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Drug Testing in the Workplace

Drug Testing

Drug testing in the workplace : legal issues

It's Monday morning. You're sitting at your office computer, and you receive a mass email from your employer announcing the start of random workplace drug testing in 30 days.

Wait, since when has it been legal for your employer to ask you to pee in a cup?


Drug testing in the workplace became legal in 1986 when President Reagan established the Drug-Free federal workplace, giving the government the right to test federal employees.

"Federal employees who use illegal drugs, on or off duty, tend to be less productive, less reliable, and prone to greater absenteeism than their fellow employees who do not use illegal drugs," Reagan said. Mainly, his goal was to maintain "the efficiency of Federal departments and agencies," as well as preserve the "public confidence."

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 covered any contractor working under federal contract or grant. It wasn't long before the rest of the country followed suit. States started imposing their own versions and private employers were allowed to test their employees if it was legal in their local jurisdiction.

Drug-Free Workplace programs have since become quite the can of worms, regularly incurring lawsuits questioning privacy rights, the ban on unreasonable searches, even the ethics of drug testing. Issues of libel, slander and discrimination have been thrown into the fray.

In order to regulate testing, the federal government uses the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs to set standards. Private employers depend on The Drug Enforcement Administration's Guidelines for a Drug-Free Workplace .

The government cautions employers to consult a labor and employment attorney in their local jurisdiction before pursuing any Drug-Free Workplace programs. They are also encouraged to follow basic procedures; such as keeping records of all employees so trouble is easier to track, to have a set policy regarding drug use in the workplace (including reasons when a drug test may be necessary) and to maintain a measure of job performance for all employees.

One very important matter for employers to take heed of is the issue of employee confidentiality. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it is illegal, and at great risk to the employer, to release any 'patient identifying' information. Employees have the right to keep their records private and may take legal action if this is broached.

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