New Harvard study: Drug Testing is Racial profiling

By Christopher Rice

There are few laws protecting our privacy in the workplace, millions of American workers are tested yearly - even though they aren't suspected of drug use.

In fact, workplace drug testing is up 277 percent from 1987.

Cup-peeing and mouth-swabbing are Reagan-era relics that frequently do little more than boost the revenues of companies that analyze samples. Drug tests aren’t capable of revealing impairment on the job. There isn’t any proof that drug tests reduce drug use.

About 40 percent of U.S. workers are currently subjected to drug tests during the hiring process.

Contemporary workplace drug testing owes its existence to the policies of Ronald Reagan, who in 1988 signed an executive order that led to legislation requiring federal employees and some contractors to be tested. The typical American employer wasn’t required to do anything differently (and still isn’t), but some large companies took this as a cue. A new market bloomed in response. “These … policies fueled the development of a huge industry,” writes SUNY Buffalo’s Michael Frone in his book Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use in the Workforce and Workplace, “comprising drug-test manufacturers, consulting and law firms specializing in the development of drug-testing policies and procedures, and laboratories that carry out the testing.”

Related article: Drug test the president

“It’s become sort of a game,” Lewis Maltby, the president of the National Workrights Institute, told The Washington Post. “Employers know that it doesn’t mean anything. Anyone who smokes pot will just stop for a few days. It’s an empty ritual that nobody wants to be the first to give up."

"There is no evidence that drug testing has an impact on performance or safety” Frone says.

Five years ago, The New York Times reported on the story of a woman who was fired from her job after testing positive for a painkiller that her doctor prescribed. Other workers have been terminated under similar circumstances, even when the medication in question was meant to treat job-related injuries.

Main reasons why drug testing remains so common:

Insurance companies give discounts to employers who test.

Companies use it to project a clean-cut, no niggers here, anti-drug image.

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. That's not how America works.

In 1988, the Washington, D.C. Police Department admitted it used urine samples collected for drug tests to screen female employees for pregnancy - without their knowledge or consent.

Drug tests are not work-related because they do not measure on-the-job impairment. A positive drug test only reveals that a drug was ingested at some time in the past. Nor do they distinguish between occasional and habitual use.

Drug testing is designed to detect and punish conduct that is usually engaged in off-duty and off the employer's premises - that is, in private. Employers who conduct random drug tests on workers who are not suspected of using drugs are policing private behavior that has no impact on job performance.

Drug tests don't prevent accidents
Computer-assisted performance tests, which measure hand-eye coordination and response time, are a better way of detecting whether employees are up to the job. NASA, for example, has long used task-performance tests to determine whether astronauts and pilots are unfit for work - whether the cause is substance abuse, fatigue, or physical illness.

Related article: Beat any drug test FREE

Employers need to kick the drug test habit

Drug testing occurs more often in workplaces where racial and ethnic minorities are employed, according to a new study by Yale School of Medicine. The study appears online in the Early View of the American Journal on Addictions.

The prevalence of workplace drug testing for current and new employees has been increasing since the 1980s. Research a decade ago demonstrated increased reports of workplace drug testing among non-white workers and by employees in certain “blue-collar” professions. The Yale research team’s objective was to discover if such discrepancies persist, and if so, among which ethnicities, income levels, and occupations.

The researchers analyzed nearly 70,000 responses in a recent federal government survey from individuals who reported whether drug testing took place in their workplace. Among these individuals were both part- and full-time employees, and those of white, black, or Hispanic race and ethnicity. They were all older than 18. Employees worked in both “white collar” jobs, which included executive, administrative, managerial, and financial positions, and “blue collar” posts, which included technical, transportation, and trade- and craft-related jobs.

Among the findings:
  • 48.2% were employed in a workplace that performs drug testing;
  • Nearly half of these were individuals aged 18 to 25;
  • 63% of black workers were employed in a workplace that performs drug testing, whereas only 46% of white workers were;
  • 54% of blue collar employees were employed in a workplace that performs drug testing, but only 44% of white collar employees were;
  • 71% reported working in large companies, defined as 100 or more employees.
In analysis of the reporting, being of black race was significantly associated with employment in a workplace that performs drug testing among executive, administrative, managerial, and financial workers, as well as technicians and other support occupations. Hispanic ethnicity was associated with increased employment in a workplace that performs drug testing among technical and other support occupations.

SOURCES: American Management Association survey, "Workplace Drug Testing and Drug Abuse Policies"; R. DeCresce, Drug Testing in the Workplace (BNA, 1989); Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Workforce, National Academy of Sciences, 1994; J.P. Morgan, "The 'Scientific' Justification for Urine Drug Testing," University of Kansas L.R., 1988.

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