Matters Of Debate | Issue 9

Matters Of Debate | Issue 9

Employers should be allowed to require that their employees take regular drug tests

This column is written by the Otago University Debating Society, which meets for social debating every Tuesday at 6pm in the Commerce Building

Affirmative, by By Old Major

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment. That doesn’t just mean they have to make sure nothing is likely to explode, but they’ve also got a duty to make sure that your workmates are up to the job. This isn’t just some wishy-washy thing; employers are legally required to take reasonable steps to protect their employees. Say you’re working as the stop-go person. Not only do you want to be standing somewhere where cars aren’t likely to run you over, but you also want to know that the people operating the heavy machinery aren’t as high as kites. 

Employers are in the business of making money, they don’t want to drug test everyone. Nor are they members of the Stasi. They’re not likely to randomly test people. They would only do so in cases where there is doubt about a person as a one off thing. Or, if they did test regularly, it would be in unique, high-risk industries like adventure sports. When you jump out of a plane you want to know that sky-dive instructor is sober.

Let’s also remember here that many recreational drugs are illegal. You might get drunk and then crank out your inner Mary Poppins singing: ‘’Let’s get high as a kite, fly up to the highest heights…. Oh let’s go soaring’’ but when you buy weed you’re supporting criminal networks and gangs. Your weed dealer might be a nice person but somewhere back in that chain of supply there, in all likelihood, will be a bunch of people in organised crime who are profiteering.  If drug testing in the workplace helps to stamp out the use of illegal drugs at all, then that’s already a massive positive. Moreover, many people who have a drug addiction don’t get help. When employees are required to undergo drug testing in their workplace, employers can help them to identify the problem so they can come to address it.

Because drugs are illegal and the profits go to organised crime, because drugs can lead to an unsafe workplace which can endanger people, and because employers have a duty to create a safe workplace, drug testing in this context should be allowed. 

Negative, by Squealer the Pig

You have a right to privacy in your own life. Just as you’d be up in arms if the university started installing cameras in residential areas of Dunedin (ohh, wait…) you’d also be furious if your employer could simply demand that you undergo a drug test. It’s a massive violation of privacy. What you do in your own life should have no impact on your work life.

A policy like this also creates unfair divisions. Could you imagine the university requiring lectures to take a drug test? It’s unlikely, right? However, it requires a smaller stretch of the imagination to think of a scenario where the Uni requires that Campus Watch employees take a drug test. You might want to argue that it’s fine for your lecturer to be a stoner, but not for Campus Watch but that’s just ridiculous. In both cases smoking weed during non-work hours makes no difference to each group’s respective abilities to do their jobs.

You might point out that this isn’t really a debate about weed. But you can’t be sure. Drug tests pick up the whole spectrum. So even if they were just concerned about harder stuff they’d still be able to see if you had weed or some magic mushrooms. There have even been cases overseas where people get called out for taking prescription medications. If you’re taking meds for a legitimate illness the last thing you need is stress at work over a botched drug test.

Another argument for employee drug testing is that it’s all about workplace safety. But workplaces are largely self-regulating places. Just like everyone knows who the lazy-slacker is you’re also likely to know who the stoner is. And if their drug use impacts on your own safety, or the safety of those around you, you’re able to just have a chat with them.

If talking to a person isn’t enough, then you can look at more official measures. But another problem is that some people do have drug addictions. Penalising them for this, by testing them and then locking them out of the workplace, isn’t going to help solve the problem. If it’s not impacting on their ability there’s a valid argument that it’s none of your business, or more importantly their employer’s business. If they’re you’re friend, have a chat about it. 

At the end of the day work is just work. Your employer should have no say over how you spend your own time. If your drug use impacts on your work it’ll be pretty obvious. There is no need, or principle justification by which you can validate drug testing in the workplace. 

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2016.
Posted 12:05pm Sunday 1st May 2016 by Otago University Debating Society.