Sample research paper on Drug Testing in the Workplace

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The use of drugs for recreational purposes has been greatly contested in many parts of the world. In the United States, most organizations carry out drug testing on a random basis to determine whether persons are working under the influence of drugs or not. However, this practice has been contested by many who argue that it is totally wrong for the employers to get into the employees private lives. At the same time, there are those who argue that the institutions that are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that persons do not engage in substance abuse have failed. Their argument is that the tools for the prevention of abuse, mainly educational, as well as correctional tools have failed. Therefore it is justifiable that drug testing be done on the employees.


In most organizations in the United States organizations require that persons seeking engagement with the organizations take up some test, which is aimed at determining whether those persons are involved in substance abuse or not. This practice has drawn a lot of opposition mainly from the employees, who claim that it is unethical for the organizations to do this. The question that comes to mind then is whether this practice is really ethical or not. One thing that is certain for sure is that there is a great possibility that persons who attend an interview would have had a beer the previous night. There still remains no standard measure of the amount of alcohol in the blood that would be generally acceptable as too much. This means that persons could be unfairly denied jobs for the simple reason that they had a drink. It is notwithstanding that some of the best employees may be partakers in recreational drinking for instance. At the same time, the intention in testing of persons is that potential harm to persons is eliminated. Scientific studies have established that most of the cases of accidents and even absenteeism have been associated with persons who have in one way or another been using drugs. In this case, it is understood that ethicality largely depends on what is acceptable by the majority as bearing the greater good for the greater number of people. It has been established that testing for drugs in work places has significantly reduced the cases of persons working under the influence of the drug. Many organizations contend that one of the most effective ways, and even cheap ways of ensuring effective management was to conduct drug test on workers. This, they argue, reduces the number of persons who either do not show up, or who just become liabilities to the organizations. This eventually translated into profitability for the organization. Questions have been raised however, regarding the extent to which the employers can go into the privacy of the employees. This has sparked serious debate within the various interest groups, even at some point resulting in legal suits. What complicates the issue most is the fact that there lacks clarity as to who can or should be tested. This is a very serious question because there are employees who perform their duties with great diligence and in an outstanding manner. Should they be subjected to the test as well? Would such testing be acceptable to an extent that it does not kill the morale of the employees? What ought to be done in this case? These are some of the questions that this study will be trying to answer.

An Overview of the Drug Testing Issue

As already indicated, drug testing has become a tool of choice for most of the managers in various organizations. According to the UN, more that eight percent of the trade that takes place in the world is from the drug business. This is a very high percentage considering that there are several kinds of business operations. It is also to say that most of these drugs find their way into the lives of the individuals that organizations depend on for their daily operations. At the same time, it is important to note that use of drugs, especially alcohol is only harmful if it is taken to the extreme. There are a high percentage of persons who for instance take alcohol for recreation. What would be their fate, especially if they be unemployed, and show up at an interview where they have to be tested?

In the year 1998 alone, the Forensic Science Agency tested over one million people at work places. This was seen as having been very successful in especially the areas of transport, manufacturing, finance and construction industries. Presently, so many organizations have been rushing to get their employees tested for drugs (The American Civil Liberties Union, 2009). This rush is informed partly by the need for the prevention of accidents that result from the operations by drug influenced persons. Studies that have been conducted in the United States among persons who had been using substance revealed that there was more than thirty three percent of productivity reduction (Smith et al., 2004). This is a huge percentage. It is important therefore to consider that the decision by most of the organizations to conduct drug tests is not unfounded.

Comparative studies have shown that persons who engaged in the abuse of substance were often late (three times or more), had the likelihood of hurting others (four times) more than those who did not abuse it, as well as avoided going to work for over ten times. These are alarming realities, which would undoubtedly make any employer want to take measures to prevent this kind of realities. However, these also present a challenge to the employers with regard to the way of acting considering the extent of the problem. The law also protects the individuals against the excessive penetration into their private lives. A study conducted in one state in America revealed that after the introduction of testing for drugs, there was on average, a reduction of the above mentioned vices by over ninety one percent (The American Civil Liberties Union, 2009). This was a great reduction. In many other companies, it was established that after random testing was introduced, there was a significant reduction in the cases of substance abuse at work places. It is worth noting that although the employers have no right to get into the private lives of the employees, if the private of the employees interfere with the daily operations of the firm call for concern from all quarters (Smith et al., 2004). It is also important to note that there are cases where the substance being abused also constitutes an offense in the law. This would require the intervention of the law enforcers.

The Ethics in Drug Testing

In order to properly illustrate why testing for drug abuse among employees may be of help, an example may suffice. It has been established that over thirty seven percent of male doctors, and over twelve percent of female doctors, in the junior level, were found to be substance abusers. This was a shocking revelation if the results are anything to go by. The reason why this is so significant is that the role of doctors is ensuring that lives are preserved. Going by the statistics provided, that the rate of performance impairment is more than thirty three percent, it simply means that if such a doctor or doctors were operating on a patient, there is a thirty three percent chance that they will not make it. This is simply due to the fact of drug influence. This is a very high percentage because in major operations, there is virtually no hope of survival for the patients. In this case it is a question of the privacy of the doctors against the lives of the patients. It is simply unacceptable that patients would be allowed to die in order to protect the privacy of the doctors. It remains unknown to this very point, how many patients have passed on as a result of the operations that were conducted under the influence of drugs. This means that the case for drug testing has some very strong points. The implication in this example is that if the understanding of ethics is anything to go by, this practice is very ethical. However, even where it is done, it must not go beyond the reasonable proportions. It is also important that whenever such random testing is done, it should be done in such a way that does not leave the employees feeling disgruntled. The manner in which it is done should not admit of any insensitivity, because it would also end up being unethical. The government should ensure that proper education is conducted in order to eliminate cases of millions of unsatisfied work force, as well as eliminate the cloud that lingers around the extent of privacy (The American Civil Liberties Union, 2009).

It is important that every organization have an appropriate and reasonable anti-drug policy, which should also go hand in hand with Safety and Health Management Systems in order to ensure that every one is properly taken care of. This is because where the lives of persons get threatened; there is no ethicality as such. However, the challenge that most organizations experience is that it would be very difficult to conduct the test every morning so that every employee who functions within the organization every day is confirmed to have been sober. It is also possible that a person causes an accident under the influence, and shortly afterwards the traces of the substance are cleared from the bloodstream. This presents a serious challenge for the persons who may be interested in instituting legal proceedings against them, because it would be difficult to prove that it was as claimed.

If the testing is done where the performance of a person seems to have gone down, there is a possibility that at that time someone has already gotten injured or that someone is already (The American Civil Liberties Union, 2009). It is for this reason that conducting the test may be inappropriate at that time. The question regarding when such tests should be conducted is important because, there may be times when conducting the tests on the same person may amount to an unethical practice. This makes of a great complication. In other words, if a doctor is does not present any evidence of poor performance, or possibility of substance abuse, there is no reason which may suffice for the testing of that person. Again if one waits too long, that is, until the doctor presents evidence of substance abuse, there is a great chance that somebody will have died. So what is the best time for such a test to be conducted? There is a lack of devices as well, which can determine the normal operations in every person. This means that it would be very difficult to determine the exact cause of poor performance, even where drug test have been conducted (Verstraete and Pierce, 2001).

Opponents of the practice have argued that it is unethical to conduct this test because it amounts to gross violation of employees’ privacy. At the same time, the test is incapable of determining the exact time of the use of the drug. It can only determine the fact of usage of the drug. Furthermore, even where traces of the substance are established, the results do not provide details of when the substance may have been used. In this case, it would be the same as telling the employees not to even take a beer at home, otherwise they risk losing their jobs.

Another argument by those who oppose this practice is that a test such as urinalysis does in fact invade the privacy of an individual because there is no chance that a urine sample reflects only the presence of substance. There are a whole lot of things that can be revealed by such a test, which are beyond the scope of the organization. Such revelations as the kind of treatment that person is undergoing, or the pregnancy status of a female employee. These details are private, and as such should not be subject to exposure to the public. To this extent, these tests would amount to unethical practice.

A research that was conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse showed that there was a twenty percent chance that the test results presented are faulty. It is also possible that confusion is made during such tests, so that instead of getting results for marijuana for instance, one gets results for heroin. This has been known to happen. If someone’s career depended on these results, it would mean that someone is dismissed on the wrong account. This would amount to a high level of unfairness. It is unethical to subject the whole into a form of punishment because of a part. In other words, where a few employees have been known to abuse substance, it is insufficient to decide that every employee would be subjected to the test (Hanson, 1999).

Another argument why it is unethical to subject every employee to drug tests is that according to the Fourth Amendment, the government is not allowed to search the entire population with the aim of finding a few who may be accused of something. There must be sufficient reason for the decision to search such persons (Hanson, 1999). The manner in which the test is done is itself very humiliating. This is because the requirement is that the person being tested urinates while someone is watching in order to confirm that there was no tampering with the specimen. This form of humiliation cannot be justified, even where such a person is truly a substance abuser.

Another argument that comes as a counter argument to the supporters of this practice is that although it is important that certain workers be more scrutinized than others, the use of urinalysis cannot guarantee accuracy in the performance of duty. The reason for this is that the results provided by urinalysis do not confirm or deny the fact of impairment (Hanson, 1999). It would be useless thus, to subject a pilot for instance, to a urine test before he/she flew a plane because even if the test turned out positive, it would not mean that at that particular moment he was incapable of flying. Rather, the various organizations should consider making use of other means of testing the performance of these persons; say for instance the use of computer assisted performance tests.

Due to the fact that drug testing is not an efficient way of measuring the performance, it means that the employees should be properly educated on the dangers of substance abuse. Other means such as counseling or rehabilitation on a voluntary basis can be considered as better options. In the United States, previous education on the dangers of the use of tobacco was a success story with a reduction of over eleven percent since the year 1965.

In some of the states in the United States, such as Iowa, Montana, and Vermont, it has already been declared illegal to conduct testing for drugs on individuals. The decision was informed by the fact that the Fourth Amendment denies the state of the search on any person. It is understood that these tests amount to a search of the persons, which is against the constitution.

The Data Protection Act provides that the employee be respected in as far as privacy from surveillance is concerned. One cannot be monitored when they are in the toilet for instance. It is also required that whatever form of search or surveillance be properly notified to the employee, who must consent to it. Anything that falls short of these requirements amounts to an abuse of the law (Chartered Management Institute, 2003).

A research that was conducted by Drug Scope found out that there was not sufficient ground for the claim that the performance of employees, as well as injuries and absenteeism, were linked to substance abuse (Chartered Management Institute, 2003). It was also not clear as to whether some of the cases of injuries in such industries as mining, quarries, transport, or even engineering were directly or indirectly caused by the use of drugs. The argument raised by these opponents of the testing was that there were a host of other things that cause these problems, which may be environmentally related conditions, or the nature of work itself. In these cases, subjecting the employees to such testing due to faults that are not of their making is totally unfair (Chartered Management Institute, 2003).

It is worth noting that employees are in no way obligated to order their lives in ways that maximize work out put. It is also critical to note that the role of employers is not that of enforcement of the law. It is therefore important to put clear boundaries to the roles that employees can play in the determination of the lives of the employees. Such interference indeed amounts to a violation of the democratic values and principles that guide modern society.


It is important that employers not go beyond their call. This is to say that although the employers need to constantly monitor the performance of their employees, they have no legal or ethical grounds for the determination of cases of drug abuse. It is important that more be done, in terms of research, in order to establish the most acceptable and efficient way of determining the performance of employees (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2004). It is important to note that this method does not necessarily have to be cheap. This is because the cheap method does not necessarily provide efficient monitoring. The role of the state in these issues should be more clearly defined in order to avoid the confusions that exist. The advance of science, especially psychology, has revealed that there is some use of substance that can be considered a form of illness. It is important therefore, that whenever a person is found to be under the influence of drugs, such a person should be helped, rather than making a radical decision to terminate them. There should as well be sufficient training in order to present the workers with enough knowledge regarding the dangers of substance abuse.


This study has established that there are various positions regarding the ethicality of testing for substance abuse. This study has established that the current widely used urinalysis as the choice test for most of the organizations does not in any way confirm the possibility of incapacitation at the present moment. This means that there may be persons who were denied employment opportunities unfairly due to faulty determinations. It was also determined that tests that are conducted do not eliminate the possibility of error. If this happens, it also means that people may be victimized for no reason at all. Cases of tests revealing a different thing than what is intended are also possible. In this case, over reliance on these tests may be detrimental to the employees. It has also been established that the method that is used in the conducting of these tests are indeed very humiliating. In many ways, this method, which requires that a person urinates in the presence of another, leaves the employee very unhappy and this could also contribute to low work out put. It is crucial that the employees be accorded the dignity and rights that are given naturally and constitutionally. At the same time, the principles and values that are provided for in every democratic country should be well respected. There should be proper research in order to protect persons who are fall under the operations of employees who may be working under the influence of drugs. In conclusion, something should be done with regard to the high percentage of drugs going around the globe. This should be a better measure than having to subject the employees to such humiliating exercises.


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Chartered Management Institute (2003), Managing the effects of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. London: CMI

Hanson, M. (1999). Overview on drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. Bulletin on Narcotics, 65, 2

Verstraete, A. G., & Pierce, A. (2001). Workplace drug testing in Europe. Forensic Science International, 121, 2-6.

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Smith, A., Wadsworth, E., Moss, S. &Simpson, S. (2004). The scale and impact of illegal drug use by workers. London: Health and Safety Executive