use as such but holds that drug use is undesirable when its use reduces individual, community, and business welfare.
Business and organizations are held legally and ethically liable for any harm done to their staff and or customers, where knowledge of employees drug use is present. Business need to know the health and wellbeing of its employees to protect other workers and customers from any risks related to such liability.

That is of course a lose-lose situation – How can you protect the rights and privacy of the employee, and yet, let the drug abused employee continue to work for the business?

Results like these speak for themselves - Individuals who use drugs are a third less productive, 75% of industrial accidents may be linked to the use of drugs or alcohol, Individuals who use drugs are 3.5 times more likely to injure themselves, Individuals who use drugs are 2.5 times more likely to be absent from work for 8 days or more.

If drug testing is in place in organizations, it needs to be:
  • Uniform. That is, that everyone is tested, and it is not just placed upon a few individuals;
  • There needs to be an independent officer or company doing the sample collection, to ensure that the tests are carried out without tampering and bias;
  • It needs to be legal;
  • The drug testing should not violate privacy – the information the organization seeks, must be relevant to the employment contract;
  • The tests must respect the dignity and rights of the person to be tested. The employee should not be forced, but make their own decision;
  • Alternatives should be identified to methods of sample collection. Either bodily fluids, hair samples, etc.;
  • That advanced notice of the tests is given, as well as procedures and policies are in place for the retesting and appealing of any results.
All possible steps should be taken to ensure that the individual’s privacy is not invaded. Some people may be offended by the notion, and there should be policies to abide by any religious or ethnic concerns.

Drug abuse by individuals is a serious problem, and generally it calls for some medical or psychological help. The moral assessment of any problem of drug testing must rest on the individual giving consent for the test. They themselves know if they are taking drugs or not, and must face the consequences of their actions – Will they face immediate dismissal and potential criminal proceedings? Or allowing the individual to go to rehabilitation and a chance to retain their positions? There should be steps in place so that employees assistance programs are adopted by organizations, so that drug affected employees can go for help, before it becomes a problem.
  • Drug use adversely affects job performance; therefore leading to lower productivity, higher costs and consequently lowers profits when employees aren’t focused on the job. Ie hung-over, or stoned.
  • Since employees are contracted with an employee for the performance of specific tasks, employers seem to have a legitimate claim upon whatever personal information is revellent to an employer’s ability to do the job.
  • Most people claim that drug use has been and can be responsible for considerable harm to the individual employee, to their fellow employees , the employer, 3rd parties, including customers.
Overall it is the individuals right to take drugs. It is however, discriminatory if employment is refused on the basis of drug use.

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Article Tags: drug testing workplace issues ethical considerations business ethics performance management privacy employees employer hr human resources hr policy health and safety

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