The Problems with Drug Testing

Shawnee Love   •  
April 12, 2012

If you read last week’s post, you heard me support drug testing.  This week, I am playing the devil’s advocate to tell you why it is not good for your business (unless it is required by law or mandated by the courts).

Here are some of my worries about drug tests:

  • Drug tests of the peeing a cup sort are invasive if properly administered.  A friendly doctor recently told me a story of an employee handing in a sample of soapy water in a cup, because his employer didn’t follow him into the stall and ensure it was truly his urine sample.  Many employers don’t really want to be in the stall.  Doctors don’t want to either, but someone has to be to ensure the urine sample is correct.
  • Drug tests are not usually covered by health plans, and certainly aren’t if it is the employer who wants them, so there is a cost involved and it can be confusing regarding who pays.  This may be easily resolvable, but as an employer I want to pay for things that are good quality, i.e., reliable.  That brings me to my next point.
  • Drug test results can be skewed by various foods.  Remember Elaine from Seinfeld who failed a drug test because of her passion for poppy seed muffins?  If we can’t be sure the positive drug test is accurate, we open up another whole can of worms.
  • Although drug tests may be accurate at identifying whether or not someone has imbibed, few drug tests are reliable at identifying how much someone consumed or whether someone is currently under the influence.  Ross Rebagliati was affected by this drug testing reliability issue when he was temporarily stripped of his gold medal for testing positive for THC (marijuana) which he maintains was inhaled secondhand at a party.  Realistically, many employers don’t care what the person does on their own time, but don’t want their people stoned at work. Sounds reasonable but if the drug test can’t accurately demonstrate current doping, what is the point?
  • While drug tests are permitted, case law generally isn’t in favour of automatically firing or refusing to hire people on the basis of a positive drug test unless you can prove it is a legitimate job requirement to be completely free of drugs (e.g., hazardous work environment) and you are willing to accommodate the disability (i.e., with rehab, time off, less dangerous work, etc.).  This means that there are huge limitations on what you can do with a positive test result anyway.  That is a whole lot of pain for yourself and your employees when your ability to take action is so limited.

As you can see, there is a lot of grey area surrounding this issue and even with a good case, there is no guarantee that you are going to win if you get in front of a judge.  However, one employer I know says that when it comes to drug testing, it is better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.  I guess so, if your pocket book can take it.