Privacy is a cornerstone of our society, as Americans we value privacy above many other natural rights. We each have a right to protect and control certain information about ourselves and who can have access to that information. Our personal decisions should be autonomous and free from illegitimate influence (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 329). Organizations have a legitimate interest in situations which significantly influence the performance of their employees while on the job, but the understanding of what “significantly influence” means may differ between the employer and their employees.
The actions of employers in gaining agreement from their employees to submit to drug testing can be considered coercive when one considers the relationship between the employer and employees. Although the relationship should be one of mutual consent and partnership, the fact that employees may be subject to termination for not submitting to drug testing, makes the consent obtained seem more likely undue coercion (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 64). Employees may feel obliged or even pressured to take a drug test or risk the loss of their job. In these instances, the consent may not be informed. Although we value and guard our privacy, at times it may be necessary to give up that right for the greater good. Employer drug testing is an extremely intrusive activity, but at times can be necessary and beneficial, not only to the organization, but also the employee.
Indiscriminate drug testing in the workplace is completely inappropriate, but drug testing can be appropriate when an employee’s role dictates that assurances of sobriety are necessary or their behavior indicates they are a threat to the safety and welfare of the organization, society and/or its customers (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 362). When an employee’s performance or behavior indicates intoxication on the job, testing is appropriate, not only to protect the organization and co-workers, but to protect the employee as well.
If a pilot showed up for work in an apparent intoxicated state, then testing could protect the pilot and their co-workers and the passengers on the flight. The same would hold true for doctors, nurses and pharmacists, each of which have access to drugs on a regular basis, but for a gas station attendant or retail clerk, random drug testing would be excessively intrusive, inappropriate and morally unjust, as their roles do not place the lives of others in their hands (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 363). The organization not only has a responsibility to their shareholders, but also their employees.
If necessary, testing should be handled respectfully and discretely as not to cause undue harm to the employee. The protection of the privacy of employees should be paramount to the removal of drugs in the workplace. Although drug use and abuse impact society a negative ways, the drug testing of employees does not necessarily remove the problem from the workplace. The consequence of employee drug testing is that it violates the rights of many who do not use drugs nor show any indication of drug use (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 362). The rights of many would be violated for the investigation of a few. From a Utilitarian point of view, this would be morally unethical as the majority of employees would be harmed in the process. In situations where an employee’s role necessitates the need for not only sobriety, but to be completely drug free, drug testing would be reasonable, but pre-activity safety checks would more likely serve to protect from potential harm (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 364).
Take for instance a Drug Enforcement Agency officer, if these individuals will come in constant contact with illegal narcotics, it would be prudent to ensure that they do not have a drug addiction and could possibly be a threat to other officers if they began to partner with drug dealers, steal confiscated drugs or could possibly behave in way detrimental to their colleagues due to intoxication. Only in such situations would drug testing be reasonable and morally justifiable.
When justifying drug testing as a way to prevent harm, we must consider that most roles do not necessitate the need to be drug free. Employers are only justified in the expectation that their staff perform at a reasonable level. If drug use causes their employees to perform below required norms, than they should attempt to assist their employee in reaching acceptable performance levels or terminate the working relationship.
Regardless of the reason for sub-par performance employers have a right to terminate the relationship, but invasion of privacy should not be a means to that end (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 61). Drug testing should not be within the rights or expectations of the employer and should only be engaged when absolutely necessary. When drug testing is deemed necessary, it should be completed in strict compliance with policies which restrict its scope and intrusiveness (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 363). The damage that can be caused due to false positives, misuse of the information obtained and the diminishment to employee moral can be devastating.
An employee’s reputation can be easily destroyed and their future opportunities damaged beyond repair due to reckless indifference when drug testing. Urinalysis not only provides information about an employees drug use (illicit or legal), but can also provide employers with information regarding an employees sexual practices, genetic disposition, eating habits and otherwise personal aspects of their lives. None of which should be considered to be within the legitimate interests of their employers (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 36).
Employers have a responsibility (moral and legal) to protect their employees from harm within the workplace (Shaw & Barry, 2007, p. 336). This includes not exposing employees to an environment rife with risk, but does not require employers to attempt to protect their employees within their private, non work lives. Employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees, but only when their employees cause harm during their work for the employer or within the confines of the employer’s property.
Unless the intrusion is relevant to the job the employee performs, testing for health threatening activities is not morally or legally justified (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 361). The responsibilities of employees to employers only entail the provision of a reasonable level of performance within the job they were hired to do. The fact that employees engage in activities outside of the work environment that are disapproved of by their employer should be of no consequence nor should knowledge of these activities fall under the prevue of their employers (Shaw ; Barry, 2007, p. 367).