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When Does Drug Testing Become an Invasion of Privacy?

Some employees abuse drugs and create unsafe work environments for other employees or compromise public safety. Employers interested in creating a drug-free workplace may test for certain illegal drugs, such as meth, but some employers are also branching out to test for certain prescription drugs. As the use of prescription drugs and abuse of prescription drugs has increased, employers are concerned about their liability in the event of a workplace accident.

The previous post began to delve into this topic as it was recently discussed at great length in an excellent piece in Sunday's New York Times. The problem with some employers testing for prescription drugs is that many people need them to do their jobs. Some employees interviewed by the Times were taking painkillers in order to continue to work after being injured on the job.

Compounding the issue is the fact that it is difficult to quantitatively measure impairment based on the level of drugs in a person's system. Some companies ban a drug as unsafe if the packaging warns against driving machinery while on the medication. Pain specialists, however, say that many people can take the drug without those side effects as long as they are under a doctor's supervision and do not abuse the drug.

Another problem brought up in the Times' piece is a tendency to stereotype certain drugs or the people who take them. An employer who makes the decision to test for prescription drugs could be infringing on the privacy rights of an employee or discriminating against them if they do not have "reasonable suspicion" or a valid reason to be testing for drugs and acting on the results. An employer who requires an employee to disclose any medications they are taking and later fires them, could be basing the decision on their own prejudices against certain medications or medical conditions.

Source:

Drug Testing Poses Quandary for Employers (The New York Times)