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Workplace drug tests: Should they be allowed?


imagesEmployees and employers both want what is best for themselves. Most employees expect a fair and comfortable working environment and employers demand that their staff give their best in return.

So now that drug testing has started to become more common in workplaces, many ethical issues are coming to the surface, bringing many workplace disputes with them. So the question needs to be asked, should workplaces be allowed the right to conduct mandatory drug tests?

Drug tests in the workplace would bring up many ethical issues relating to employee privacy, fairness and company morale. Workplace drug lends fair arguments to both the employers and the employees with pros and cons for each side involved.

From the standpoint of a worker, it isn’t unreasonable to think that being able to turn up to your job each day relaxed and not having to worry about the possibility of a drug test during your day. Also, a person’s social life should have no relation to their work life so long as it doesn’t hinder their work in any way.
If an employer asked for a sample when the employee wasn’t at work but wasn’t under the effects of the drug at work (for example marijuana stays in the system for up to thirty days) then these may not be relevant and would be none if the employers business (excuse the pun). This would then bring up issues if the staff member refused the test due to their belief that they would be judged on their results.

On the other side of the coin a company would believe that it has the right to know if their workers are under the influence of anything that could affect their productivity of compromise the safety of their workplace. For example testing truck drivers for using copious amounts of caffeine could be a benefit if they are fatigued whilst driving as it could save lives. An employer is liable for damages in an accident and using these methods could reduce the chances of an accident occurring.

The most important part of drug testing in workplaces in my opinion would be using an unbiased third party company to test the staff in a manner agreed to with both employees and employers. This third party would then keep the results confidential unless they tested positive to something that would affect their work.

At the end of the day, drug testing still has many issues. Damaged staff morale, fairness – imagine a drug impaired employee being paid the same amount as a clean employee and how an employer would feel in this situation, repercussions of drug use including fair punishment and assistance or counseling for employees and a workers right to privacy are just the beginnings of drug testing and is why it will remain a contentious topic for time to come.

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  1. Dave Anderson says:

    I agree that in a work environment everyone wants whats’s best for them. However, in the self-interest of the company, it would be important to make sure that their employees are sober and focusing fully while they are at work. If they are using certain drugs, they will not be able to focus all of their efforts on the task at hand. Because employers pay their employees the should be able to decide whether they give drug tests or not.

  2. Andre Beluchi says:

    It would be a smart thing to for all employers to have their employees take a drug test. Even my brother, who owns a paper business has his staff and every one working with him to be tested. I guess that it’s something that he takes it quite seriously about.

  3. suzanne says:

    I have posted this response as part of a Business Ethics course.
    In relation to the articles question “Should workplaces be allowed the right to conduct mandatory drug testing” I believe they should. Under The Health and Safety in the Workplace Act 1992 employers have an obligation to take “all practical steps” to ensure the safety of their employees and to promote the prevention of harm to all people at work, and others in, or in the vicinity of, places of work. Drug testing is one way that employers can achieve this and limit any potential financial risk from action taken in the event of an incident, in which employees were found to be under the influence of drugs.
    I agree with your statement “Drug testing in the workplace would bring up many ethical issues relating to employee privacy, fairness and company morale”. However having worked for and alongside employers who preform drug testing, I believe that employers can implement policies and procedures to minimalize any negative impact in these areas, being:
    Employees may argue that mandatory drug testing is an invasion of their privacy and/or a breach of Article 12 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) which states: ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks’. (Open Polytechnic).
    I believe that by implementing the following policies and procedures any invasion of privacy is minimalised to a level which the majority of employee’s could accept.
    A clear policy document should be written and provided to staff address the following
    - Why drug testing is being introduced
    - Information around The Health and Safety in the Workplace Act 1992, responsibilities and consequences for employers, so that employees can understand the rationale behind drug testing
    - The type of testing to be used i.e. urine, hair, blood or mouth swap
    - Who will perform the test & how it will be performed
    - The type of selection being used i.e. regular, random or forensic following an event or incident.
    - Any consultation process to be had around the return of a positive test
    - The consequences to the employee of returning a positive test result

    Procedures to limit the impact on the employees’ privacy, whilst acting in an ethical way include:
    - Use of an independent testing company to perform the test
    - Test candidates to be selected randomly from all company departments
    - Candidates’ identity kept confidential between the candidate, testing company and Human Resources Representative.
    - Candidates test result to be communicated by the testing company to the candidate and Human Resources Representative.
    - Positive test results to be kept confidential between the employee and Human Resources until a meeting is held to discuss the severity of the test results, and give the employee the opportunity to explain any circumstance outside their control which resulted in a positive test e.g. use of prescription medications, inhalation of second-hand smoke resulting in low reading for cannabis and not an active user.
    - Employee given the opportunity to take a second test if the results are un explainable or in question
    - At the conclusion of the first meeting and the information shared, the HR representative would determine if further action is required.
    - The type action would depend on the severity of the test result and substance found. Actions could include:
    o Occasional Users/Low reading
    Stood down from work until clear drug test can be produced from the occasional/one off user.
    o Prescription Medication
    When prescribed by a medical professional and known to affect the user’s ability or safety within the work environment, e.g driving, machine or equipment operating.
    To limit risk to the employee they are stood down until the drug course is complete, if a temporary or permanent change in job tasks is not available. The employee’s job would be held open with no negative consequence to their reputation.
    o Heavy Users/Chronic Users
    Stood down without pay until completion of a drug assistance/ awareness program, counselling or rehabilitation program, and a clear drug test result is produced. If unwilling to do so their employment is terminated.
    - If disciplinary action is to be taken a meeting should be held between the employee, Human Resources and the employees’ manager to discuss and implement the action to be taken.
    Employers can act ethically in their policy toward drug use by having links or access to drug assistance, awareness & counselling program for employees. This can help change any negative perceptions regarding drug testing being a way of getting rid of unwanted workers, whilst helping to entrench the employer’s intent of providing a safe workplace.
    By implementing a policy of random selection across the entire company, this helps increase staff morale by removing any feelings of bias or unfairness, whilst resolving the problem you alluded to of “drug impaired employees being paid the same amount as a clean employee and how an employer would feel in this situation” as the employer is doing all they can to remove impaired workers from the workplace. The morale of staff can be lifted in the knowledge than the company supports users who wish to stop via assistance programs. Those taking prescribed medications for medical purposes know this is viewed differently to illicit drug use.
    As you can determine from my points above, I agree with you that “the most important part of drug testing in the workplace in my opinion would be using an unbiased third party company to test the staff in a manner agreed to with both employees and employers” However I believe it is equally important that the company has a clause in their employment agreements to cover their intend to perform drug testing. For existing employees this would be an amendment to contract, by signing these contracts, employee has given their consent.

    Sources & references used in this response
    The Health and Safety in the Workplace Act 1992
    Worksafe NZ

    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (2106). Module 3 Employment Relations 71203. Business Ethics, Lower Hutt

  4. JLP says:

    Employers would say yes, drug use has a negative effect on performance, which in turn decreases productivity leading to loss of income for their businesses. This added to increased expenses like paying out sick leave, absenteeism and theft are costing businesses thousands of dollars. Employers would agree drug usage is job relevant information because their business is liable for damage and possible harm that is done to the employee, fellow colleagues and customers and therefore knowledge of drug use can protect them against this liability, and provide a safe working environment for colleagues and customers.
    But “Is knowledge of drug use, job relevant information?”
    Other than KPI’s (key performance indicators) how is performance measured by an employer? Say Pam has started working the checkout at the local supermarket, she arrives at work on time, she is clean and tidy, she meets her tight target set by her Supervisor of serving a minimum of 12 customers per hour and receives no complaints. Pam pays her taxes, like everyone else, but on her two days off, Pam smokes marijuana. This beggars the question, how do we know if Pam’s performance is being hindered by her drug use? If Pam did not smoke marijuana, would she be able to serve more customers? Her perceived impairment is not affecting her productivity, so is it relevant or fair to test Pam, or include Pam in random workplace drug testing? And it is ethical to invade her privacy? Surely what Pam does in her own time is her own business. And what happens when her test comes back positive? Does she get a warning or dismissed as per her employers code of conduct, even though her work record is impeccable?
    If Pam’s privacy was compromised after drug testing, it could cause damage to the Supermarkets reputation. Suppliers, colleagues and customers alike may not have the respect for her and make judgements, regardless of her work performance. This in turn could hinder her chances of promotion or receiving any health benefits the Supermarket may provide for their employees.
    The point to note here is that like alcohol, drug use affects everyone differently, and while Pam’s drug use is not affecting her work performance, there are undeniably employees whose drug use does affect their performance. But drug testing does not measure the level of impairment in a person, so is it justifiable to override their privacy in order to request a drug test? In recent years businesses have implemented “Performance Reviews”, whereby an employee undergoes a review every 3-6 months of their current work standards, their KPI’s and setting goals for the next period. If productivity shows patterns of decreasing, then this could be a justifiable cause for dismissal, and still maintain the employee’s privacy. By maintaining employee privacy, there should be no decrease in employee morale, and employees can retain their privacy.
    Martin, K. & Freeman, E. (2003) says that employee monitoring (and in this case drug testing) is an invasion of privacy because it means we lose control over our own information (control theory) and our privacy would be characterised by the level of access other people have over our information (restricted access theory) For example Pam from the Supermarket is at home smoking marijuana, it is her choice who or if she shares this information with, but if she is tested at work, then that information is perhaps shared with her superiors, the drug testers, and maybe even the human resources department and is out of her control. Privacy is important as it allows us to maintain our individuality and we can keep our “power” by sharing only what we choose to.
    This brings me to the second argument of the company being liable for harm caused to third parties as a result of drug use.
    In certain jobs, knowledge of drug use would be relevant, like in jobs that have sensitive safety issues or dangerous environments, where a company could be in serious trouble if drug use were found to be the cause of an accident that lead to the death of a person or persons. For example, I worked for an underground gold mining company in Western Australia for a number of years, it was important for the safety of all persons working underground they were not impaired by drugs or alcohol. Underground working requires a person to be alert and have your wits about you to avoid potential rock falls, being aware of blasting times or drilling into old workings that are filled with water. At the time there was random drug and alcohol testing for all employees working on the site, including office and administration staff on the surface. It is questionable whether the office and administration staff needed to be tested, as they did not pose a clear and present danger. However in this instance, the testing of underground employees was more about safety and liability, than production, and in my opinion, the safety of workers took priority over the privacy aspect. A death on a mine site brings about a full scale investigation that can drag on for months and not bringing any closure to families affected, so if this can be prevented by a simple drug test, then perhaps this can be judged relevant.
    This is not to say that Office jobs are not affected by drug users, errors in GST or other tax returns can be very serious, as with transposition of figures on reports or overpayments to suppliers, however, having a good Performance Review system with consequences being managed in accord with the Company’s code of conduct should be enough to keep this behaviour in check.
    The writer of the article suggests that clean employees should be paid more than drug impaired employees, and I think it would be unethical to treat them different. If both workers are doing the same job and have the same productivity levels then morally they should be paid the same. 18th century philosopher Immanual Kant says “we should treat all people equally in regards to importance, respect and without favour, no exceptions”
    In conclusion, I do not think workplaces should allow drug testing unless it is safety sensitive, as there are alternatives to assess and measure workplace productivity that can be used to respect privacy and maintain human dignity.

    Martin, K., & Freeman, E. (2003). Some problems with employee monitoring. Journal of Business Ethics 43, 353-361.
    Desjardins, J., & Duska, R. (1987). Drug testing in employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 6(3), 3-21.
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2015). Business Ethics, module three. Lower Hutt, New Zealand.

  5. S Bloggs says:

    Yes, the safety of employees is paramount, but their privacy is also. We have to consider, is it really the employers’ obligation to drug test employees at the expense of their privacy? The employer may believe so but I am not convinced. Whether you are under the influence of drugs or not, have lower productivity or not, you still have a right to privacy (Open Polytechnic, 2015, m3). In my mind the employers’ obligation to workers is not only to ensure safety but equally, if not more so, maintain their privacy.

    Employees believe that drug testing invades their privacy, because it does! As stated above, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to “arbitrary interference” but what actually is this? The Oxford Dictionary (2015) definition of “arbitrary” means “of power or a ruling body unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority” (Oxford Online Dictionary, 2015) and “interference” means “the action of interfering or the process of being interfered with” (Oxford Online Dictionary, 2015). A workplace drug test fits easily within this definition and could be considered an arbitrary interference. Regardless of the employee’s drug or productivity levels, the act itself of drug testing in the workplace could breach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As you state above, employees believe it is an intrusion of privacy, they are absolutely correct in saying this. And they have every right to refuse.

    To say a person doesn’t deserve a good job because of their choices in regard to drugs is not a fair statement. An employee (or any person) must have the freedom to make their own choices, in their own time, without worrying about any possible interference or consequences from their employer. Further to this, Stanley Benn (1978) argues that the most important aspect of privacy is that it helps us to create or maintain our individual human personalities (Benn, as cited in Open Polytechnic, 2015, m3). One of the ways he suggests privacy does this is that “Privacy preserves our freedom, because if someone can gather a great deal of information about us, that person very probably acquires a measure of power over us” (Benn, 1978, p.63). This point is particularly important in an employee/employer relationship. If the employer has information about an employee’s drug taking, it does enable them to have a certain amount of power over an employee. They can then use the information how they choose, whether it be in an ethical way or not. The employer may not consider an employee for promotion or extra responsibilities due to their knowledge of such information, whether the information is relevant or not (D Parker, personal communication, 17 May, 2015). An employer must have a certain amount of control over an employee, concerning workplace matters, that is the nature of being employed and most people accept this willingly. However, that control must end as the employee walks out of the door at the end of the working day. They have this ‘power’ at work, to have or use this outside the scope of the employer/employee relationship is not fair.

    The other issue I wish to address is, you cannot assume a lower productivity is because of drug use. It is often not as simple as that and it can be difficult to determine if drugs are the actual cause of an employees’ low productivity rate. There can be many other underlying reasons. What if an employee has sleeping issues? Or a young infant baby where sleep deprivation is common. What about the difference in productivity in workers? Some are obviously more productive than others so should the ones that are less productive be judged or considered “drug users”? And just because someone is less productive does that mean they don’t do just as good of a job as others? Is it fair to compare them to their fellow workers when people are individuals and have different strengths and weaknesses? These are issues that need to be considered too. Drug tests often do not measure how impaired a person’s performance is (Open Polytechnic, 2015, m3) so to enforce a workplace drug test on an employee because of their productivity level seems unjustified. We must not discriminate because a person has a lower productivity level than their fellow employees and assume they are taking drugs. Assumptions like that can quickly escalate and turn into something that they are not.
    What kind of a workplace culture would we be creating if we made these assumptions? How would it make employees feel – scared, singled out, angry, humiliated, misjudged (Open Polytechnic, 2015, m3)? Further to that, Moreham (2008, pp. 237-238) takes the view that privacy, dignity and humiliation are all interrelated by the way that if we interfere with a person’s privacy, this disregards other peoples choices and feelings and to do so, humiliates the person and disrespects their human dignity. Imagine if you had to deal with those feelings as well as assumptions being made about you every day when you went to work, it would be very hard to concentrate on your job, don’t you think?

    I do believe that every workplace situation is different because of the nature of different employments, so any workplace drug testing needs to be handled as so. I do also agree with you that safety is obviously very important in the workplace environment and if it is proven that safety is being compromised because of drug taking then this issue needs to be seriously addressed. If workplace drug testing does need to be done at all, Desjardins & Duska (1987) suggest ways in which workplace drug testing could be morally justified and I agree with them. They are if clear and possible harm is present, the employers should be respectful of employees’ privacy, communicative on every level with the employees, thorough, specific, efficient and fair with the processes. Further to that I believe the effects on the employee must also be considered.


    Arbitrary. (n.d.) In Oxford University Press, Oxford online dictionary. Retrieved 11 May, 2015, from

    Benn, S. I. (1978). Human rights – For whom and for what? In E. Kamenka & A. E. S. Tay (Eds.), Human rights (pp. 59–73). London, England: E. Arnold

    Desjardins, J., & Duska, R. (1987). Drug testing in employment. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 6(3), 3–21.

    Interference. (n.d.) In Oxford University Press, Oxford online dictionary. Retrieved 11 May, 2015,from

    Moreham, N. A. (2008). Why is privacy important? Privacy, dignity and the development of the New Zealand breach of privacy tort. In J. Finn & S. Todd (Eds.), Law, liberty, legislation (pp. 231– 247). Retrieved from

    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2015). Module 3 Employment Relations 71203.
    Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

  6. Sarah Alexander says:

    Drug Testing within the workplace is always going to be an issue when it comes to ethical theories such as Privacy, this is because the employer and employees have different rights and obligations within their job.

    One of the main issues with drug testing is that many employees believe that what they do in their lives outside of work should not have any relation to the job that they do. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights States: ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.’ (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2014). Module 2: Ethics and Employment Relations. 71203. Lower Hutt, New Zealand.) So this above states that what you do in your private life should not have anything to do with the job that you do at work. This is why employees believe that it is against their privacy to be tested for drugs, but I believe that if their drugs are affecting themselves or others at work then it is the obligation of the employer to drug test in order to comply with safety standards.

    The above quote can work for many situations, but when it comes to drugs they affect the way that a person does their job. Using drugs can affect productivity and even more important it can affect the safety of the person involved and others within the workplace. There is no law in New Zealand that specifically relates to drug testing within the workplace, but there are laws to do with safety in the workplace. So if drug testing needs to be done in order to ensure the safety of employees, then they are within the law to do so. (Ministry of business, innovation and employment.)

    There are particular types of jobs where drug testing is generally done, such as people working with heavy machinery, truck drivers and forestry workers. These careers are generally known for having to pass a drug test because of the safety issues involved in their work. Drugs can have a big impact on the way that a person’s brain works, and can put themselves and other people at risk. Most types of drugs can stay within a person’s body for up to four days after use (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014, Module 2, Page 7), so in theory this would mean that their performance at work could be impaired for days after the drugs were even used. Even if drugs were used after work on Friday night and they go back to work on Monday morning there is still a chance that their safety could be at risk.

    I believe that what an employee does outside of work is related to their job if it is affecting the way that they act at work, for example if they are under the influence of drugs and their productivity is much lower than other employees who are not under the influence of drugs then drug testing is not a breach of their privacy. Also the employer has the obligation to keep their employees safe while at work, so if part of doing this involves having to do drug tests than I believe that it needs to be done. If a person chooses to do drugs rather than putting their job first, then they do not deserve to have a good job, and may lose their job if they get caught having drugs in their system.

    There many different types of testing, and differences in the way that testing is taken place such as all employees can be tested or just a selection. Also testing can be regular or random when the employees least expect it. Types of tests that can be done are urine tests, hair tests, blood tests and saliva tests (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Module 2, Page 8). The best and most effective way to test is to randomly or regularly test employees for probable cause. These are the people who show signs of drug use, such as being a safety risk or their productivity has dropped significantly. Also this type of testing is better economically, as testing all staff would be very expensive.

    Drug testing is always going to be a sensitive topic within the workplace, but I believe that it is necessary if the employees are putting themselves or others at risk within the workplace.

    · The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2014). Module 2: Ethics and Employment Relations. 71203. Lower Hutt, New Zealand
    · DesJardins, J., & Duska, R. (2001). Drug Testing in employment. In T. L. Beauchamp & N. E Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (6th ed., pp. 283-294). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
    · Workplace (n.d) Workplace drug tests: should they be allowed? Retrieved from

    · Ministry of business, innovation and employment. (09/07/2013) Laws on drug testing in the workplace. Retrieved from,

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