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A barely coherent rant about workplace drug testing. Sorry, short of time today. - Tactical Ninja

Apr. 9th, 2013

09:26 am - A barely coherent rant about workplace drug testing. Sorry, short of time today.

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So does it count as a sleep in when you wake up at 4:30am and doze until your alarm goes off at 6:30? Because I think if that's what I'm going to get, I'll take it. ;-/

Meanwhile, this morning we discussed putting another blanket on the bed. Summer is over, isn't it? *sadface* But, on the upside, it's not long till my birthday! And also, graduation! And before either of those, Psychedelic Science! The next month or so is pretty exciting! Here is another exclamation mark!

*ahem*


So it seems that being sacked for a false positive is now a risk for any employee who submits to drug testing in New Zealand. Oh joy. Especially oh joy when you see how popular drug testing is becoming here.

I was shocked when one of our staff applied for a job at a large government corporate office. It wasn't a job that required heavy machinery use or being 'in the field'. She would not be dealing with people. She would be working at a computer all day, and yet the organisation felt it necessary to get this 50s woman to pee in a cup to prove she doesn't do any drugs in her free time, in order to be allowed to work for them. Alcohol, naturally, is fine. So is gambling, rock climbing, playing football, horse riding, taking part in threesomes, skydiving, smoking, or being in an abusive relationship - in fact, pretty much any activity that's considered either risky or 'morally questionable' (in the respect that it falls outside societal norms), and can potentially affect one's productivity in the workplace, is totally fine - but drugs, they test for. Because drugs are bad, mmk?

Also, because drug testing is big business, and it seems that big business drug testing folks are quite good at convincing those of use who've grown up immersed in drug war propaganda that drug testing increases productivity. Have a look at that google search. The ones that aren't articles questioning whether drug testing actually does increas productivity, are nearly all produced by drug testing companies. That's right, we're being told that drug testing increases productivity, mainly by people who stand to make money from more people being tested. Well that's convincing!

Meanwhile, here's an article in which drug testing organisations get together and celebrate their inroads into convincing states in the US to test welfare beneficiaries, and contemplate how they might implement compulsory drug testing in schools, talking about children as a 'huge untapped market'.

I do not think these people have safety and welfare considerations foremost in their minds, despite what their marketing material would have you think. And yes, New Zealand's government is jumping on the welfare drug testing bandwagon to0.

And the weird thing is that employers are implementing drug testing of employees for no reason. Their stated reason is "We need to have regard for the safety of our team members, and of course, the public at large.". But in almost the same sentence, they say there is no obvious drug problem at that workplace.

So, um, why again are they doing it? Oh yeah that's right, because the people who stand to make money from drug testing are flat out convincing anyone who will listen that drug testing is necessary for safety and productivity.

So, um, is it? Well, I'm finding my research capabilities somewhat limited by my lack of access behind goddamned paywalls, however a quick search through Google Scholar produced these results: yes-ish, no-ish, and maybe. That last one says that of people who were pre-employment drug tested in a blind study, those who tested positive had higher absenteeism and were sacked more often, but there was no significant difference in accident numbers and safety issues between the two groups. That 'sacked more often' thing interests me. Without seeing inside the study, it's kind of hard to tell whether they were sacked because of having tested positive for drugs, eh? Oh yeah, and here's one about how unreliable the results really are.

But anyway, it seems the jury's out on the productivity thing. The book I just finished reading (David Nutt's one) pointed out that drug testing creates an atmosphere of mistrust and control, where employers exert power over employees' bodies, and that this in itself can produce low morale, which in turn leads to lower productivity. So there's also that.

But one of the big problems I have with drug testing, that you don't see in the marketing material, is that whatever they test for, people will find other things to take. I am personally aware of situations where this happens - those who are subject to drug tests on a regular basis simply find substances that do not show up in the tests - often things that aren't as well-known as 'the usual suspects' - and use them instead. And then there's the thing where cannabis stays in the system for a longer period than heroin - would you as an employer rather your staff had a joint, or a taste, on the weekends? And frankly, what business is it of yours?

Also, I present Courtenay Place on a Friday night as an example of NZ's finest young folk, off their faces on drugs, who will most likely turn up on Monday and do their job despite their hangover, and everyone will be all "Have a good weekend?" "Yeah mate, barely remember it, it was AWESOME!"

Here's a thing in which one of our economic research teams in NZ tried to put a monetary cost on drug and alcohol use. You'll note that in terms of lost productivity, alcohol accounts for a far bigger chunk than other drugs. But alcohol's legal so that's ok, and we can sack people for pot. Neato!


So what does drug testing achieve really? I mean, apart from screening out those who refuse - the potential troublemakers - and ensuring that our workforce is compliant with whatever demands employers might make on their bodies and privacy, both in and out of working hours? Which is, let's face it, in line with the government's stated goal of producing a 'flexible workforce'. If you'll submit to drug testing, you're probably ok with casualisation, split shifts, and erosions of worker rights such as, you know, the minimum wage or the requirement for due process before being sacked. Remember the guy up there, sacked on the spot for a positive drug test that turned out to be false? Hmm..

It seems to me that what it does is make little old ladies pee in cups for the sake of being seen to be doing something, and line the pockets of those with a vested interest in popularising drug testing, while driving those with potential problems underground and encouraging the use of more dangerous drugs. Surely having employment policies that allow employers and employees to work together if and when a problem is identified is more likely to have a positive result?

Fie.

Comments:

From:clashfan
Date:April 8th, 2013 10:49 pm (UTC)
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Oh, the testing of welfare recipients. Of course, it doesn't save any money; the costs of testing + added administrative costs overwhelm any savings due to disqualifying those who test positive. It's all about shaming the people on the dole. Some places tried to insist that the testing be at the cost of the individual. Because that's wise.

I have gotten into internet slap fights with people, arguing against this practice and been accused of being a cannabis user "or worse!" Heck, I rarely drink and never take illegal drugs. (It's just not my thing.)

My country is so effed up about a bunch of things.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2013 11:13 pm (UTC)
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I read an article once that explained very clearly how drugs in particular can be (and are) used by governments to further a rhetoric of individual responsibility, which allows them to then blame *insert marginalised group here* for their own situation, and helps direct public attention away from policy failures.

The example they used was the 'crack epidemic', which coincided with neoliberal policies that rendered a large number of urban PoC unemployed or underemployed by outsourcing lower-paid jobs. Crack provided a convenient scapegoat for why there were suddenly large numbers of black people going off the rails, never mind the lack of support for people finding themselves suddenly 'surplus to needs'.
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From:clashfan
Date:April 8th, 2013 11:17 pm (UTC)
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Don't get me started about the 'crack epidemic' and the grotesque sentencing laws that were passed in that episode of moral panic.

"Scary black people have drugs! Oh noez!"
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC)
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The same article (it was specifically about the 'crack babies' moral panic) pointed out that actually, white people use drugs more than black people do, but are far less likely to experience the negative effects of prohibition such as arrest and incarceration. It's pretty horrific, the racial profiling that is encouraged through drug war propaganda.
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From:richaarde
Date:April 9th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
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because the people who stand to make money from drug testing are flat out convincing anyone who will listen that drug testing is necessary for safety and productivity.

That, and because so much of the "dangers of drugs" propaganda has been passed around for so long that it's become written into policy. Employers feel they have to do it to maintain a productive workforce. I'm sure insurance policies for workplaces are behind it, too.
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:April 9th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC)
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I wonder when drug testing comes seeping over here (from the US most likely). So far I think they only do it on (don't nail me on the wording) "criminals" on probation (?). Like, you were in a car accident with high alcohol and they let you run free but you have to submit to a blood test every week to prove you don't drink for a year, or similar deals for drug-related crimes or misbehaviors. So, unless you've been caught for something on drugs, you are not submitted to screening so far. We'll see for how long.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 9th, 2013 09:57 pm (UTC)
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I keep hearing things about the way Germany is run, that makes me think it's pretty progressive compared with the rest of the world. At least, with the parts of the rest of the world I'm familiar with..
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:April 10th, 2013 11:38 am (UTC)
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"Progressive" isn't exactly it, I think. In that and similar cases it's rather "back" compared to the US, but I appreciate that.

There is one law in Germany that makes these things harder. We have what we call a data 'security' law that says personal data belongs to the person it is connected with and the individual decides who gets it and what they can do with it. If companies or government want any of the data they need to give a written statement what they will do with it (and nothing else) and the owner of the data needs to sign it and can withdraw it any time they like.

The law has been weakened in recent years. By now they take our pictures in public and are allowed to screen that, or they shift our financial and other data back and forth between government departments, but for health data they are still pretty tied up. A company would never get permission to screen people on the bulk. They could probably ask an employee for a test by a doctor upon suspicion of drug use during work hours. Even then, I think it might be tough to get it.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 10th, 2013 08:17 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, we have similar laws regarding consent here as well, but we also have these employment laws that are left over from the neoliberal era that's being discussed in that other post, that put employees (and potential employees) at a disadvantage.

Basically, if you don't consent to the test, you get no further in the interview process. Likewise, refusal to agree to workplace drug testing as part of an employment agreement is grounds to withdraw an offer of work. So people are coerced into giving consent, essentially.

The last Labour government tried to fix the law somewhat by bringing in 'good faith bargaining', but drugs still don't come under 'good faith' (as evidenced by being one of the few things that can warrant instant dismissal). Meanwhile, the current government has eroded employment protections and increased unemployment, so the competition for the types of jobs that drug test (lower paid ones, usually) is fierce, and folks'll consent to pretty much anything to get that offer. More here.
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From:pundigrion
Date:April 9th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
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That was one of the most demeaning things about doing temp work in the States, random drug tests and having to go and do a test as part of the process. They were always so smarmy and insulting about it too. Plus they always put the labs in the middle of nowhere even though the people most likely to be doing jobs that require drug testing are the least likely to drive...

They did it in the military too and the failure rate there is horrific. So much for random testing actually improving anything...
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From:tatjna
Date:April 9th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
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I can't imagine feeling kindly-disposed and loyal to an employer that wanted that kind of control over my bodily autonomy, tbh.
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From:pundigrion
Date:April 9th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
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The military also likes to do random pregnancy tests. All. The. Time. Those made me twitch even more.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 9th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Random. Pregnancy. Tests.

WTF?
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From:pundigrion
Date:April 9th, 2013 10:15 pm (UTC)
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Yeah....

Especially fun when there are only one or two females in the unit and neither of us was likely to be popping out babbies. They also test you a bunch in training and really you gotta have *some* talent to get knocked up in boot camp! I can understand doing it as part of your physical and they always do those before you get deployed anyhow so I really don't get the random PG testing at all!
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From:tatjna
Date:April 9th, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Hell yeah. If they tried to bring in drug testing in my workplace, I'd probably either find another job, or go on a campaign to have it overturned.

Because I like to like my employer. It makes me a better worker.
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From:fushia_darkness
Date:April 10th, 2013 07:32 am (UTC)
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In Sweden drug tests are usually done when hiring new staff, at the end when they've decided which person to hire, and it usually applies to everyone no matter what they will work with. I've both been asked to pee in a cup and have had my mouth swabbed :-/ You have the right to decline the tests of course, but then you won't get emplyed. After employment is done some companies have regular drug tests, like every few years, and some places have unannounced drug tests.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 10th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
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Yep, that's how it is here too, although it's still only some workplaces. Potential employees are coerced into consenting through their desire to, you know, have a job. And then they have to submit because they said they would.

And people take more dangerous things to get around the tests for the drugs we know. It's.. ridiculous really.
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