Why Do Employers Still Routinely Drug-Test Workers?



“These days it is rather uniform across many, many employment sectors. Most of the larger corporations, and most—if not all—of the Fortune 500 have some sort of drug-testing.” In all, Sample estimates that some 45 to 50 million workplace drug tests are taken annually in the U.S., making up a massive industry in biomedical HR…

In other words, the drug testing of employees isn’t so much a thoughtful labor policy as a compulsive habit. It’s something that we do because we’ve always done it, and we don’t know how to stop. Testing has become a national addiction, and it may be time to taper off…

That September, Ronald Reagan made it official U.S. policy, signing an executive order to counteract the “serious adverse effects” that drugs exert “upon a significant proportion of the national work force,” and ordering the heads of every agency to put in place formal testing programs. His vision for a “drug-free federal workplace” was important, he declared without any formal evidence, because federal employees who use illegal drugs “tend to be less productive, less reliable, and prone to greater absenteeism than their fellow employees.” He claimed they’re also prone to lapses of judgment, subject to blackmail, and a burden to their colleagues who don’t likewise indulge.

The national binge on drug testing had only just begun. In January 1987, an afternoon Amtrak train heading north from Washington, D.C. derailed outside Baltimore, killing 16 passengers and injuring 174…  An investigation found that warning signals that might have prevented the crash had been tampered with, but at least some portion of the blame fell to railroad engineer Ricky Gates, who eventually admitted that he’d been passing a joint back and forth with his brakeman, and that he’d taken “about three hits” by the time the accident took place. An acknowledged alcoholic, Gates had also been out drinking the night before, and apparently had a hangover. He says he skipped safety checks that morning so that he could get through his day a little faster. (Gates himself blames the narcotics, and after serving four years in prison, he took up work as a drug counselor.) …

One thought on “Why Do Employers Still Routinely Drug-Test Workers?

  1. It’s crazy – I worked for Countrywide Home Loans, which was purchased by Bank of America in 2008 for which the transition was finished in 2009, and neither employer required drug testing. I remember being surprised by that until, as a traveling trainer for software that was being rolled out en masse, it was revealed to me that drug testing would wipe out large portions of loan officers. One particularly sad case was a guy that showed up late to my classes the entire week. It was obvious that he was struggling because he was jumpy, sweaty, had big circles under his eyes, and his left leg was always bouncing. He was counting the time down until he could get a little bump at lunch time. Then between lunch and quitting time, he was always perched in his chair like he was waiting on the runners’ blocks set up for sprint races.

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