In the 1980’s, a new program sponsored by Elizabeth Dole, current head of the American Red Cross and wife of Senator Bob Dole, suggested that drug testing in the workplace could prevent injuries and increase productivity. She adamantly requested that this testing be put in place for every worker from the President down.
Testing for illegal drug use did not become mandatory, however many insurance companies liked the idea and offered companies special incentives for creating “drug free” workplaces. Most state agencies and federal agencies required testing after that initiative, and even the U.S. military began to enforce this practice at a more prominent pace.
Drug Use and Productivity
It has been shown in several medical studies that illegal drug use impairs the cognitive skills of the user. These individuals that are under the influence work slower, make more mistakes, and are the cause of more accidents to themselves or other individuals. Additionally, illegal drug users miss more work days or come in late than their non-using coworkers.
When productivity levels drop, employers are often required to use overtime to meet deadlines or drop their production levels. Both have a significant impact on their profit margins. Employees that continually work overtime also find themselves worn down, often leading to injuries.
Productivity is also inhibited by drug use because there is always a significant amount of man hours that are dedicated to repairing or replacing product that was constructed incorrectly because the employee was impaired when completing the project.
At this time, data released by the U.S. government show that drug or alcohol abuse accounts for 15 percent of the workforce, even with testing standards in place.
Is Testing Against The Law? What About Privacy?
Testing for drug use for employment purposes is not against the law. Employers have the right to request a drug test as a condition of employment. Potential employees are free to decline the test without any legal ramifications. However, they will not qualify to be considered for the position.
Random testing of employees is also a condition for employment by many companies. Employees who accept employment under these conditions do so willingly, making it perfectly legal to test for drugs at any time as a condition for continued employment.
Industries That Benefit Most From Testing
There are two main industries that benefit the most from illegal substance testing: manufacturing and retail. Manufacturing companies, including construction, often work with large machinery, moving parts, vehicles and sometimes above ground level. All of these conditions already create a hazard for the employee, adding illegal drugs into the mixture makes it more dangerous for everyone involved.
The retail industry also benefits greatly from testing. Handling large sums of money can often be tempting for a person with a habit, and this may lead to theft. Additionally, many people that are trying to work under the influence make mistakes ringing up products or giving change, leading to extensive losses for the company.
It should be noted that the company must have a drug policy in place prior to requesting any drug testing from its current or future employees. Companies must notify all employees of any new policies being put into place, and provide a time line on when the testing will begin. Employers do not have the right to test employees without a written drug policy.
Employees Point of View
Most employees when questioned do not have a problem with drug testing. They understand the importance of having a drug free workplace for their safety and protection. While some may not like the random testing that does occur, overall they are happy to know that they are safe and that their fellow employees do not place them at risk.
Workers Compensation, COBRA, and Unemployment Benefits
Each state has specific laws regarding drug use in the workplace. Many states will deny COBRA benefits and sometimes unemployment benefits to employees that are dismissed because of drug use.
Workers compensation providers also state in their policies that injuries that occur due to drug or alcohol use will not be covered by their policy. If an employee is injured while under the influence, the employer may be responsible for the full extent of the injury. In some cases, under state law, the employer may not have to pay, leaving the injured employee facing large medical bills.