The Era of Employee Drug Testing Is Over

Nobody should be taking — or administering — them

Not all companies demand drug tests — there are many companies out there who don’t— but I have been asked to do them as a new employee a handful of times in my career.

And I have never once done so.

It’s important to clarify: I would pass. I don’t do drugs of any kind.

I have to say this because it’s the number one, first thing people assume. (Just like people always assume my issue with Vegas is really an issue with gambling, which is also not the case.) These things have to be explicitly stated.

My reason for refusing is not because I’d fail, but because I object on principle.

We should not be testing people for drug use.

(1) Just because you can test for something doesn’t mean you should

Here are some other things we could test for:

  • Pregnancy
  • Fertility
  • Vision and hearing
  • Memory
  • Blood sugar
  • Intelligence (albeit, some companies do)
  • Fitness
  • A whole slew of health issues:

  • Driving
  • Civics (the test administered for U.S. citizenship and immigration)
  • High school biology
  • General knowledge of the moon!

If this feels like a straw man argument, it’s because it is one.

Just like “drug tests” are a straw man when it comes to employment.

(2) Just because you can test for something doesn’t mean you should have a right to

If it would be inappropriate to require female employees to take a pregnancy test (and it absolutely would be, not to mention illegal), then requiring a drug test of anyone should be, too.

“Job Performance”

Because that’s The Big Argument that people always want to make, right?

Cool — here’s why drug tests are a stupid way of assessing it:

(1.) Just because drugs are present doesn’t mean it affects job performance

i.e., false positives

Yes, marijuana is known to have side effects including but limited to: short-term memory problems, impaired thinking, loss of balance and coordination, decreased concentration, changes in sensory perception, impaired ability to perform complex tasks, decreased alertness, decreased reaction time, etc.

However, these side effects largely last from “two to six hours.”

Which means marijuana is really a concern largely if someone’s using before or during work.

(2.) Just because someone doesn’t do drugs doesn’t mean their job performance isn’t affected in other ways.

i.e., false negatives

You wanna talk job performance? Here are some other things that hugely affect it:

  • Having a baby.
  • Loss of a loved one, including divorce.
  • Illness, including depression.

i.e., pretty fucking standard “life” stuff.

And none of these even have the biggest impact! Because the number one things that impact job performance are:

  • The work we do, and
  • The people we work with

With “people” including but not limited to: the people we work for…

Whom we measure, in part, by: how they treat us…

Which might include whether or not they’re running a 21st Century operation over here (based on honoring people’s privacy and personal life), or some mid-Century monastery based on bureaucracy and doing shit because they “can” and think they should.

“It’s illegal”

Oh, you sweet summer child…

Life is really not as scary as you make it out to be, sweetheart.

(1.) A lot of shit is “illegal”

Here’s a random sampling of other illegal shit:

  • Singing Happy Birthday, Christmas songs, or the Macarena in public
  • Not coming to a complete, 3-second stop
  • Driving 1 mph over the speed limit
  • Connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi
  • Drinking under the age of 21
  • Failing to update your driver license when you move
  • Sharing medication
  • Not getting a dog license
  • Jaywalking

And maybe you read that list and gloated, “well I don’t do any of those!” And like, good on you, lil scout! (Where do you keep all those gold stars??)

But the bigger question here is: would you fire someone else — or retract their offer — for doing any of these?

And of course not all illegal activity is created equal — murdering someone is definitely not the same as a California stop. But if you liken marijuana closer to the former than the latter, or anything on this list, you’ll probably want to reevaluate your judgment — because you’re about to be left behind…

(2.) It won’t be illegal for long.

And then you know what probably will be? Testing employees’ bodies for marijuana.

Then we’ll have to find some other arbitrary red tape.

Drug tests are a thing of the past

They’re reflective of outdated management models and, frankly, outdated manager mindsets.

It has nothing to do with “the millennials wanna get hiiigh, man — chill.” Because I am one, and I don’t.

It has to do with a shifting society and social perspectives; a movement towards individual rights. And while a lot of these conversations involve rights to reproduction and voluntary death, they’re going to percolate into our everyday choices as well. Which also means the way we work — and manage people.

And if you want to get on board the bus before it runs you over, stop administering drug tests. That, or you can just react to the blowback when really great new hires start simply refusing to take them.

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