Can Employee Drug Tests Be Mandatory?

A recent ruling in by a San Francisco circuit court stated that it’s unconstitutional to require universal drug tests as part of a pre-employment application process. An article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle recently about all city employment applicants being required to agree to a drug test for narcotics prior to employment, and while the article itself details other court cases in which similar instances have been shot down, it also raises the question, when is a drug test required as part of the application process and for which occupations should a drug test be part of a pre-employment background screening.

If requiring all employees to submit to drug and alcohol applicants, from library employees to those who interact with the public directly, is unconstitutional, what is the standard for requiring potential employees to submit to a drug test? Three standards stated in this article include if the position involves interacting with the public, interacting with and setting an example for children, and if alcohol and drugs could interfere with job performance. The question then becomes, for which occupations would drugs and alcohol not interfere with performance? If a worker – from a library worker to a data entry worker – can’t fully concentrate and fully focus on his or her work because of alcohol or drugs, aren’t the drugs and alcohol interfering with his or her performance?

One option for dealing with the latter situation – workers unable to concentrate due to drug and alcohol consumption – is to give an on-the-spot employee drug test and, if that employee has drugs or a significant amount of alcohol in his or her system, to terminate the employee based on the results. Quick drug tests that do not require a urine sample are available, including saliva, hair, and sweat drug tests, some of which can pick up if a substance has been consumed more than 24 hours prior. While a pre-employment drug test can’t be a requirement for all jobs, a quick on-the-job drug test can determine of an employee is under the influence of a substance and result in termination of employment.