Drug Testing in Labor Arbitration: Does It Impact the Decision-Making Process?

By Crow, Stephen M.; Fok, Lillian Y. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Drug Testing in Labor Arbitration: Does It Impact the Decision-Making Process?


Crow, Stephen M., Fok, Lillian Y., Hartman, Sandra J., Journal of Managerial Issues


Drug testing in the workplace has received substantial attention in media publication and in management literature, particularly in those publications targeting practitioners (see, for example, Anderson, 1986; Bloch, 1986; Green, 1989; Murphy, 1989; Redeker and Segal, 1989). Taken as a whole, the drug testing literature views drug testing technology as a common sense way to control drug use in the workplace (Angarola, 1985; Shults, 1986; Stone and Kotch, 1989). The pro-testing tone of these articles reflects the popularity of drug testing. Belief in the efficacy of drug testing appears to be shared by workers as well as managers (The Denver Post, 1986). Suggestive of the ubiquitous acceptance and use of drug testing is this statistic: more than half of U.S. firms now test employees for drug use (U.S. News & World Report, 1991).

It seems reasonable to assume that organizations have some motivation for undertaking such ambitious drug testing programs. If so, what are organizations trying to accomplish and how effective is drug testing in attaining their goals? Our review of the literature suggests two possible objectives. One goal, and the one most often stated, involves increasing organizational efficiency and/or productivity, often by reducing absenteeism, safety problems and the like. It is not the purpose of this study to examine the extent to which drug testing accomplishes such goals. However, we feel it important to point out that recent research and commentary by Murphy (1989), Redeker and Segal (1989), Bogdanich (1987), and Morgan (1989) suggest that this issue is far more complex than is commonly assumed. Much additional work remains to be done before we can unequivocally state that drug testing brings beneficial results to the organization (for additional evidence, see Green, 1989; Kane, 1991; McDaniel, 1988; Parish, 1989; Segal, 1991; Winslow, 1990; Wish, 1990; Zwerling et al., 1990).

A second goal of drug testing is one which is less frequently stated, but the one which involves the focal issue of this research. Implied in a number of commentaries is the idea that drug testing represents an objective, simple way to deal with the complex problem of drug usage. What is suggested, in effect, is that drug testing represents an objectively-based alternative to depending on the supervisor's subjective judgments in a potential drug usage situation. Presumably, the drug test will provide a clear-cut answer to questions of abuse by an employee and therefore will prevent or deter the employee from challenging any disciplinary action which results.

Note, as well, that unionized workers are heavily subject to drug testing and that drug testing will, by its nature as a condition of employment, become an issue where unions are concerned. In the manufacturing sector, the main arena of labor arbitration, 64 percent of the firms test employees for drugs (U.S. News & World Report, 1991). What's more, LeRoy (1991) found that union workers are more subject to drug testing than the total workforce (28.8 percent versus 20 percent). We suspect that a line is drawn between unions and employers--unions favor limits on drug testing while employers want to expand its use.

What is suggested, therefore, is that organizations may be moving to drug testing, at least in part, because they hope to find an approach to handling situations involving drugs that will be defensible in arbitrations. On the surface, at least, such hopes seem well founded. Drug testing is objective. Management simply administers the test and determines that drugs either are or are not present in the employee's body. But is this enough? We believe that to represent a grievance-proof solution, drug testing must itself pass other tests. First, it must be shown to be valid, and, second, it must be administered in a fair and equitable way. It is apparent that these issues are interrelated and that validity may be an underlying issue when considering the fairness of the process, since a process which relies on an invalid test cannot logically be considered fair. …

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