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Alternatives to drug testing.

THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG Abuse estimates that nearly 66 percent of people currently entering the work force have at some time in their lives used an illegal drug. A staggering 44 percent have used an illegal drug within the last 12 months ! Given these statistics, any employer who does not feel at risk from the drug epidemic is unrealistic. Be that as it may, many companies are reluctant to start drug testing. Drug testing is viewed by many business owners as an infringement of rights not unlike pre-employment polygraph testing, which was recently outlawed by the federal government. So what can companies do to help win the war on drugs? There are several sensible alternatives to urinalysis that employers can use to screen out substance abusers with an acceptable degree of accuracy.

First of all, you get what you ask for. The last time your company ran an ad for a clerical worker, how many truck drivers applied? When you advertise for clerical applicants, you usually get clerical applicants! The same holds true if you want people who are free from substance abuse problems-just ask for them in your ad. Sounds too simple to work, doesn't it?

Well, it is simple, but it does work. As an experiment, my company ran two "help wanted" ads 30 days apart for a secretarial position. The first ad drew 79 applicants, of which 35, or 44.45 percent, were disqualified because of drug use within the last year. The second ad drew 52 applicants, of which only four, or 7.68 percent, were disqualified for drug use within the last year. The ads were exactly the same with one exception: The second ad contained the words "Must have a clean drug history. "

Another commonsense approach to screening applicants for drug abuse is to broach the subject on the application form. Include a statement like "Please list the drugs you have tried or experimented with. " Three answers are common. Surprisingly, many people will actually list the drugs they have used. People who use drugs but do not want to tell you about it will leave the answer blank or put a dash on the answer line. People who have not used drugs will usually write a bold "NONE" in the space provided.

An amazing number of people will tell you about their drug involvement if you just ask. A study conducted by my company of 10,440 job applicants in 1988 showed that 33 percent, or 3,511 applicants, admitted to illegal drug use when asked. If that wasn't shocking enough, we found that 69 percent of the people who admitted to drug use within the last two years failed a written honesty test. When we compared this figure to the group of applicants who did not admit to any drug use in the last two years, we found the group who said they did not use drugs had only a 43 percent failure rate on the same written test. These results certainly seem to indicate a relationship between drug use and on-the-job dishonesty.

If you are going to ask about drug use on your application, the following approach is effective: When the applicant has finished filling out the application, ask that individual to come back later in the day for an interview. People who have lied or tried to minimize their involvement with drugs on the application will usually think twice before coming back for an interview, where the subject might be brought up again. While federal laws don't restrict asking questions about drug abuse, check with your state employment commission about state laws that may apply.

Another device is to formulate a "finish these statements" questionnaire. Compile a list of written statements about drugs and ask the applicant to complete them. Such statements might begin with "Recreational use of marijuana is . . . " or Firing someone who uses marijuana at lunch is. . . . "

The following are some responses we have received.

* Recreational use of marijuana is a good way to relax . . . a stupid way to waste your life.

* Firing someone who uses marijuana at lunch is . . . too severe a punishment . . . the least an employer should do.

Answers to such statements can be a clear indication of the applicant's attitude toward and involvement with drugs. The answers can also be the basis for an expanded discussion during what can sometimes be a revealing interview.

When interviewing applicants, simply ask, "What kind of drugs do you use on a recreational basis?" You will be surprised at just how much people will tell you. Even those who choose to lie will give themselves away through body language. Shifting in their chairs, straightening their ties, picking at imaginary lint, or qualifying th by making statements such as "None, that I can remember" are all tip-offs that applicants are probably being less than candid.

If asking about substance abuse on your application or during your interview is not appealing, another option is available. Several well-established companies market written paper-and-pencil tests that measure a person's propensity toward substance abuse problems. Using a professionally developed written exam has several advantages. Companies that offer these services have usually spent thousands of dollars on research, validation, and development. The validation of such tests involves research on literally tens of thousands of examinees. In addition, these companies maintain staffs of qualified professionals to answer your questions.

When it comes to current employees, employers must establish clear, written guidelines on when drug screening will be used. While random, unannounced drug testing is probably the most effective deterrent, it can have a negative effect on employee morale. Policies that define specific conditions under which employees may be asked to submit to urinalysis, such as after an on-the-job accident, are better tolerated by employees.

Adopting an employee assistance program is viewed favorably by both management and employees. Under such a policy, the company agrees to assist employees who have a substance abuse problem. Assistance generally comes in the form of granting the employee sick leave and paying for a rehabilitation program, and a promise by the company that there will be no retribution against the employee. The only stipulation is that the employee must come forth and ask for help. If management discovers someone has a drug problem, that employee may face termination. The cost of employee assistance programs is far less than the costs and risks associated with allowing an employee with a drug problem to continue working without any intervention.

Several consulting companies have recently started marketing guides on how to meet the federally mandated drug-free workplace requirements for companies who hold government contracts. These guides can help any company establish a more efficient and equitable written policy for substance abuse. Many drug rehabilitation centers also assist in helping companies write policies.

In light of the extensive media exposure the drug abuse problem has received, as well as its epidemic growth, not only is it bad business for an employer to do nothing about substance abuse, but it is irresponsible. As the saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, then just maybe you're part of the problem! "
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on hidden signs of substance abuse; The War on Drugs
Author:Lousig-Nont, Gregory M.; Leckinger, Paul M.
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Testing fair and square.
Next Article:Getting to know some hot new signals.

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