Promote Productivity with Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

DrugTestingEmployers implement new hire drug testing programs to protect their businesses from the impact of drug abuse before making hiring decisions to promote a safe and stable work environment for their employees. But what are the options if an employee is suspected of drug use after being hired?

It begins with a solid drug and alcohol policy. Incorporating reasonable suspicion testing will have an impact on employee safety and productivity. This type of testing represents an agreement between employer and employee, and should not be used to ambush employees. It should disclose who and when to test, how to document the reasonable suspicion activity, and what actions will be taken. Employees should know they are subject to reasonable suspicion drug testing prior to employment.

Supervisors should be trained on reasonable suspicion signs, symptoms, and documentation. Determinations should be made on current information and not previous behavior or hearsay. Determining if and when an employee should be tested for reasonable suspicion of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be based on specific events.

Most importantly, never let the employee under the suspicion drive a company vehicle or drive for business purposes. Imagine who might be at fault in crash on the way to a drug test because you suspected impairment.

When properly administered, reasonable suspicion testing is a fair and reliable testing method that can help to both deter and detect drug and alcohol use on the job, and increase your employees’ safety and productivity. What drug testing polices are in place at your company?

6 Comments on “Promote Productivity with Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

  1. The first point I would like to take issue with in this article is contained in the title – “Promote Productivity with Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing”. Nowhere in the article does it specify how, in fact, drug testing promotes productivity, the author simply assumes that drug testing will “increase your employees’ safety and productivity”. I will argue that drug testing in the workplace does not necessarily lead to increased productivity or safety.

    It has long been recognised that drugs and alcohol affect different people at different levels of usage (Alcohol in the Body, n.d.) A usage level that may completely impair one person may leave another unaffected due to differences in age, gender, body weight and metabolism. Drug testing does not measure the level of impairment, it only measures the traces of drugs remaining in the system of the employee, so how can the employer tell from this information whether the employee’s productivity was impaired or not?

    In addition, it is clear that different people have different abilities in certain areas. While one employee may be required to exert maximum effort in order to complete a task adequately, another may be able to complete the same task to a much higher level whilst exerting only a minimum of effort. The performance and productivity of the more capable employee could still be higher than that of the less able employee, even if the more capable one was under the influence of drugs. Thus, drug testing the capable employee (and presumably terminating their employment because of failure) would actually decrease productivity.

    Another point to consider in the argument for drug testing to promote productivity is to what level of performance is the employer actually entitled? The agreement between employer and employee is a contractual one where the employee agrees to perform certain tasks to a certain level in return for an agreed remuneration and set working conditions. Doubtless, most employers would like to be able to require optimal performance at all times, but this is simply not realistic and it is unlikely that any employment contract would require it. It is even less likely that an employee would sign such an agreement! Thus, the issue is not whether an employee is performing to a maximum level, but whether he/she is performing to the level required by the contract. If the employee’s performance is up to standard, there is no need for the employer to seek evidence of drug use. If their performance is not up to standard, the employer has the right to warn, discipline or even terminate the contract of employee for lack of performance – knowledge of drug use in this situation is irrelevant.

    Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” (General Assembly of the United Nations, 1948). An employee’s right to privacy is violated when personal information is requested/collected/used by an employer for any purpose other than that which is relevant to their contractual relationship (Desjardins & Duska, 2001). Thus before implementing any drug testing regime, an employer must consider whether the information collected is relevant to the role of the employee being tested. For example, if the employer argues that information relating to drug use is relevant because of safety issues, it would be reasonable to test employees who operate in roles which involve a high level of risk to themselves and/or others, such as heavy equipment operators, public transport drivers etc. This argument is less convincing when applied to receptionists or accountants – knowledge of drug use in such cases is unlikely to prevent harm or promote safety and is therefore irrelevant and a violation of the employee’s right to privacy. The author of the blog does not appear to differentiate between employees in high risk roles and those in low risk roles. I agree with the author that reasonable suspicion drug testing will promote safety in the work environment when applied to employees in high risk roles, but I do not see how knowledge of drug use for those in low risk roles will have any impact whatsoever on workplace safety.

    Another point to consider when arguing for drug testing from the workplace safety angle is whether drug testing is actually the most effective means of preventing harm. If an employee arrives at work in an obviously intoxicated state, this in itself will be reason enough to prevent the employee from carrying out their usual tasks. In this situation, to require blood or urine samples to be taken, sent for analysis and returned with the results will not prevent harm – the harm has already been prevented by not allowing the employee to continue with their work. So a more effective means of prevention may be the administration of a simple dexterity test which produces instant results without the time lapse involved in conventional drug testing.

    To conclude, I do not agree with the blog author that productivity can be improved with any form of drug testing, on reasonable suspicion or otherwise. I do agree that in some instances, reasonable suspicion drug testing of employees carrying out high risk tasks may have an impact on the safety of the work environment, but I do not agree that all employees should be subject to drug testing regardless of the level of safety risk involved in their job. I also propose that a simple dexterity test would be a more effective means of preventing harm in the workplace than the conventional drug test.

    REFERENCES:

    Alcohol in the Body. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from http://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-you/your-body-alcohol/alcohol-body

    Desjardins, J., & Duska, R. (2001). Drug testing in employment. In T.L. Beauchamp & N.E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (6th ed., pp. 283-294). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    General Assembly of the United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a12

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    • Thank you for you response regarding this topic. Drug testing & productivity within the workplace can be a complex legal issue. The article posted was meant to be a general blog covering some points to consider with this topic without getting to detail or specific.

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  2. Hi Spetty1,
    Thank you for your article, I found it quite interesting, although I largely agree with drug testing in the workplace for the right reasons, I don’t think drug testing should be used as a way of promoting productivity.

    Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, to summarise your article. “If an employer has a reasonable suspicion drug testing policy that is advised to the employee before employment starts it will deter and reduce possible drug consumption resulting in higher productivity than employers would have without a drug testing policy.”

    Is this fair? you have made many suggestions for fairness to employees in your article such as advising the employee before they are hired, rules around who or how the employee will be tested, not being based on hearsay etc. Are these guidelines enough to make it fair? I don’t think so. I feel a person has the right to privacy except in the case where it effect’s that persons or another’s safety.
    Is it reasonable to suggest productivity will increase or not decline if a company has a reasonable suspicion drug testing policy? To suggest that would be to assume that drugs affect performance, I’m sure we would all agree that they would to some degree if taken during the working day. What if drugs were taken last weekend, would this be affecting productivity, probably not. Then why should an employee be required to undergo a drug test? To gain information about them, to have grounds to dismiss them, or to try and get them the help they need so they can be more productive in future.

    Is it reasonable to suggest all drug users have low productivity? No, I think that is stereotyping. People’s abilities vary so much that it is very possible that a highly productive person that takes drugs in their private life would still be better than a less productive person that has never touched drugs. What about performance enhancing drugs? There is a reason they are called this.

    What would be a good example of reasonable suspicion? It is left up to the employer’s interpretation of reasonable suspicion, is it turning up late for work with bloodshot eyes and slow? Has the person been taking drugs the night before? Or is it the possibility their kids were sick again and the employee didn’t want to mention it. The reason behind why a person is not productive is not necessary if there are no safety issues.

    What if the employee doesn’t agree to the drug test? Will it jeopardise their employment? An article in the Business and Professional ethics journal says “A drug-testing policy that requires all employees to submit to a drug test or to jeopardize their job would seem coercive and therefore unacceptable.” Desjardins and Duska (1987)

    The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” (United Nations, 1948) Drug testing is an interference with employee’s privacy. Employers do not have the right to have that information about someone’s private life, unless safety is concerned. So why are we continuing to ignore basic human rights?

    Really it all comes down to money, in most cases reduced productivity leads to reduced profits which businesses understandably want to avoid. This maximisation of productivity (profits) often demands more from the employee than should be given eg information relating to out of work activities, or medical conditions requiring prescription drugs. We need to simplify our understanding of employment which is services provided in exchange for remuneration. If the service isn’t provided then the employer would look to try and correct the issue or end employment.

    Your article highlights productivity when really safety should be the main focus. Now if the title was “Promote Safety with Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing”, I think you would have a much better case. So much is done these days in the name of safety! I feel employers have a moral responsibility to ensure their staff are safe at all times while at work. For instance in the mining or forestry industries, employers have a moral obligation to regularly drug test. This is not for the reason of invading privacy or promoting productivity but to ensure people do not endanger lives impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

    The easy alternative to your idea that would be more ethically acceptable would be to have workplace policies on productivity. When productivity is measured and found to be less than desirable, the manager can work with the employee to see what issues they may be having and communicate the level of productivity that is required and see what help they can provide them. I see this as a better alternative because it maintains good working relationships. This alternative bases actions on facts such as proven reduced productivity rather than suspected. There is no invasion of privacy and the employer is treating the employee with more respect.

    In conclusion, I do not feel it is fair and reasonable to have a reasonable suspicion drug testing policy in a workplace where there are no potential safety concerns. Employers need to put a little bit more effort in and work with your employees to maintain high productivity.

    Come on America, Stop thinking about the money and start thinking about people!

    References
    United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Geneva, Switzerland
    Desjardins, J., & Duska, R. (1987). Drug testing in employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 6(3), pg 288.

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  3. I feel you have some ideas of merit on drug testing in the workplace particularly the idea of the reasonable suspicion test, however for a drug testing policy to be fair and ethical it is essential that the business has a clear reason for implementing such a policy and that the policy is not just in place to punish employees. If we look at the reasons a business would have for implementing a drug testing policy, you have clearly stated two reasons, maximised productivity and safety.
    The productivity theory is a hard one to justify for a number of reasons. Firstly, what is the measure of sufficient productivity? Is it maximum productivity of the employee or is sufficient effort enough (Desjardins & Duska, 1987)? All employees naturally work at different levels of productivity. It is impossible to say that all drug use will lower productivity in fact some drugs can have the effect of enhanced performance (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). You could have an employee who uses drugs who has a higher rate of productivity than a clean employee. Secondly, how will drug testing give the employer authority to discipline for productivity reasons? Even if drugs are shown to be present in the employee’s system, if the employee has good productivity levels then there are no rights for discipline. If the employee has low productivity levels how does the employer prove that the drugs are the reason (Open Polytechnic, 2015)? There may be many other issues that impair an employee’s productivity, other than drug use. Thirdly, the performance of the employee, and the productivity they are expected to deliver is usually well covered in the employment agreement between employer and employee. Any non-performance can be remedied via the employment agreement without the need for expensive and invasive drug testing (Desjardins & Duska, 1987).
    The safety theory, in my opinion, is a more satisfactory reason for workplace drug testing as this can have legal and economic repercussions for the business. All businesses have a general duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees and a specific responsibility to prevent any harm being caused to the public by their employees (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). However I do not believe that all employers can claim safety as a reason for drug testing in their business, not even with your reasonable suspicion claim. I believe there are business sectors that have a valid claim to drug test their employees, but not every business has that right. For example, it would be hard to suggest that an office worker posed any threat to other employees or the public in their day to day office duties, whereas a truck driver or a heavy machinery operator could potentially cause harm if impaired by drugs or alcohol. Even within certain business sectors there will be employees who should not be cast under a broad vail. It would be hard to justify testing a receptionist employed at a trucking firm. It needs to be determined that there is a clear and present danger within the working environment and specific to the employee’s job to make it ethical to implement a drug testing policy (Desjardins & Duska, 1987).
    So given that safety concerns can provide a justifiable reason for workplace drug testing in certain jobs, we need to place further conditions on the drug testing policy to ensure it meets ethical standards. I stated earlier that not all known drugs are shown to impair a person’s actions and judgements, therefore we need to make it a condition of the process that only those drugs that are scientifically proven to impair are included in the testing policy ( Desjardins & Duska, 1987). Further to this The NZ Drug Foundation (n.d.) states “Most drugs will stay in your body for at least 24-48 hours”, so there needs to be clear evidence that the levels found in any positive result clearly show that the drug was taken during a time that would have impaired the employee while at work. We should also consider whether drug testing is the most efficient way to test for impairment. Other test such as testing reflexes, hand eye coordination or balance are all less invasive and less expensive and may provide a better alternative (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). When is it appropriate to test? I think your reasonable suspicion idea holds merit and you have laid out some good guidelines as to what should be covered in the drug testing policy. Testing only under reasonable suspicion or following an incident provides a clear process for employees. Having the policy clearly defined in the employment agreement gives the employee full disclosure and with the employee’s consent, by way of signing the employment agreement, they are acting freely as rational autonomous agents when contracting into the agreement. Having it as a standard clause in all job specific employment agreements also ensures that employees don’t feel like they are being singled out.
    In conclusion I believe that if a business implements a drug testing policy in the workplace:
    • for the reason of safety
    • only in jobs where the clear and present danger scenario is met
    • ensuring that testing is only to be carried out under reasonable suspicion, or following an incident
    • as a last resort after other impairment tests have been undertaken
    • and given that the employee has freely contracted into an employment agreement clearly outlining the drug testing policy
    then such a policy would be considered fair and ethical. Businesses will find the threat of the implementation of such a policy will act as a deterrent itself towards lower offending.

    References

    Desjardins, J. &. (1987). Drug Testing in Employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal,. 6(3), 287-290.
    Heart of the Matter, NZ Drug Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/drug-information/drug-testing
    Spetty1. (2014). Retrieved from Central Insurance Companies: http://www.blog.central-insurance.com/2014/12/10/promote-productivity-with-reasonable-suspision-drug-testing/
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2015). 71203 Business Ethics Module Three. Lower Hutt, NZ.

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  4. Promote Productivity with Reasonable Suspicion Drug testing was a title that drew my attention as it immediately highlights two ideas which I believe have questionable validity; that drug testing promotes productivity and that the way in which to undertake such a test is with reasonable suspicion testing. While I do not disagree that there is an argument for drug testing in the workplace I believe this is only under certain circumstances specifically those relating to safety and harm. I don’t think this article takes enough consideration of the ethical issues surrounding workplace drug testing.

    I agree that drug testing can be used as a tool to increase employee safety but argue that this is only morally justifiable if the workplace and/or the work involved have clear potential to cause harm. I do not agree however with the idea that testing will see an increase in productivity. Every employee is an individual with their own capabilities, personal lives and level of productivity. Removing drug impairment from the equation, one employee may be putting maximum effort into their job and still not have the same level of productivity as another simply because one person is stronger and more skillful than the other.

    Still on the issue of productivity I think it is important to point out that an employee has an obligation to perform to a certain level as is most likely defined in their contract with the employer. Should the job performance of an individual be unsatisfactory this is breaking contractual obligations and is reason in itself for disciplinary action. Whether or not the employee is taking drugs is not relevant and drug testing unnecessary (Desjardins & Duska, 1987).

    Another argument I would like to put forward on promoting productivity with drug testing relates to job satisfaction. An abundance of research has been conducted in the organizational behavior field in relation to job satisfaction and productivity. According to Robbins, Judge, Millet & Boyle a review of 300 studies suggests the connection between the two is very strong (Robbins, Judge, Millet & Boyle, 2014). Drug testing regimes can have a negative effect on staff morale thus effecting job satisfaction and therefore create a negative effect on productivity. I argue that employers who show a high degree of trust towards their employees are likely to receive more effort and loyalty in return.

    A big question arises from this article as to what exactly would correlate to reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs. A number of outside factors in the employee’s life may be creating “symptoms” or “signs” of drug use when this in fact is not the case at all. Is it fair to subject these individuals who are possibly already going through personal issues to further degradation? Is a “specific event” really enough evidence to drug test when this event may have been caused by these other factors? Forcing an employee into a situation where they feel they must divulge information about their personal life to an employer to justify their actions is surely an unnecessary invasion of privacy. I also feel uncomfortable with the idea that supervisors will be the instigators of reasonable suspicion testing. This to me creates a high possibility for abuse of authority due to “reasonable suspicion” being too vague of a concept. I think a supervisor should be required to have more solid evidence other than just suspicion before such a procedure is carried out.

    The last paragraph states that reasonable suspicion testing is a fair and reliable testing method. I question is it really fair? The reason I believe it is not is that it invades the privacy of individuals. What an employee does outside of work hours is private, not the concern of the employer and has no bearing on their contractual relationship. Workplace drug testing is likely to give employers information about employee’s activities outside of work hours which they are not entitled to. Where is the fairness in this? According to Desjardins and Duska if there is clear and present potential for harm, an employee has a history of unreliability or poor performance, the testing is only for drugs where use in the job is potentially harmful, testing methods are fair to both parties and employers can prove that drug testing is the most efficient way of obtaining harm preventing information (Desjardins & Duska, 1987) then maybe we could consider drug testing fair.

    I also question the reliability of such drug testing procedures. A urine drug test can show a positive result for marijuana up to 30 days or possibly even longer after use, opiates 2 to 4 days, amphetamines 2 to 5 days and cocaine 2 to 3 days (NZ Drug Foundation, n.d). If the employers concern is impairment and a lack of ability to carry out the job the information obtained from such testing is unreliable. The employer may incorrectly assume the employee is impaired when in fact the drug use occurred out of work hours two weeks ago. Perhaps a more reliable method of testing would be dexterity tests such as balance, eye hand co-ordination and testing of reflexes (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). You pointed out employees under suspicion should not be allowed to drive; wouldn’t these dexterity tests make much more sense in this situation? This type of testing will give immediate results of impairment, is surely a more effective method of testing as well as having the advantage of being much less invasive.

    To summarise I agree with your comment that employers should have a solid drug and alcohol policy. I agree that drug testing should be used to increase employee safety if there is a potential for harm to be caused but I believe the idea of “reasonable suspicion testing” is too vague, leaves room for abuse of authority and will not lead to an increase in productivity. I argue that the reasonable suspicion testing you suggest is an unfair and unreliable method of employee monitoring.

    Reference list
    Desjardins, J., & Duska, R. (1987). Drug testing in employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 6(3), 3–21.

    NZ Drug Foundation. (n.d). Drug Testing. Retrieved from https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/drug-information/drug-testing

    Robbins, S.P., Judge, T.A, Millet, B & Boyle, M. (2014) Organisational Behaviour (7th ed.). NSW, Australia. Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd.

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  5. Thank you Spetty1 for your blog on promoting productivity with reasonable suspicion drug testing. I am studying business ethics and I am using your blog for my assignment.
    Firstly I would like to address the implementation of drug testing programs before the hiring decisions have been made, presuming that the employee will be going through an investigative hiring process the privacy of the employee should always remain. Employers ought to consider the previous work ethics of the staff, using work experience, provided references and pre-employment testing for the work that would be carried out within their positions. The use of drug testing should be retained only for positions where there is potential for serious harm within the role the employee would be carrying out.
    Your use of the term ‘reasonable suspicion drug testing’ is very open to interpretation. There are numerous reasons why an employee’s productivity can be affected and why they may display ‘suspicious behaviour’ including medical conditions, family or private issues or commitments, physical or mental illness or sleep deprivation. There is also a misled assumption that drug use = drug abuse and this is not always the case, because drug testing cannot measure the impairment that it has on the person nor on the effect that it has on the productivity of the employee. Drug tests can’t tell exactly how much of a drug was used or exactly when it was used (Drug Testing, 2016). The most common drug testing method is urine testing which can only give results on drugs in the system, Cannabis up to 10 days (infrequent use) or 30 days or longer (frequent use), opiates 2 to 4 days, amphetamines 2 to 5 days, cocaine 2 to 3 days, benzodiazepines up to 2 weeks (Drug Testing, 2016). Drug testing can only detect the presence and amount of drugs in a person’s system (Open Polytechnic, 2015). How drugs are currently affecting an employee’s productivity is unmeasurable, because of the vast variations in the detection of drugs and the inability to pinpoint when there were last used by the individual.
    Where you advise a solid drug and alcohol policy, it should also include limits on the power that can be enforced and include the protection of the employees privacy where there is no evidence of the potential to cause harm either to themselves or others. Where a policy would include wording that stipulates they either submit to drug testing or jeopardise their job would seem coercive and therefore unacceptable (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). The reasons for not submitting a drug test, does not automatically mean guilt there are many reasons why an employee may feel that they do not want to supply a drug test. Having a drug and alcohol policy with clear guidelines on how and when testing can be carried out, this should also include a guideline to what would be considered ‘suspicious behaviour’ as a basis for carrying out drug testing. Desjardins and Duska suggest that the policy should be created with employees to ensure that it is fair to both parties (1987).
    Employees should not just be treated as a means to an ends as stated in the Kantian moral theory. The productivity of an employee should be judged based on what that employee is individually capable of doing, and each should be treated fairly. Drug use by very talented people might diminish their performance or productivity, but that performance or productivity would still be better than the performance of the average person or someone totally lacking in the skills required (Desjardins & Duska, 1987). This explores the theory that the productivity of a company is more likely to be affected by the abilities of their employees and not that of the behaviour and habits of the employees within their private lives.
    Employment is a contractual relationship, and this gives the employee a right to privacy including personal drug use. Desjardins & Duska say knowledge of drug use is not job relevant information for productivity reasons (1987, p. 286). They believe that as long as the employee is fulfilling the contract adequately, then drug use should remain private, and even if the contract is not fulfilled satisfactorily, then knowledge of the cause of the failure is irrelevant. An act utilitarian would consider it to be ethical to drug test a potential or current employee, where the amount of net good produced from doing so outweighs any alternative action. In the case where the drug testing is to prevent harm, there is valid reasoning for the testing to be carried out even with the breach to the privacy of the employee. Although your blog does briefly touch on the subject of workplace safety, it predominately focuses on the view that drug testing should be carried out to promote productivity as the blog has been titled.
    In conclusion there are ethical reasons why drug testing may be considered within the work place which are outlined by Desjardins & Duska which include the potential for harm in the job being justified by the role of the job and the prior working record of the employee being tested, the drugs tested for must be ones in which would be harmful for the job in which the employee is required to perform, the prevention of harm caused by the employee must be best detected by drug testing and the terms in which the testing is carried out is agreed upon by both the employee and the employer in advance with clear prior knowledge that a drug test may be performed (1987). A shift to your focus in your blog to the promotion of safety within the work place would be a better approach to ethically validate your topic for ‘reasonable suspicion drug testing’.

    References
    Desjardins, J. & Duska, R. (1987) Drug Testing in Employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal.
    NZ Drug Foundation, Drug Testing (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/drug-information/drug-testing
    Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Business Ethics 71203, Scholes, V.
    Module 3: Drug use = impairment?

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