Drug Testing Takes a Hit

Drug Testing Takes a Hit
Posted by FoM on November 05, 1999 at 08:09:39 PT
By Sam McManis, Chronicle Staff Writer
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
Drug testing on the job, once a controversial practice at a few companies, has become so pervasive that it now seems as common as filling out a W-4 form or punching a time clock. 
Want that high-profile new job at a Fortune 200 company? Here's your cup, there's the bathroom. Give us a urine sample, then we'll talk stock options, pal. Want to stay employed in that construction job? Better watch what you ingest over the weekend because you may be randomly selected to give a sample before firing up the bulldozer Monday morning. In 1986, only 21.5 percent of companies tested employees, according to a survey by the American Management Association. By 1996, 81 percent did. The number of Fortune 200 companies that require pre-employment or random drug testing grew from 6 in 1983 to 196 in 1996, the AMA found. Eighty-three percent of employers surveyed believe that testing slows employee drug use, according to the AMA study. But 80 percent of companies in the same survey had never done a cost-effectiveness analysis. Now, for the first time, several studies question the worth of workplace drug testing. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report based on studies by the National Science Foundation and the AMA showing that testing has been ineffective in reducing drug use and has no noticeable impact on reducing either absenteeism or productivity. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that illegal drugs contribute little to workplace accidents and that off-duty drug use has about the same small effect on worker accidents as off-duty drinking. And, in January's Working USA magazine, two researchers with the Le Moyne College Institute of Industrial Relations surveyed 63 Silicon Valley companies and found that productivity was 29 percent lower in firms with pre-employment and random testing. Still, few businesses have abandoned drug testing, even though the AMA found it costs a company $77,000 to find one drug user by testing all employees. TRYING TO LOOK GOOD ``If drug testing didn't work, why would we see so many companies instituting policies in an era where every department in a corporation has to prove its worth?'' asked Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and managing partner at Littler Mendelson's Washington, D.C., office. ``I don't doubt for a second it works. It's ludicrous to think a program that results in deterrence and detection of substance abuse doesn't work.'' But Lewis Maltby, director of the ACLU's National Taskforce on Civil Liberties in the Workplace, called for employers to rethink what he calls ``an invasive and humiliating procedure for employees.'' Maltby charges that most large and medium-size corporations know there is little cost benefit or effectiveness in testing employees. They do it, he says, for public relations. ``I have a friend who formerly was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and I asked him why he spent all that money on a drug-testing program even though he'd told me privately he knew it wasn't doing that good for the bottom line,'' Maltby said. ``And he said, `I don't care if it improves bottom line. I'm a publicly held company. I've got stockholder meetings and every year I get asked what we're doing about the drug crisis in America. The policy is my answer.' It's there for image.'' EDUCATION MORE EFFECTIVE Eric Greenberg, director of management studies for the AMA, said drug education and awareness programs have proven more effective than testing, according to his group's research. ``Ten years of survey data have not allowed us to make a statistical case that drug testing makes a difference,'' Greenberg said. SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories, the nation's leading drug-testing corporation, recently reported that positive test results fell from 18.7 percent of pre-employment and random testing in 1987 to 5 percent in 1998. But Greenberg argued that test- positive rates went down not because fewer workers were doing drugs, but because more companies moved from testing only ``for cause'' to more widespread random testing. ``In all of our years of researching, the only hard case we can make in our data is that drug education and awareness programs in companies deter use, whether they test or not,'' Greenberg said. Bay Area corporations are believed to have a lower pre-employment testing rate than companies in other regions, though no statistics exist, because private-sector companies are not required to make policies public. Levi-Strauss, for instance, performs pre-employment drug testing on employees in manufacturing and logistics, according to a spokeswoman. The Bay Area's other major apparel company, the Gap, does not require pre-employment testing, according to a spokeswoman. Intel instituted pre-employment drug testing shortly after Congress passed the 1988 Drug Free Workplace Act, which requires federal contractors and grant recipients to provide drug-free workplaces. Though Intel does not do federal contract work, it instituted testing to enhance quality control. ``It's just the nature of this business,'' Intel spokeswoman Tracy Koon said. ``It's a matter of safety and productivity. We want to make sure our product is high quality.'' Koon said that in 1997, Intel had 0.39 percent positives out of 13,165 tests. In 1998, positives fell to 0.18 percent out of 3,696 tested. This year, through October 19, Intel had 0.15 percent positives out of 6,294 pre-employment tests. ``We are convinced that our testing has helped these numbers fall and raises our productivity,'' Koon said. TESTING MIGHT HURT WORK But many Silicon Valley firms, such as Cisco Systems, do not test. Eric Shepard, co-author of the Le Moyne study of drug testing in Silicon Valley, said his researchers combined each company's drug-testing data with its public financial information. ``We found that productivity was 16 percent lower in companies with pre-employment testing than those that didn't test, and it was 29 percent (lower) in companies with both pre- employment and random testing,'' he said. ``It's hard to determine exactly why that is, because it's not easy to get companies to talk about drug testing at all.'' Shepard said his survey didn't delve into the reasons productivity declined, but he has a theory. ``If drug tests contribute a negative view toward the company, as other surveys have found, then workers may not contribute as much in return, or they may seek employment elsewhere,'' Shepard said. ``You may lose your best workers to companies that don't test.'' Dan Abrahamson, a San Francisco attorney for the Lindesmith Center, a national drug policy institute that opposes drug testing, said he receives at least one e-mail a week from high-tech workers who smoke marijuana away from the job and are concerned about drug testing at work. ``There are a lot of smart, creative people who work in Silicon Valley in programming and they feel it helps them intellectually to use marijuana,'' Abrahamson said. ``So testing might actually hurt their work.'' Ed, a 27-year-old financial analyst at Charles Schwab in San Francisco who declined to give his last name, said he would have thought twice about accepting an offer from the company six months ago if that company required pre-employment drug tests. ``I don't use drugs,'' he said, ``but I would look at that company as not as trusting (and) more rules oriented, as opposed to a place that values its employees and entrusts them to do a good job.'' San Francisco was the first city in the country to pass legislation limiting drug testing in the workplace. In 1985, the Board of Supervisors passed a statute drafted by civil rights lawyer Cliff Palefsky banning random drug testing except for workers in safety-sensitive jobs. SAFETY-SENSITIVE JOBS Several years later, California also passed a statute allowing random testing only for employees in safety- sensitive jobs. What constitutes ``safety sensitive'' is open to legal interpretation, however. In 1996, a worker at the Fresno Irrigation District was fired for failing a random drug test. Ron Smith, a ditch digger who had a spotless record and won five safety awards in six years on the job, won a suit in Fresno Superior Court saying the test violated his constitutional rights because he wasn't employed in a ``safety-sensitive job.'' However, in May, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno overturned the ruling, saying that Smith's job was safety sensitive. ``Anyone operating a big piece of heavy machinery, sure, that might harm other people, but Smith barely even used a shovel,'' said Joseph A. Davis, Smith's attorney. ``Fresno argued that Mr. Smith could possibly fall into the canal and someone else may be imperiled going in to save him. Well, if that's the case, we're all in safety-sensitive jobs.'' For those in non-safety-sensitive jobs, some companies will be more lenient in punishing drug-test offenders, notes Greenberg of the American Management Association. Not that they will admit it publicly. ``I know of companies that test for drugs that are illegal but really don't affect job performance,'' Greenberg said. ``They'll pick and choose which positive tests to act on. Some companies just don't want to know. Any advertising firm that gave its copywriters pre-employment tests would have a real hard time filling positions, if you know what I mean.'' 	HOW LONG CAN DRUGS BE DETECTED?	Marijuana       moderate (4 times a week)         4 days	                   heavy use         7 days	               chronic heavy use       21-30 days	Cocaine                any level        2-3 days	Opiates                any level         2 days	PCP                  any level        3-8 days	Amphetamines             any level        2-4 days		Source: American Medical Association	 1999 San Francisco Chronicle  Page B1 Sam McManis, Chronicle Staff WriterFriday, November 5, 1999 1999 San Francisco Chronicle Related Articles:Drug Czar Nullifies Need For Drug Test - 11/04/99 ACLU Report Debunks Workplace Urine Testing - 9/14/99 To Sue Over Student Drug Testing - 8/18/99
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Comment #4 posted by Jeanna on November 09, 2000 at 23:01:52 PT:
surprise, surprise
I was shocked to see the changes in policy concerning this intrusive and insulting practice when I started looking for a new job last summer. It seems to me that the low paying McJobs offered by larger companies are leading the band wagon on this particular power play. And that's what it is; if not tied directly to the employer's plastic cup, then to the insurance company's. When I was told by a TEMP agency today that they required a drug screening agreement before even looking for a job for you I decided to stoke up on as much information regarding this frightening trend as possible. 
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Comment #3 posted by observer on November 05, 1999 at 19:40:57 PT
why alcohol is legal, and pot isn't
yes kaptinemo! :''To free the mind from the restraints of status quo thinking is something the status quo can't stand. The creativity, which begins in questioning conventionality, that cannabis use can engender in someone inevitably leads to question *all* conventions.''I've heard others express similar thoughts, though not quite so well put. On top of that, many believe that *any* altering of one's own consciousness is evil/bad/immoral. Some people act as if using marijuana etc. is a sin, so fight against it with religious fervor...
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on November 05, 1999 at 16:36:52 PT
Gotta keep dem slaves in line, ya' heah?
One of the interesting aspects of the War on (Some) Drugs has been the prohibitionist's shying away from the very obvious connections between drug use, creativity, and freedoms in general. For very obvious reasons, many of which are too embaressing to admit. For example: many of the methodologies in use by modern criminologists today came from none other than Arthur Conan Doyle - a cocaine user. The DNA test so often used in today's courtroom proceedings was developed by a Ph.D. who used LSD. And God knows how many of the devices in the computer you have sitting in front of you were designed by someone who spent Friday evenings with like minded friends, toking on some good bud and brainstorming the next generation of computers.To free the mind from the restraints of status quo thinking is something the status quo can't stand. The creativity, which begins in questioning conventionality, that cannabis use can engender in someone inevitably leads to question *all* conventions. And therefore, the legitimacy of the status quo.Which, IMHO, is one of the main reasons why alcohol is legal, and pot isn't. Alcohol dulls the wits, and makes one more...manageable? and less likely to challenge the powers that be. Cannabis on the other hand, can fire the imagination. And wage-slaves with imagination can imagine their economic/political/social masters gone.Which is why Massa has been buying lots of heavy duty ordinance and drawing up ever more restrictive laws to protect his interests. Because when the worker drones stop doing what they're told and start to act for their own preservation, (in other words, are truly free) the game for Massa is up. 
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Comment #1 posted by observer on November 05, 1999 at 08:48:50 PT
if ... why would we see so many ...
> ``If drug testing didn't work, why would we see so many companies instituting policies in an era where every department in a corporation has to prove its worth?'' asked Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and managing partner at Littler Mendelson's Washington, D.C., office. Because of a vicious, longstanding propaganda campaign demonizing drug users?'' With illegal drugs, we see the same pattern, again through that warped mirror or long after his second inauguration, President Clinton signed a bill earmarking $195 million for an antidrug ad campaign-the first installment of a $1 billion pledge. The ads, which began running last summer, all end with the words "Partnership for a Drug Free America" and "Office of National Drug Control Policy." It is fitting that the two entities are officially joined. The Partnership emerged in 1986, the year basketball star Len Bias died with cocaine in his system and President Reagan signed a bill creating, among many other new penalties, mandatory federal prison terms for possession of an illegal substance. This was the birth of the drug wars' latest phase, in which any drug use at all-not abuse or addiction or "drug related crime"-became the enemy. (3) Soon the words "drug-free America" began to show up regularly, in the name of a White House conference as well as in legislation that declared it the "policy of the United States Government to create a Drug-Free America by 1995." '' Harper's Magazine, May 1999 - -''The law identifies drug users through their blood. Also through their excreta... All that matters is a person's blood and excreta. All that matters is the makeup of a person's physical body. Drug law does not care if an illicit user is a beloved schoolteacher who improves acommunity or a vicious psychopath who tortures victims to death.... The law does not care if tests used to detect illicit drug users fail to demonstrate that users areimpaired. The law does not care if users behave in ordinary ways. A statute creating a status crime targets ordinary people. That is its purpose. If illicit drug usersacted in ways that distinguished them from nonusers, a status crime statute would be unnecessary. ''(R. Miller Drug Warriors and Their Prey, p. 9. 1996.)
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