Screening for the presence of Alcohol and other Drugs (AOD) is increasingly important in the workplace as the impact of improper alcohol and other recreational drug use can present a serious risk to health, safety and workplace productivity.
Implementing a robust screening program supported by a strong company drug and alcohol policy and workplace education program can add to a positive health, safe and productive workplace culture.
As a statutory requirement in many industries, effective drug and alcohol screening improves workplace safety as the use of alcohol and recreational drugs can present a hazard in the workplace.
Recently, as part of the application process, job applicants may be required to be screened for drug and alcohol use. Depending on state law and company policy, employers may do this prior to making a job offer. Employees may be tested for drugs or alcohol in the workplace, where permitted by state law.
There are a variety of employment-related drug and alcohol tests used by employers. The types of drug test that show the presence of drugs or alcohol include urine drug tests, blood drug tests, breath alcohol tests, saliva drug screens, and sweat drug screens.
There are federal and state laws which provide guidelines on the policies employers can set regarding substance abuse in the workplace. Employers can prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol, test for drug use, and fire employees who are engaging in illegal drug abuse. However, employees with substance abuse issues are protected by federal and state laws regulating discrimination and disabilities.
A urine drug test is the most commonly used test when job applicants or employees are screened for illegal drugs or alcohol use. Urinalysis shows the presence of drug residues that remain in the body after the effects of the drug have worn off. Urine tests may be required as part of pre-employment screening or may be conducted randomly by employers, especially for employees in certain occupation.
A number of workplace studies measuring the accident rates of companies before and after implementing drug testing indicate that drug screening is indeed an important safety factor. Not only do employees want a safe working environment, they also want a workplace that is productive, where every employee is performing his or her job safely and competently. That is, it further ensures the hiring of a more effective work force.
In addition to accident rates falling, absenteeism, tardiness, employee theft and behavioural problems typically decrease with the implementation and maintenance of drug screening. As a matter of fact, Businesses that do not drug test employees can attract candidates who cannot obtain employment elsewhere because of substance abuse.
The necessity for alcohol and drug screening arose from general substance abuse problems within society. Alcohol and drug screening has come to be necessary in a number of different ways, such as determining a person’s ability to hold a job, operate machinery and resist illegal substances. Alcohol and drug screens are used by employers, law enforcement officers and medical professionals, just to name a few.
Drug testing is not a new practice. For decades, people seeking employment in certain regions of North America have been aware that they must first pass a drug screen, and are aware that random drug screens could arise in their future. This practice was put into place for reasons of safety and liability. A person under the influence of a drug in the workplace can pose a danger to themselves and their co-workers, as well as becoming a liability to the organization they work for.
Drug screening is also used by law enforcement officers to determine if someone is illegally incapacitated, in the instance that an officer suspects someone is in possession of an illegal substance, or is over the legal limit of a substance while performing a certain activity. If someone has already been charged with one of these offences, often they will have to submit to repeated drug testing in the future.
Medical professionals will make use of drug screens in order to make a diagnosis on a patient, or to monitor a person’s sobriety, such as in the instance of a rehabilitation facility.
Alcohol screening is generally used for the same things drug screening is used for, but is a more recent practice, generally speaking. This is because alcohol consumption has long been legal in North America, so it is thought of as the lesser of two evils in many ways. For machinery operation, alcohol screening is a long-utilized practice, but for something like employment, it is very recent.
The future of drug and alcohol screening is indefinite, considering how quickly legislation is changing around drug use and screening privileges. In the United States and Canada, the public is becoming more and more vocal about their dislike of invasive drug screens and is pushing for legislation to have it banned. The public is also vocalizing their support of recreational drug use in many areas, so companies will have to decide if they will continue to enforce drug testing even when the law no longer supports their cause. In essence, the public opinion of drug and alcohol screening is evolving, and employers, legislators and the public alike will have to be prepared for the changes that are coming.
The ethics of drug and alcohol screening are very complicated. The appropriateness of any given screen should be measured carefully rather than handled blithely. Drug and alcohol screening became resented by the public because of how policing it felt. It became common for an employee to have a simple accident in the work place, one that any sober person is capable of having, and then immediately be inundated by demands to comply with a drug and alcohol screening. Similarly, anyone whom a police officer doesn’t like the looks of may be subjected to a drug or alcohol screen, despite never showing any signs of being intoxicated. Initially, total power was given to employees and law enforcement officers to instigate a screen based on any whim they had. Presently, people are pushing for the necessity of more verifiable “just cause” in order to initiate a drug or alcohol screen.
The ethics of recreational drug use are also heavily under debate. With a number of states legalizing substances like marijuana for recreational use, it is clear that the public is not as critical of recreational drugs as they were in the past. This presents a conundrum for authority figures who still strongly enforce drug and alcohol screening. Their policies are becoming unpopular, which means that as employers, legislators and law enforcement officers, they too will become unpopular, which is not in their favor. Only time will tell how drug and alcohol screening controversies will resolve.
Drug and alcohol screening are necessary to certain processes in the modern world, but they do not come without some controversy. It is possible to abuse the drug and alcohol screening process when it is gone about unethically. Every measure of authority that can be taken can be abused, and drug and alcohol testing are no exception. If a person is stereotyped as someone who should submit to a screening, subjected to a screening in a disrespectful way or forced into a screening in any instance when it is not actually called for, this is an unethical practice. Several examples of this are as follows:
- Invasion of privacy. It is argued by critics of drug and alcohol screening that the procedure is invasive. This could mean the nature of the procedure or how liberally it is being exercised. Drug and alcohol screening are capable of revealing very personal information about a person, not all of which is actually valuable for assessing their eligibility to do something or go somewhere. It is inarguable that drug and alcohol screening are an absolute necessity at times, but this does not mean they should be ordered capriciously. There should always be a firm, legitimate reason for the screening of any individual for drugs or alcohol.
- Profiling. A matter that has landed authorities in the hot seat repeatedly is the problem of profiling when it comes to drug and alcohol screening. Many studies have revealed the biases of authority figures based on who they select for drug and alcohol screenings. Some reveal a bias toward a particular ethnicity, personality type, gender or other demographic. Calling a drug or alcohol screening random when it is actually based on profiling is a clear violation of screening ethics.
- Unethical use of power. It is also possible for authority figures to exert unnecessary power in their drug and alcohol screenings for the purpose of intimidation or some other personal agenda. Drug and alcohol screenings should only be used to protect the safety and well being of everyone who could be affected by a misuse of drugs or alcohol.
Drug and alcohol screening can be very controversial, but there are a number of benefits that go along with the process. There are a number of occasions where drug testing is perfectly appropriate, such as a pre-employment measure for a job operating heavy equipment, or as a way of checking in on someone who is under parole for illegal substance use, or as a way of enforcing mental health treatment that someone entered into voluntarily. Having the option of drug and alcohol screening in these circumstances does the public good, as well as individuals. The benefits of drug and alcohol screening are as follows:
- Ensuring safety. There are a number of jobs and tasks that people execute that can put people’s safety at risk if they are performed under the influence of a substance. Simple over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl can be dangerous to many jobs and tasks,which means that alcohol and narcotics are nothing short of life threatening when mixed with things like heavy equipment, driving or anything else that requires coordination. Having the option of drug testing people before they perform these tasks, if and when there is a legitimate need, is reassuring.
- Containing criminality. One of the most common reasons to enforce a drug or alcohol screening is to catch people by surprise who are trying to get away with using substances illegally. I am not referring to a person who is smoking weed within the safety of their own home. I am referring to people who drive hammered, take PCP and lash out at others or get stoned and attempt endeavors that require coordination, endangering others. Knowing that the law may enforce drug and alcohol screens to catch these perpetrators as well as follow up with them after they have been caught is a positive use of a drug or alcohol screen.
- Holding accountability. When a person has become so lost in their addiction or substance abuse that they are incapable of restraining themselves from it, they need to surrender their control to other people. Professionals who work at treatment centers need the authority to drug and alcohol screen clients to hold them accountable for their actions.
- Pre-employment measures. Many employers, particularly in the United States, practice drug screening as part of the interview process. Some practice alcohol screening as well, but much less commonly. The primary substance being tested for is THC. This chemical is the active ingredient in marijuana. It remains stored in the body’s fat cells far longer than any other substance. Although marijuana is becoming more accepted in the United States and Canada, many companies still enforce drug tests on employees because the company leaders are personally opposed to it.
- Potential DUI. Police officers in most jurisdictions carry devices that screen for both alcohol intoxication and drug intoxication. Breathalyzer tests have long been toted by police officers to screen for alcohol impairment, but drug tests that can be administered to drivers are a more recent trend. Typically they come in the form of cheek swabs which can usually tell what narcotics the person has used recently.
- Court orders. When someone is on parole, house arrest or some other court ordered form of reporting to authorities, they are frequently ordered to submit to drug and alcohol screenings to monitor their sobriety. These are necessary ways of gauging whether or not a person is following their substance related court orders.
- Drug and alcoholic treatment centers. If a person has committed to addiction or substance abuse treatment, it is likely that they have signed a contract allowing themselves to be screened randomly for drugs or alcohol. This is part of submitting to the control of mental health specialists. They need to be able to intervene into their client’s lives as needed.
- Self testing. Many people self test out of sheer curiosity for how they will score. Most people who do this have recently used a narcotic or have drank alcohol and want to know how they would score if a screen were enforced upon them. People can exercise this option by buying a screening test at a local pipe shop, head shop or drug paraphernalia shop.