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Drug Testing


A specific intrusion into personal privacy stemming from drug prohibition is the mandatory testing of individuals for the presence of drugs, whether as a condition of employment or as a requirement for the receipt of public assistance, even in the absence of any reason to believe those individuals have committed a crime.

Despite the fact that random drug testing is often unrelated to the tasks required to do the job, produces inaccurate results, and remains unproven as a means of stopping drug use, currently in some industries taking a drug test is as routine as filling out a job application. But because there are few laws protecting our privacy in the workplace, millions of American workers are tested each year — even though they aren’t suspected of drug use. Employers should not have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test without any evidence that they are using drugs.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the recent national trend toward requiring applicants/recipients of public assistance, including welfare benefits and public housing, to submit to drug screening in order to qualify for such assistance. Not only do these policies constitute a significant and unjustified invasion of privacy, they also single out those living in low-income communities and disproportionately impacts people of color.

While workplace drug testing in certain safety sensitive professions has been upheld by the Supreme Court, the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project is working to halt the expansion of random testing programs, particularly in the workplace and as it relates to public assistance, through litigation, advocacy and public education.


Drug Testing for Benefits (2012): A number of states are considering legislation that would mandate drug testing for poor people who rely on public assistance.

Drug Testing of Public Assistance Recipients as a Condition of Eligibility (2008 resource): Drug testing welfare recipients as a condition of eligibility is a policy that is scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound

Privacy in America: Workplace Drug Testing (2002 resource): Employers have the right to expect workers not to be high or drunk on the job. But they shouldn’t have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test.

Drug Testing- Table 410 (2000 PDF): There is no comprehensive federal law that regulates drug testing in the private sector. The Drug-Free Workplace Act does impose certain employee education requirements on companies that do business with the government, but it does not require testing, nor does it restrict testing in any way.


Marchwinksi v. Howard: In 1999, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan brought a challenge to the country’s first-ever law requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing. A federal judge blocked the Michigan law, saying that the policy sets a “dangerous precedent” under the Constitution.

Barrett v. Claycomb (2011 case): The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit in September 2011 challenging a policy at a public college in Missouri forcing students to submit to mandatory drug tests as a condition of their enrollment. The ACLU charges the policy violates the constitutional rights of the students at Linn State Technical College.

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