Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Employee Drug Testing: What the Small Firm Owner Needs to Know

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Employee Drug Testing: What the Small Firm Owner Needs to Know

Article excerpt


Soumettre le personneld' entreprise a des examens medicaux afin de lutter contre les mefaits de l'alcool et de la drogue, est l'un des problemes les plus debattus aujourd'hui dansle monde du travail. Pour rester competitifs, les petits entrepreneurs doivent proteger leur statut economique et les conditions de securite au sein de leur firme, en reduisant au minimum les risques lies a l'emploi de la drogue ou a l'alcoolisme. Les travailleurs, inquiets pour la securite de l'emploi et la protection de leur reputation recherchent l'appui des tribunaux. Pour rendre le controle possible, les firmes peuvent utiliser trois tests de cout et de precision variables. Ces tests peuvent etre appliques de trois facons: (1) au hasard ou sous forme d'examens obligatoires, (2) dans le cadre d'une visite medicale requise avant recrutement, ou au cours d'un controle medical annuel, et (3) en cas d'evidences serieuses de delit. La premiere approche est juridiquement risquee: les deux a utres ont plus de chance d'etre reconnues comme legales. Les examens de controle de la toxicomanie resteront des questions juridiquement delicates pour les petits chefs d'entreprise, tant que les tribunaux et le corps legislatif n'auront pas clarifie leur contexte juridique.

Testing workers for drug and alcohol use is a controversial and important issue in the workplace. Small firms are as vulnerable to this problem as large corporations, but the lack of case and statutory law involving small firms makes it very difficult for small firm owners to implement effective drug testing policies in efforts to reduce their legal liability for accidents caused by their employees. The purpose of this article is to clarify some of the issues of concern to the small business owner in the area of drug testing and to review the potential legal problems associated with three approaches to drug testing.


Proponents of drug testing contend that drug and alcohol abuse cost U.S. industry from $30 to $60 billion a year due to absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents, and health care. Federal government experts estimate that 10 to 23 percent of all American workers engage in drug use on the job.' In terms of accidents alone, drug and alcohol abuse have resulted in many deaths. For example, between 1975 and 1984, at least 48 train accidents resulting in 37 deaths, 80 injuries and more than $34 million in property damage were attributed to drug or alcohol use, including the recent Amtrak-Conrail disaster in Maryland in which 16 persons died .

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is liable for any tort committed by his employee within the scope of the latter's duties." Employers, then, often bear legal liability for personal and property losses attributed to defective products and accidents caused by drug- and alcoholinfluenced workers. Small firm owners are least likely to be able to bear such costs. It is not surprising, therefore, that drug and alcohol testing programs are considered by many as a means of curbing on-the-job drug and alcohol use.


Opponents of employee testing maintain that various types of urinalysis used to detect drug use are not appropriate due to the unreliability of test results. Three widely used tests-enzyme multiplied immunoassay (EMIT), gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry-can all yield false positive results. Human error in handling the samples can also contribute to the tests' fallibility, particularly when they are carried out on a mass scale.

Opponents also maintain that employee drug testing programs may violate both private and public law. It has been suggested, for instance, that drug testing presumes a person's guilt until the test proves otherwise. …

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