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Drug Testing and Ethics sample essay

Is drug testing an unwarranted invasion of employee privacy? Which is more important–getting drugs out of the workplace or protecting the privacy of the employee? What about other health-threatening activities, i. e. smoking outside of working hours, unprotected sex, etc. Should employers be able to question or test employees or potential employees about these activities? Both of these scenarios are tricky ones. On the one hand, any employer would want to get drugs out of the workplace.

On the other hand you don’t want to invade an employee’s privacy. At the same time some jobs may require employees to conform to a certain standard of behavior both on and off the job, but how much is too much? How much should be employees be judged and how high of a standard should be set. Where do we draw the line? Shaw and Barry in their text Moral Issues in Business state “A firm has a legitimate interest in employee conduct off the job only if it affects work performance” (Shaw & Barry 2010, p477).

It can be argued that as long as the drug use doesn’t affect the employee’s work performance, then he shouldn’t be tested. If he is tested and the result is positive, but work performance is satisfactory, then drug use should not be considered as grounds for termination. Perhaps a better way to state this could be that as long as employee performance meets or exceeds the expected standards, then drug testing should not be used even if drug use is suspected. Egoism can be used to argue from both points of view.

According to this theory, “an act is morally right if and only if it best promotes an agent’s interests” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p59). Following this theory, if the employer drug tests several employees and fires all who test positive, then they are acting in their best interests. On the other hand, if the employee’s best interests are served through their drug usage, then the employee has acted in the best moral way that he can. Using this theory does however raise some interesting questions.

If the best possible person for a specific job is fired as a result of a drug test result, and the company’s performance in that specific department falls as a result of this, then was the action a morally right one? From a personal point of view, I believe that drug testing should be used only if the job requirements demand it. I don’t see any need for the person who picks up my garbage to be tested. I do however see a need for the school crossing guard at my children’s school to be tested.

The person who shovels the snow from my driveway in the winter and mows my lawn in the spring and summer doesn’t need to be drug tested. My doctor should be. Several years ago my husband and I had a spat over my decision to hire the town drunk to do some lawn work and prune some tree branches off our roof. In all fairness I had no idea that he was the town drunk when I hired him, I was out in our backyard picking up fallen branches and he walked by at that moment.

He asked if I had any odd jobs to be done and since he came across as clean and presentable and lucid I hired him on the spot. It wasn’t until three weeks later when my husband came home early and saw Bruce (the town drunk) at the top of a 50 foot tree sawing branches off that he realized who his new handyman was. Since he was usually the one on call at night whenever Bruce had one of his “benders” and had had cleaned him up several times, he now knew where Bruce was getting his drinking money from. My husband came home and told me he’d fired him.

I rehired Bruce a day later. My reasoning was that he’d never shown up drunk, he did a great job on any task I set for him and his fee was reasonable. It was within my best interests to keep Bruce employed therefore I was acting as an egoist. It was within Bruce’s best interests to remain employed since it gave him the money to support his habit. He was acting as an egoist. We were both also following the theory of Libertarianism under which each person is free to live as he or she wishes “free from the interference of others” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p122).

My husband in his decision to fire Bruce was also acting partially from an egoist point of view since an unemployed Bruce meant a sober Bruce which meant no trips to the ER which meant that my husband wouldn’t have to deal with a cursing, screaming, bloody drunk Bruce. At the same time he was also acting from Kant’s theory which states that “Only when we act from a sense of duty does our action have moral worth” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p69). My husband felt that it was his duty as a member of the medical profession, not to enable a habit that could possibly cause harm to an individual.

A high incidence of false positive results in drug testing is another reason for the argument that drug testing should not be used. In researching this paper I was surprised to learn how many over the counter drugs can produce false positive results. According to an article on The National Center for Biotechnology Information website entitled “Commonly prescribed medications and potential false positive urine drug screens” published Aug 15th 2010, “A number of routinely prescribed medications have been associated with triggering false-positive UDS results.

Verification of the test results with a different screening test or additional analytical tests should be performed to avoid adverse consequences for the patients. ” Some of the more common drugs that could produce false positive results were nonprescription nasal inhalers such as Vicks, antihistamines, antidepressants, and antibiotics such as Amoxicillin which has been associated with false positive urine screens for cocaine. Employers should not be able to question or test employees about other behaviors that they might consider health threatening.

This is a rather grey area and raises the questions of where to draw the line. For example if a company which is trying to reduce health insurance costs, decides to eliminate all smokers from their payroll since it costs more to insure smokers, shouldn’t they then eliminate overweight employees who are more likely to develop health problems than fit ones? What about employees with pre-existing conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure or kidney problems? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as well?

Should employers be allowed to use polygraph tests to “screen” out potentially costly employees who may engage in illegal drug use or any of these activities? The polygraph test, or as it is more commonly known, the lie detector test measures several physiological with in the human body such as increased blood pressure, increased pulse and respiration. However in spite of what most people believe it is not the most reliable test. Shaw and Barry in their text Moral Issues in Business list three assumptions made by those who advocate for the use of these tests. These assumptions are

* 1. Lying will automatically trigger a distinctive response to the question. * 2. Polygraphs are very accurate. * 3. Polygraphs cannot be beaten. (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p480). Unfortunately for these advocates while the polygraph test measures bodily responses to questions it cannot indicate whether or not the response is actually a lie. A person who has a history of being abused may register different reactions to questions along that subject area and all that these reactions may indicate is discomfort to the question not necessarily that the response to the question itself is a lie.

Opinions vary as to just how accurate the tests are with the percentages ranging from 90% to as low as 55%, the higher percentages coming not surprisingly from the American Polygraph Association. Finally polygraph tests can be beaten and even generate false positives. Spies John Walker and Aldrich Ames both passed polygraph tests as did Gary Ridgeway the “Green Killer”. Ames actually passed two different polygraph tests.

Since these tests are costly, using them as a screening method for either new hires or present employees may not be the best solution and should be considered on a case by case basis. Other methods should be used before resorting to polygraphs testing such as drug testing which may indicate previous drug use (although as has been mentioned earlier some false positive results may occur) or even background tests which may turn up questionable incidents. If during the course of these two checks questions are raised about the employee or new hire, then the employer could resort to the use of a polygraph.

It could be argued that utilizing either or both of these two other methods is even more costly to the employers but I would say that any employer who needs to use a polygraph test to weed out potentially costly employees could afford to administer the extra tests to be absolutely sure. Fortunately for most employees, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 which protects the rights of employees and outlines the usage and restrictions of lie detector tests states: “The EPPA prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests, either for preemployment screening or during the course of employment.

Employers generally may not require or request any employee or job applicant to take a lie detector test, or discharge, discipline, or discriminate against an employee or job applicant for refusing to take a test or for exercising other rights under the Act”… It then goes on to outline just which employers are permitted to utilize lie detector tests … “Subject to restrictions, the Act permits polygraph (a type of lie detector) tests to be administered to certain job applicants of security service firms (armored car, alarm, and guard) and of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers.

Subject to restrictions, the Act also permits polygraph testing of certain employees of private firms who are reasonably suspected of involvement in a workplace incident (theft, embezzlement, etc. ) that resulted in specific economic loss or injury to the employer. ” (United States Department of Labor website) My argument to using a polygraph test therefore would be that assuming that the employer fell into one of these categories then yes they should be permitted to utilize lie detector tests but only as a last resort. I submit this argument using the rule utilitarianism theory. This is not to be confused with act utilitarianism.

Under act utilitarianism, “we ask must ask ourselves what the consequences of a particular act in a particular situation will be for all those affected. If its consequences bring more total good than those of any alternative course of action, then this action is the right one” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p63) The action that produces the greatest amount of happiness is the right one. Rule utilitarianism asks “what moral code … a society should adopt to maximize happiness. The principles that make up that code would then be the basis for distinguishing right actions from wrong actions” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p80-81).

Under act utilitarianism, if 20 employees were polygraphed and 15 of them failed the test and were fired as a result, then the action would not be a moral one since more people would be left unhappy rather than happy. Using those same figures, if the rule or moral code that needed to be followed was that of a no drug policy, and the same 20 employees were polygraphed and again 15 failed and were fired, then the action would be a morally right one since firing the 15 employees made sure that the moral code was enforced.

References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689123

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygraph_test

http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/eppa.htm#who

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