ew YorkIn a special report issued today, the American Civil
Liberties Union (aclu) is urging corporate America to drop workplace
urine testing, citing evidence that the tests do not pay dividends
in decreased accidents and absenteeism or increased efficiency and
The 27-page white paper, Drug Testing: A Bad Investment, examines
ten years of research and empirical evidence on drug use among workers,
its impact on work performance, and whether urine testing is an
effective tool for identifying drug abusers in the workplace. Driven
by an industry-led panic that drug use is commoneven epidemicin
America's workforce, employers today require tens of millions
of American workers from all walks of lifemost of whom are
not even suspected of using drugsto pass a urine test to get
a new job or to keep the one they have.
According to the aclu's report, the drug testing industry's
promotion of junk science, based on unsubstantiated
claims and phantom research, has fueled the growth of employee drug
testing since the mid-1980s. But respected scientific institutions
such as the National Academy of Sciences have looked at the record
and found little support for most of the drug testing industry's
claims. We have always believed drug testing of unimpaired
workers stands the presumption of innocence on its head and violates
the most fundamental privacy rights, said aclu Executive Director
Ira Glasser. Now we know that sacrificing these rights serves
no legitimate business purpose either.
Among the report's findings:
Lost productivity studies claiming that drug users
cost businesses up to $100 billion each year are based on dubious
comparisons of household drug use and income, with no analysis of
actual productivity data.
The moderate use of illicit drugs by workers during off-duty
hours is no more likely to compromise workplace safety than moderate
off-duty alcohol use.
A recent survey of 63 Silicon Valley companies found that
urine testing reduces, rather than enhances, worker productivity.
Although some federal employers and private businesses are required
by law to test employees in specific safety-sensitive occupations,
most employers are under no obligation to conduct drug testing.
Yet according to a 1996 survey, 81 percent of Fortune 500 firms
conducted urine tests on their employees.
It's time for employers to ask themselves whether subjecting
their employees to such an invasive and humiliating procedure is
worth the cost, not only in human terms, but in actual dollars and
cents, said Lewis Maltby, director of the aclu's National
Taskforce on Civil Liberties in the Workplace and lead author of
the report. Alternative solutions, such as impairment testing
of workers in safety-sensitive positions and wider use of Employee
Assistance Programs are more cost effective and do not raise the
same privacy and fairness problems, he added.
Maltby said he is sending Drug Testing: A Bad Investment to ceos,
union officials and human resources professionals, along with a
letter urging them to consider less intrusive alternatives to urine
tests as a condition of employment.
In addition, the aclu has established a toll-free number, 800/323-8820,
that human resources managers can call for more information on drug
testing and its alternatives.