Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Writing against drug testing auto service employees

December 29, 2005

Writing against drug testing auto service employees
Paul Armentano

With an estimated 55 million drug screens performed annually in the United States and some 50 percent of corporate workers forced to "drop trou" as a mandatory condition of employment, suspicionless employee drug testing is an inherent part of the modern workplace.

However, despite its prevalence in the American workforce, the practice is an invasive, ineffective, expensive policy that fails to adequately detect employee impairment or contribute to a safe work environment.

Doesn't determine impairment

Urinalysis remains the most popular means of drug detection available in the United States, particularly in workplace drug testing programs. It's also the most problematic.

Contrary to popular belief, urinalysis is not suitable for detecting drug impairment or recent employee drug use because the procedure only detects the presence of drug metabolites, not the presence of illicit drugs.

Drug metabolites are substances produced by the metabolism after a drug is ingested.

Though the presence of metabolites in urine is indicative that a certain type of drug may have been consumed previously, not all metabolites are psychoactive, nor does their detection prove per se that the parent drug is still present in the body.

Case in point

For instance, marijuana's THC-COOH metabolite, which is readily detectable in urine, is not psychoactive, but may be detectable on a standard drug screen for days or even weeks after past use — long after any intoxicating effects of the drug have worn off.

Currently, no dose-concentration relationship exists correlating drug metabolite levels to drug impairment, nor does a positive test result provide an employer with any indication as to whether the substance may have been ingested while their employee was on the job.

As a result, drug tests are not an appropriate measure of on-the-job performance. Instead, random employee drug testing policies inappropriately authorize employers to go on a virtual fishing expedition of their employee's private, off-the-job personal habits and practices — none of which are the employers' business.

Employees should be judged by the quality of their work, not by the quality of their urine.

A game of humiliation

According to federal data, only a fraction of the American workforce ever use an illicit substance, and even fewer use any illegal drug aside from the occasional use of marijuana.

Nevertheless, random workplace drug testing programs presume all employees guilty of illegal activity until their urine says otherwise.

In this respect, random employee drug testing is a humiliating, invasive practice that runs contrary to the long-standing American principles of due process and presumption of innocence.

It compels employees to submit evidence against themselves and forfeit their privacy rights as a necessary requirement for employment.

Rather than assuming their workers innocent of illicit activity — as statistically, the overwhelming majority are — the implementation of suspicionless employee drug testing presumes the entire workforce guilty until they establish otherwise.

Is this truly the message employers wish to send to their employees?

A safer workplace?

According to the US National Academy of Sciences, the drug most often responsible for on-the-job accidents is alcohol, yet this substance is seldom screened for in employee drug testing programs.

In addition, there remains a dearth of scientific evidence demonstrating that random employee drug testing deters workers from using illicit substances — the policy's primary goal.

"The preventive effects of drug testing have never been demonstrated," concludes the National Academy of Sciences. "There is as of yet no conclusive scientific evidence from properly controlled studies that employment drug testing programs widely discourage drug use or encourage drug rehabilitation."

In addition, some experts speculate that suspicionless drug testing programs may, in fact, be detrimental to the work environment because they create a culture of distrust between staff and employers, and in some cases, may lead to an escalation in hard drug use by encouraging workers to switch from the use of marijuana that can be traced a relatively long time after use, to drugs that are cleared from the body much more quickly, such as cocaine and heroin.

The financial burden

Lastly, for the majority of employers (especially small business owners), drug testing is not cost effective.

For example, one study of federal workplace drug testing programs reported that 38 federal government agencies spent $11.7 million drug testing their 29,000 employees.

Of these, only 153 workers tested positive for having used an illicit drug, an expenditure of roughly $77,000 per positive test.

In 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available, urine tests were performed on 106,493 federal workers at a cost of $6.1 million, according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — which sets and oversees the federal drug testing guidelines.

Of those tested, 532 persons tested positive for illicit drugs (0.5 percent) at a cost to taxpayers of $11,466 per positive test result.

If an employee cost any company this much money in lost productivity they would be immediately terminated, regardless of whether or not they use drugs.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) in Washington, DC. He may be contacted via e-mail at paul@norml.org.