Ethical Considerations when Drug Testing in the Workplace

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

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.
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:
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.
Overall it is the individuals right to take drugs. It is however, discriminatory if employment is refused on the basis of drug use.