The Value of Liquid Gold

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Today Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is scheduled to preside over a signing ceremony at which five labor unions and five contractor associations will join the Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, a public-private collaboration that aims to "foster safer, drug-free and more healthful American workplaces and protect employees' health and safety." The Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, formed in 2004, apparently is not to be confused with the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, a network of "drug-free workplace program directors" that "has its origins in the President's Drug Advisory Council formed November of 1989." Nor should either be confused with the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.

Despite the proliferation of such organizations since the passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act in 1988, notes Reynolds Holding in an online Time article, the percentage of businesses that test applicants or employees seems to be declining. In my 2002 Reason article on the subject, I cited data from the American Management Association's survey of large employers, in which the share of companies reporting drug testing programs dropped from a peak of 81 percent in 1996 to 67 percent in 2001. Holding reports that the downward trend continued through 2004, when 62 percent of respondents were doing drug testing.

Since large companies are more likely to test than small ones, the overall percentage is probably substantially lower. In the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (the source of most recent nationwide data I've seen), 49 percent of respondents said their employers required some kind of drug testing. Holding concludes (as I did) that drug testing in private workplaces is declining because "from a business perspective, it never made much sense."

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  1. I refuse to work anyplace that requires a pee test, not because I have a damned thing to hide, but because I cannot piss in a cup with someone watching me.

    Just about busted my bladder the one time my ticket was pulled in the service. “Shy” doesn’t come close to describing my bladder.

  2. You can make fair quality meth from liquid paper and dry erase board cleaner.

  3. You’re not the only one. Ugghh. What’s even worse is when you get voluntold to watch someone else pee. . .jeez, where the hell are you supposed to look? I’m not trained for that crap.

  4. I made a whole hallful of managers laugh this year when after my test, I emerged from the ladies’ room, winked, and said, “OK, passed for this year… time to PAR-TAY!” (Something about my sweet innocent face kept me from getting marched in again the next day, I guess. LOL)

  5. Jacob,
    That first paragraph is laugh out loud funny.

    I need some clarification. By “some kind of drug testing” surely you must be excluding pre-employment testing. It’s true that the expense and negative return (having to terminate favored employees) of ongoing employee testing (random especially), makes eliminating such programs a no-brainer. However, pre-employment drug screening appears to me to be as popular as ever.

    I can’t tell to what extent, businesses are making exceptions for low levels of pot. Passing up attractive candidates because they smoked a joint last weekend does not seem prudent. Otherwise however, I imagine the pre-employment test is cost effective. Not only can you point to it and say, “this is part of our ‘drug-free-workplace’ program”, but it strikes me as a safe bet that individuals who can’t/won’t stay sober for three days to land a job, are trouble waiting to happen.

  6. You guys seriously have folks watching you for your pee tests? Never had that happen. Maybe you’re getting higher security jobs than I am, but I think I was prolly put through the same process as cops (I worked for a city). I just got “OK, go in that room, pee in the cup, put it on the shelf”

  7. You mean unions are working together to restrict the pool of eligible employees who can work in their shops! …Why would they do something like that?

  8. I’m going to start the National Drug-Free Urine Alliance, which creates a market for people to buy and sell certified, substance-free urine, conveniently packaged in discreet, diposable bags, complete with dispensing tube, valve, and waist-band holster that fits innocuously under one’s shirt.

  9. Oh, man – you had it easy. I actually have a powerpoint on evasion methods: cases of people catheterizing out “clean pee” through, erm, the more conservative, realistic style of dildo to try to beat the system . . . hehe, I can just see some pasty moron pulling out a 19″ rubber monstrosity and wondering why he gets hauled in front of his skipper . . .

  10. Russ – you’re too late. If I weren’t on a government computer, I’d give you the link, but I think I’ve already aroused enough suspicion by driving a Prius and wearing birkenstocks on a regular basis.

  11. When I interviewed for my current job, during the ‘you’ll love working at this company’ phase, the HR person winked and said, “We don’t drug test.” When lack of drug testing is packaged with the company-matched 401k and the medical insurance to attract the best employees, you know you’re living in strange times.

  12. Warren, the NHSDA question was, “Are there any circumstances under which your workplace tests its employees for…drug usage?” Some of the respondents may have interpreted “employees” to exclude applicants, but the phrase “any circumstances” suggests a broader meaning. I think most people who had been tested when they were hired would answer yes to this question.

    The American Management Association’s survey data refer to “testing of current employees or new hires.” See http://www.amanet.org/research/pdfs/Medical_testing_04.pdf.

  13. I had a similar experience at a prior employer. And they had had a recent experience with an employee who regularly got too stoned to perform his duties.

    (They had had to let him go, but he occasionally consulted for the company — in a company-provided hotel room, with close supervision, so that he would stay clean until the task was completed.)

  14. I’ll just google it, and maybe start selling the urine that I’ve been giving away for free all this time. Liquid Gold indeed.

    I wonder if they have a “no asparagus” rule.

  15. Russ R, did you know that a few states have made selling “clean” urine a crime?!? I’m pretty sure that South Carolina is one and there are 3 or 4 other states.

  16. I had a similar experience at a prior employer. And they had had a recent experience with an employee who regularly got too stoned to perform his duties.

    (They had had to let him go, but he occasionally consulted for the company — in a company-provided hotel room, with close supervision, so that he would stay clean until the task was completed.)

    Wow. Can somebody tell me where jobs like these can be found? Most of the job descriptions I see usually involve high qualifications like a Master’s degree or a higher education degree in some highly technical field, or at least some previous degree of competency for a minimum number of years at a company. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong job market or something.

    That, or the guy you are talking about, Clean Hands, is either unusually socially valuable or otherwise a fucking brilliant person. Where I come from, people don’t typically hold their jobs, or even occasional consultation jobs, with those lifestyle habits.

  17. Yeah, smacky, he was apparently a fucking brilliant guy. There were a few parts of the system that he was apparently the only person who could even vaguely understand it.

    Of course, he probably set himself up some job security in a lucid moment by making it that way.

    I should also note that I was not, and am not a fan of most of the HR practices at this company – they threw away really good people (including yours truly) like so much used tissue every time they failed to properly forecast their sales. And their sales forecasting was particularly abysmal, most of the time.

    The real irony was that the place was run by one of the leading fundies in the state, a fellow who was closely associated with a variety of anti-abortion, anti-gay initiatives. Go figure.

  18. We used to have a corporate policy that no one could be hired to work in production even from a temp agency unless they had a high school diploma and could pass a wizz test. This is for a job where you stand in front of a conveyor and take bottle off as they go by and place them in a box until its full, then repeat.

    The hourly rate they want to pay the temps combined with the HS diploma and drug test made it hard to find anyone to work. Prior to hurricane Katrina we averaged .5 potential employees per 200 applicants. Considering 1/2 of the people brought in did not stay for longer than a week or were not worth keeping and let go it was hard to staff a production line. Since hurricane Katrina the labor pool for people like this dried up and the wages went up so now its very hard to find anyone to work.

    As such the company decided to lower its qualifications and not require the HS diploma but you still have to at least pass a drug test. What this means is that we are now able to hire complete idiots that may very well be alcoholics yet the genius that likes to smoke a little pot now and then is not welcome. Brilliant isn’t it? Now I know a genius would not be looking for this type of job. But it remains the fact that even if you can’t pass any tests to determine your level of apptitude and knowledge so long as you can pass a PISS TEST your smart enough. Amazing but true.

    Elaine Chao this piss is for you you sexy little Ming Lee talking head worthless, sucky sucky, I drug test you long time, soldier boy..

  19. I could see a company testing you in real time for drug use, such as a breathalyzer.

    But none of them seem to do that, even though realtime testing of the most abused drug (alcohol) is cheap and easy.

    Instead, the tests they insist on don’t give any information about your ability to perform the job in front of you. Instead, they are a look at your private life.

    Which makes me think drug testing has nothing to do with job performance, and everything to do with . . . I don’t know what.

  20. Which makes me think drug testing has nothing to do with job performance, and everything to do with . . . I don’t know what.

    Control.

    From the government’s perspective, as well as the perspective of a certain type of employer, drugs are a useful litmus test, because they let you identify the type of person who is, perhaps, not easily swayed by propaganda.

    I remember reading about some religious cult–the Moonies or something–and during the initial brainwashing stage they’d make potential new members play lots of games like “Simon Says.” I think the theory was, the ones who turned out to be lousy at the game also tended to make lousy mindless zombie cultists.

    Maybe drugs are the same way–if you stink at “Simon Says” (or smoke pot on the weekends) that doesn’t matter if I only want you to do well at the job for which I’m hiring you, but it DOES matter if I want you to have unquestioning obedience.

    (Note: I am NOT saying that drug users or people who always lost “SS” games have more appreciation of freedom than those who do not.)

  21. I had to whiz for my new job. It certainly rankled me and made me consider not taking it, but I obviously gave in.

    Nobody seemed to care whether I do drugs or not, and I nearly got a wink when they told me that they don’t do randoms or any other drug tests after the initial.

    My theory is that it was an insurance thing.

  22. Drug testing in the workplace is pointless, As long as you’re not working whilst high is it really anybodies bussines what you smoked a week ago?

  23. At a lot of places, drug testing is about liability. If Worker X runs over a customer, client or co-worker’s toes with a forklift, company car, etc., the business doesn’t want to be found negligent. There are jobs – pilots, drivers of trucks, buses and taxis – where making sure the employee is neither drunk nor stoned makes some sense. For peons who are running a cash register or doing mundane office tasks, I can’t see it.

    Kevin

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