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The ten commandments of drug testing.


IMPLEMENTING A DRUG testing program may cast an employer in the role of corporate bully. Even when the intentions are to improve the work environment for everyone, the employer may still be seen as hard-nosed and uncaring.

Avoiding a negative image is important not just in promoting the program but also in operating it in a reasonable and fair manner. At the same time, drug testing can be both effective and sensitive to workers' feelings. The following commandments are designed to achieve drug testing goals and reduce the potential for harm to employee goodwill. I. Thou shalt have a written drug testing policy. Since a policy is the formal foundation for managerial action, it is absolutely essential one exist prior to any testing. To conduct drug testing in the absence of a formal authorizing policy statement is to invite employee dissatisfaction and legal challenge. II. Thou shalt base the reasons for testing on a sound business necessity. Safety, loss prevention, productivity, and public reputation requirements are sound business necessities. The necessity must actually exist, not merely be alleged. A policy based on safety implies that all or some company employees perform work hazardous to themselves, to fellow employees, or to the public; that drug abuse has been a contributing factor in on-the-job accidents; and that the employees to be tested perform duties that can cause accidents.

For example, a trucking company would not need to test an office clerk as a measure for preventing trucking accidents. On the other hand, if the clerk's duties require him or her to be in the garage or parking lot where accidents are likely to occur, then it would be reasonable to include him or her in the drug testing program. III. Thou shalt inform employees and applicants of the policy and the consequences of refusal to participate. A policy that is not well known is the same as having no policy at all. Providing constructive notice to the persons affected by the policy may be required if sanctions are applied. An employee should know what to expect if he or she violates or chooses not to participate in the company's drug testing program.

Constructive notice can be established by providing every employee with a copy of the policy, including it in employee handbooks, posting it on bulletin boards, and making it a frequent topic of discussion at employee meetings. This will help avoid a lot of those unnecessary appeals that begin with "Gee, no one ever told me about it."

The best way to ensure the policy is known and understood is to obtain a signed acknowledgment from each employee. Arguments and refusals to cooperate tend to happen on the first occasion of testing. Personal acknowledgments taken in advance of testing will help defuse much of the grumbling.

Everyone has a natural inclination to resist change. Behavioral scientists say that resistance to change results mainly from a fear of the unknown, and that the best way to overcome the resistance is to dispel the fear. Management can do this by explaining its policy thoroughly and repeatedly in a variety of ways and at all levels within the organization. IV. Thou shalt administer testing with consistency and impartiality. This point can be explained by two examples. A large chemical company started a drug testing program for job applicants. The company already had contracts with three local medical clinics for the provision of preemployment health evaluations. When the drug testing program began, job applicants were told to go to any one of the three clinics to obtain a physical exam and provide a sample of urine for drug testing.

During the first few months of the program the rate of positives coming from each of the three clinics ran between 20 and 30 percent and then stabilized at the 12 to 15 percent level, which was in line with the experiences of other industrial employers in the area.

But then a curious thing happened. The rate for one of the clinics fell close to zero and remained at that level. The employer also noted this same clinic, which was the smallest of the three, was actually performing almost twice as many preemployment health evaluations as the other two clinics combined. Why were so many applicants choosing the same clinic, and why was the positive rate for that clinic so low?

To find out, the company sent a supervisor to each of the three clinics. The supervisor pretended to be a job applicant. He underwent the health evaluations and gave urine specimens. The supervisor found that two of the clinics collected urine with an observer present or nearby, and one clinic provided no observation whatever. The clinic that provided no observation was the clinic with a near zero positive rate.

In another case, an airline food catering company started a program of testing food handlers. Using a random selection method, 10 percent of the employees were selected for testing once a week on an unannounced basis. During the first three weeks the company tested employees on the day shift only. In the fourth week, management detected an undercurrent of hostility. The food handlers on the day shift thought they were being singled out. Management then began to test food handlers on all shifts. The hostility disappeared. V. Thou shalt obtain written consent each time testing is conducted. Some companies prefer to obtain a general written consent from each employee when a testing program is first started. This is not a totally sound procedure. A consent is valid only for as long as the individual chooses to consent. It can be withdrawn just as easily as it can be given. The most important moment in a consent situation is when the individual is asked to give a specimen. Even if management already has a general consent on file, it should obtain a specific consent every time an individual is tested. VI. Thou shalt collect, transport, and document specimens using the highest legal standards. The greatest chances for human error in a drug testing program lie between the time an individual gives a specimen and its receipt at the laboratory. Errors fall into two groups--those deliberately induced, and those committed in good faith.

In the former group are instances of speciment substitution, switching, and purposeful contamination; providing false identification; and giving false information. In the latter group are errors of an administrative or mechanical nature such as mislabeling a specimen, accidental contamination, and poor packaging.

Not enough can be said about the importance of applying controls that establish the identity of the specimen donor, guarantee the specimen was freshly obtained, prevent deliberate or accidental contamination, ensure the specimen reaches the laboratory intact and in a condition suitable for analysis, and provide signature documentation each time the specimen changes custody. VII. Thou shalt use analytical techniques that provide for confirmation of all positives. The standard practice in drug testing is first to subject a specimen to an analytical procedure called a screen. If the specimen shows positive, it is tested a second time. When the second test is a repetition of the same methodology used in the screen, it is called a verification. When the second test consists of a procedure different and equal or superior to the first test it is called a confirmation. Most testing authorities agree the best practice is to screen by an immunoassay technique and to confirm all positives with the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry technique. VIII. Thou shalt give every employee who tests positive an opportunity for review. Prior to taking any action, management should afford any employee who tests positive an opportunity to explain. It may turn out that the employee was taking a prescription drug on doctor's orders to treat a physical condition he or she did not want the boss to know about. These are the kinds of situations that can be sorted out if management takes the time to listen.

A test cannot discriminate between a drug ingested for a valid medical reason and a drug ingested in violation of law or a company's rules--a fact often overlooked in drug testing. A positive test result does not necessarily mean an individual is an illegal drug user. In short, there needs to be a review process and, ideally, the person performing the review will have a detailed knowledge of possible medical explanations for a positive test result. IX. Thou shalt take great care in protecting the confidentiality of test results. A lack of concern by management in this area leads to problems in supervision and employee morale and eventually to formal protests, grievances, and lawsuits. X. Thou shalt give advice or assistance to employees in need of treatment for drug-induced problems. A testing program may cause some employees with drug problems to come forward voluntarily prior to testing in hopes of protecting their jobs and obtaining help at rehabilitation. A company will do well to help its employees as much as possible. The high costs of hiring and training replacement employees is reason enough for a company to give whatever assistance it can.

The workplace drug problem is serious and widespread. Management can no longer look the other way. Many companies that have decided to meet the problem head-on are choosing drug testing programs to identify drug abusers on their payrolls. A company that is resolute in its determination to rid the workplace of drug abuse does not necessarily have to be stern and unsympathetic. After all, drug-abusing employees are themselves every bit as much the victim as the employer is.

While employers may not be able to satisfy all the objections of their workers, they must at least operate drug testing programs impartially and provide safeguards against misuse.

About the Author...Calvina L. Fay is president and owner of Forward Edge Inc., a firm providing drug abuse prevention and testing services in Houston, TX. She is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fay, Calvina L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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