Drug Testing at Work as a Privacy Invasion

Employees are required to have their share of autonomy at the workplace. The strategy of the employer to surpass the freedom of employees by conducting various tests to ascertain the possibility of drug use is an intrusion into the privacy of an individual.

Employees are facing various assaults from employers by the intrusion of employers into the former’s privacy. The cause of employee privacy is weakened because it has not gained due recognition in the public and there has not been philosophical analysis into the matter. Under this background, privacy may be defined as the information held back by the person and the access of another party to such information.

An extension to this definition becomes a difficult task due to the nature of information withheld and the extent of control on it by another party. The information is held private by a person depending on the relationship with another party. Kupfer opines that privacy of information is not always good because the person must be able to ascertain whether an action or plan is right and the concept of autonomy or freedom is applicable only if the person has this capability. If a person has this capability then the employee should be allowed to exercise control over information and decide who can access that private information. Privacy is applicable only to these individuals who have such convictions for themselves.

Privacy is essential for the free function of a person. When there is an intrusion into most intimate affairs an individual tends to be disturbed and look forward to methods to manipulate information. Employees then seek a method by which they can escape the observation and condemnation of the employer who does trust the employee. Another reason to maintain privacy is that individuals feel they need autonomy when the employer intrudes into the personal information of an employee. This condition arises when there is close monitoring and persistent correction of the deeds of employees.

On contrary, if the employer respects the privacy of employees also they seem to commit a mistake and demand their share of autonomy.

It is usually argued that personal information gathered by the employer for drug testing is legal and moral with legal and moral duties remaining with the employee. Desjardins argues that contractual agreement between the employer and employee must not be deceptive, coercive and must be devoid of fraud. He emphasizes that the employer has the right to gain information from a prospective employee with respect to education, work experience, and other details pertaining to the job. Information can be gathered to ascertain whether a person qualifies to do a job and the morality with respect to cooperation and willingness to work. However, details like the religious belief or political stand of a person are an intrusion into privacy.

Brenkert suggests that the performance of polygraph tests on employees contributes to intrusion into privacy for the need of more information which the employee willfully does not wish to disclose. Such restriction of information is sometimes beyond the requirement of organizations however the contractual model of information collection is the desired method in the greater interest of employees. In this context, employees have less power when compared to the prospective employer to bargain equal status on information sharing because there are more potential job seekers than the job available in the market. Therefore workers are forced to disclose private information while appearing for job interviews and later in their career as employees.

Though these arguments are made against the collection of private information, organizations have the right to information since they require an unproblematic or trouble-free working environment. In this perspective, it may be noted that employers must have access to job-relevant information from employees.

A positive thought on the collection of information would mean that the employer uses this information for considering promotions which will shape the life and career of the employee in an entirely different manner.

However, the disclosure of private information through methods like polygraph tests may inhibit the freedom of the employee to work freely and efficiently by treading innovative methods because employers have a preconceived idea about the character of the individual. The contention of Brenkert and DesJardins is further justified because employers restrict the career growth of employees and have a negative impact on their lives. Therefore intrusion into the privacy of an individual should be discouraged since it narrows down the prospects of the individual in terms of their examination and exploration of new vistas and controls their activities.

Urine tests are conducted across organizations in the United States and pose a threat to employees because these tests reveal alcohol or drug content even if it was not used while at the job or in the workplace. Such misleading information can cause drastic damages to future career growth and may cast a negative impact on the lives of people if they lose their job following these tests. The accuracy of this test remains a challenge to employees and a question to employers. Sometimes diagnostic equipment is fixed to the employee’s body to check for details which leads these individuals to feel insecure and have no actual control over their body at the workplace. The more an employee is checked the more they feel out of control and feel they are powerless to resist the powerful actions of the employer.

The indirect information employees receive is that they are untrustworthy. Random testing for drug use or abuse also leaves a negative impression on the employee. Though there are several statistics that report drug abuse at work, a majority of employees do not use drugs at the workplace. Even if companies are aware that employees behave in a responsible manner, employers do not believe that blindly and conduct recurrent tests for drugs leaving the employee to resent and finally costing the employer. At this point, it may be noted that tests for drug abuse at the workplace should be conducted only on reasonable grounds of evidence or misbehavior from the employee. Forceful testing for drug abuse on innocents will result in negative results.

It is further argued that if drug testing is not considered as invading into a person’s privacy then the information collected from the test should have significance to the contract with the employee. In the light of this argument, it may be further argued that a drug test is required if drug use impacts the performance of the employees and cause harm to the employer. Privacy is the right of any employee and there should be no coercive move from the employer because the relationship between the two parties is contractual. Since the relationship is contractual few areas of employee’s personal decision should have privacy.

If drug testing has no relevance to the job of the employee, the employer cannot justify such tests. It may be noted that the knowledge of employee’s use of drugs is relevant to an organization because drug consumption leads to poor productivity, higher cost for the company, and fewer profits. Statistical reports on loss to companies due to drug use of employees indicate that American employers lose around $25 billion due to poor productivity, insurance liability, theft, and cost for health. This is one reason why employers claim that drug testing is justifiable. Further employers have the right to test for the drug because there are possibilities that drug users harm fellow employees at the workplace for which employers will be held liable.

Drug use is an illegal activity and in the case of drug testing at work, placer employers should have the right to information due to the serious outcomes of drug use at the workplace. Therefore random drug test is the solution to reduce harm at work (Shaw W.M & Barley, V 2001).

Certain organizations conduct random drug testing to prevent the event of fraud and theft at the workplace. The test is conducted on employees who have access to confidential information (State officials propose drug-testing in workplace 2008).

Employers are keen on conducting tests for drug misuse to reduce poor health, workplace accidents, reduce harm to other employees and the office setting. However, the employer should justify the reason for such a test by indicating what the test is set to achieve and further action for drug misuse. Further employers can conduct the test only with the consent of employees to make sure there is no intrusion into the privacy of the individual (Drug testing and employee monitoring 2008).

In conclusion, employees have their right to privacy and autonomy at the workplace because they are involved in a contractual relationship with the employer and they are not fully obliged to disclose private information. From the employer’s point of view, drug testing can be performed with the consent of the employee for justifiable reasons and it should not be made mandatory for all employees to undergo tests. Tests can be conducted on a random basis or a case-to-case basis depending on the circumstance and evidence of drug misuse.


Drug testing and employee monitoring. 2008. Web.

State officials propose drug-testing in workplace. 2008. Web.

Shaw W.M & Barley, V (eds). 2001. Moral Issues in Business, 8th edition, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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