The Origins of Drug Testing in the Workplace Mandatory drug testing in the U.S. workplace originated in the 1980s as an outgrowth of government-ordered drug testing in the military. It was extended to federal workers in safety-sensitive positions and employers receiving federal grants.
Workplace drug testing in private companies gained traction when statistics showed that drug users are more likely than other workers to file workers compensation claims and be involved in workplace accidents, as well as engage in other undesirable behaviors - behaviors that create immense liability for employers.
Union Position on Workplace Drug Testing
Drug testing can be inaccurate, does not necessarily indicate a worker’s fitness for duty, may be discriminatory and may violate worker privacy or other regulations. While the government can require random drug testing for safety-sensitive employees in certain industries, unions have been pushing for more accurate testing practices and greater protection for workers’ rights. Outside these industries, unions have an even bigger influence on corporate drug policies.
Here is the position unions are beginning to champion regarding drug and alcohol testing:
From the UE (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America), representing 35,000 workers:
“If the Union has to bargain, what kind of D&A policy should be fought for?... The union should bargain for language that says what is unacceptable is on the job impairment. We want testing that shows on the job usage or impairment, not off the job usage… we want language that says that rehabilitation is primary, not punishment.”
From the Labor Center, University of Iowa:
“Indiscriminate testing cannot measure or detect a worker’s actual impairment on the job – that is, their ability to safely perform their work duties. As such, alcohol and drug-tests do not provide management with a tool for measuring job performance.”
“Urine tests for example, only measure the presence “metabolites” in the body. Metabolites are the left-over traces of previously ingested substances. A worker who smokes marijuana on January 1st might test positive for marijuana on January 15th – long after the effects of the drug have dissipated. On the other hand, a worker who smokes crack cocaine in the morning may test negative that same day because the drug has not had time to metabolize in his or her system. The first worker is fired, even though he or she is completely fit for work duty. The second worker keeps his or her job, though in all likelihood, not fit for duty.”
Unions are not against the imposition of a drug free workplace; they are against personal intrusion into employees’ off-hours behavior. They are also concerned that consequences are fair and are based on accurate tests. And the greatest measure of fairness is a determination of whether employees are fit for duty, whether they are impaired, not merely whether certain chemicals are found in their bodies. With the expansion of state laws legalizing marijuana this becomes an even greater concern for employers and employees.
Impairment Testing: A Solution that Supports Worker Rights
Everyone wants a safe workplace with workers who are fit for duty, so where can unions and employers find common ground? Eliminating most drug testing, while addressing many of the complaints brought to the table by unions, leaves employers without a solution to enforce a safe workplace. Due to inaccurate drug tests, privacy issues, and now legal complications, the common ground between employers, unions, and workers is Impairment testing.
Impairment testing, however, fills that gap by ensuring fitness for duty. And it does so without revealing anyone’s private information and without singling out anyone unfairly for suspicion of drugs or alcohol. Since the results of an impairment test may be due to any number of causes - including fatigue, illness, injury, chronic condition, or severe stress, as well as drugs or alcohol – being impairment tested doesn’t necessarily imply drug or alcohol use. Impairment testing can be used on a random basis, or a daily basis, or for cause, and then drug or alcohol testing could follow, if warranted.
Impairment Science’s Druid app measures cognitive and physical impairment in one minute. The app run on a smartphone or tablet, allows for immediate field testing, operates like a video game, is highly accurate, and relative to drug and alcohol testing, extremely inexpensive.