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Guilty before proven innocent

As if there is not enough to be nervous about when interviewing for a new job, potential candidates now face the scrutiny of being judged on their “liquid IQ”, better known as the pre-employment urine screen. Though proponents of drug screening have a list of reasons why this form of background check is necessary, it is fundamentally invasive, statistically unsound and does not really discern a potential employee’s current drug state or predict future performance. It is for these reasons that employers should not be allowed to pre-screen applicants using urine sample information.

Pre-employment drug screening became common practice in the 1980s under Regan’s Drug-Free Workplace Act. Initially screening was required for new hire federal employees and candidates for the Department of Transportation. However, the practice of pre-employment screening quickly moved over to the private sector and has been the source of tremendous controversy concerning privacy issues, accuracy of testing and prediction of potential job quality. In general, the larger the company, the more likely it is to have a drug testing program.

One survey by the American Management Association found that 15% of companies doing under $15 million do testing, while 36% of companies doing over $1 billion do some testing. Of Fortune 500 companies, over 50% report testing (ATC, 2001). Under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)/ National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) guidelines, urinalysis tests were to report quantitative results on five specific drug groups. These groups are known as the NIDA-5 and include: Cannabinoids, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Opiates and Phencyclidine.

The problem with testing for these substances is that they can quickly clear the system (most within 3-5 days) and thus don’t really provide an accurate picture of current drug use. The tests being strictly quantitative also do not provide for the possibility of legal use of these substances in prescription derivative forms. These tests also exclude the potential for synthesized prescription drug abuse which is highly commonplace or alcohol abuse which has one of the highest negative impacts on job performance. The first argument against pre-employment drug screening is that it is fundamentally invasive.

Drug-Free Workplace programs, and particularly their drug testing provisions, have been the subject of numerous lawsuits over the past decade. In the public sector, these have involved questions of the right to privacy, the Constitutional freedom from unreasonable searches by the government when an agency acts as an employer, and due process. (Employee Rights, 2009) Lawsuits are warranted particularly in pre-employment screens when there is no reason, before an applicant enters the work environment, to suspect them of using drugs.

In a way it is like viewing them as guilty before proven innocent. Even for jobs where public and fellow employee safety is a factor it is still unwarranted. Unless a person has prior drug convictions or a known history of drug abuse an employer should not be allowed to screen. In addition to the practice being invasive the second argument against pre-screening is that statistically it is unsound. Many employers desire to know the substance use status of workers or prospective workers and use urine drug testing as a means to obtain such knowledge.

But the presence of a substance in a urine sample may or may not mean that the employee or candidate for employment has engaged in unauthorized use of a given substance, since many agents associated with addiction are also pharmaceutical products with legitimate medical uses (ASAM, 2008). Where this is the case those who test positive may be denied employment because of medications taking for a pre-existing medical condition that may not affect job performance and in this way, they would be discriminated against.

In a report done by McDaniel in 1991 it was found that reported Marijuana use had a high base rate (31-35%), but a low validity rate (. 07) for future performance in military applicants. It was also found that, The predictive power of the high school graduation dichotomy is higher than the drug use measures found in this study. Typically, the discharge rate for non-high school graduates is roughly twice that of graduates. Also, research studies on worker reliability measures show high levels of validity. (McDaniel, 1991).

These findings are important because it shows that there are much better predictors of future work performance potential that are non-invasive and more valid than drug testing itself. The tests reliability also comes into question because it is so easy to ‘fake’ a urinalysis test. For rights of privacy the tests are administered behind closed doors, so it is easy to sneak in alternate samples. There are also a number of products on the market that one can take to mask drugs or reduce metabolites in the system. According to Associated Pathology Laboratories,

Urine appears to be more susceptible to adulteration, hydration and switching. The applicant has ample time while searching for employment to plan a method to avoid a positive result in urine. High Times magazine (easily found at the newsstand) and the Internet offer methods on “how to beat a urine drug test”. (1996) A quick internet search on any computer for ‘urine pre-employment test’ brings up hundreds of different websites offering products guaranteed to pass a screening. It is for this reason that pre-screen urine tests are often referred to as the “liquid IQ test”.

Many employers just want to see if, “the applicant smart enough to abstain from drug use for a week before the drug test” because on average most drugs tested only stay in the system for 3-5 days (APL, 1996). An eye opening news segment on KBCI CBS 2 News in Boise, Idaho tested some of the many products available for purchase to mask drug use and they all passed (2008). Due to the ability to ‘fake’ a urine test, it has been “open to discussion whether an applicant should be given in advance information about when and where pre-employment testing will be performed.

Many argue that, if that is done, drug-abusing applicants might adjust their drug intake and show up at a test with drug- free urine” (Mrland, 1993). When it is so easy to ‘fake’ a test, the expense and invasion of privacy becomes unnecessary when the validity is so highly tainted. The final argument against drug testing is that it really doesn’t predict a potential employee’s current drug state or future performance. According to the NIDA, “Urine can not detect current drug use. It takes approximately 6-8 hrs. post-consumption for [the] drug to be metabolized and excreted in urine” (2008).

A potential employee could literally get high right before walking into the test and it would not show up in the urine sample. Reports have also shown that, “despite the growth of drug testing, there is little research that examines the value of pre-employment drug use information in the prediction of postemployment suitability” (McDaniel, 1991). Essentially urine sampling cannot be a valid predictor because environment also dictates drug use. It is possible that once a person who was using begins employment that there use will go down.

Many individuals also abuse legal substances and prescription drugs which are essentially excluded from urine pre-screens, which is detrimental because they can be huge performance affecters as well. The issue of pre-employment urine screening is so important because it is a violation of privacy and our basic civil liberties. Essentially it is assuming a candidate guilty and making them prove their innocence to be offered employment, which if fundamentally unjust. The test itself is statistically unsound because it is so easy to ‘fake’ and there has not been a valid correlation made between its results and future job performance.

In fact, there are a number of other statistically significant indicators, such as graduation rate, that are far better indicators. The nature of the test also does not indicate current or future drug use, so in that way it is somewhat pointless. Sadly though where the need for employment is concerned there is no fighting the arm twisting to disprove guilt. Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times rock critic and one of the few journalists brave enough to discuss his experience with pre-employment drug testing said it best, “I’m totally against it, but did I piss in the cup for them? You betcha. ” (1998).

Works Cited

ASAM. “Public Policy Statement on Drug Testing in Workplace Settings” American Society of Addiction Medicine (2002). 13 April 2009 <http://www. asam. org/DrugTestingInWorkplaceSettings. html> Associated Pathology Laboratories. “Hair Test Background: Q & A on Hair Tests Source” (1998). U. S. Health Tests. 13 April 2009 <http://www. ushealthtests. com/hairq&a. htm> ATC. “Testing from Your Employers Point of View: What Employers Hear From The Drug Test Manufacturers” (2008). Always Test Clean. 13 April 2009 <http://www. alwaystestclean. com/what_employers_read. htm> Lloyd, Carol.

“Why are Reporters, Those Vigilant Guardians of Constitutional Freedoms, Unzipping Themselves for Drug Testing? ” Slates’s Yellow Journalism (2008). Salon. 13 April 2009 <http://www. salon. com/media/1998/04/cov_01media2. html> McDaniel, M. “Does pre-employment drug use predict on-the-job suitability? ” Drugs in the Workplace : Research and Evaluation Data (1991) 91: 151-167. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 13 April 2009 <http://www. drugabuse. gov/ about/organization/despr/hsr/da-pre/SteeleWorkplacePartB. html> Mrland, J. “Types of drug-testing programmes in the workplace. ” UNODC (1993). 83-113 National Institute of Forensic Toxicology.

13 April 2009 <http://www. unodc. org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1993-01-01_2_page004. html> NIDA. 22 July 2008. National Institute of Health. 13 April 2009 <http://www. drugabuse. gov/NIDAHome. html> SAMHSA. 14 April 2009 . Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. 14 April 2009 <http://www. samhsa. gov/> “Truth Squad: Urine Trouble. ” 2News. TV. CBS. KBCI, Boise. 26 April 2007. <http://www. 2news. tv/news/truthsquad/7210081. html> You-Can-Learn-Basic-Employee-Rights. com. 13 April 2009 <http://www. you-can-learn-basic- employee-rights. com/pre-employment-drug-testing. html>

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