Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Challenge

I find myself challenged, both by my daughter’s comment to yesterday’s post and by several emails I’ve received on the same topic, to defend my position on drug testing at my plant.

First I’ll say that I understand the “con” point of view. I agree with Joy (Christina) that, “I don't think that something you smoked on a Friday night, 3 or 4 weeks ago should automatically get you fired if you always show up to work on time, unimpaired, and do a good job.” My company also agrees.

Our policy is that if you come to work with sufficient drug or alcohol (or their residues) in your body that you might be impaired, we will take you home and offer you a choice: either leave our employ, or go through a program overseen by a medical professional (not us!) and present yourself back free from drugs. You will then be reinstated.

As a legal issue, the courts and legislatures have defined at what level you and I are impaired. In actual fact you and I may NOY be impaired at that level. And if we do our job safely and well, why do employers care?

Well, two main reasons.

First there is a federal law called The Drug Free Workplace Act, which mandates that we employers provide a workplace free from the hazards of drug-impaired folks. The law is long on what our results must be, but very short on what methods we should use. In practice the only time that law is enforced is if either: someone filed a complaint, or an impairment-related incident occurred with loss of life, serious injury, major property damage and/or public safety or health implications.

Next there is the moral duty we have to protect both our employees and the public (not to mention our own plant property), and the huge potential liability (litigation) we would face if we were negligent in performing that moral duty.

Big words, right? In plain English: if we failed to take what the world considers reasonable precautions, AND something bad happened; we’d be sued for everything we and our insurance companies might have. Plus we’d be branded as one more example of evil, greedy industrialists who make obscene profits at the expense of everybody’s health and safety — not to mention that we all also destroy the environment. That’s what all of us do, right? Just watch any movie or TV show!

So what does the world consider "reasonable?" In most cases it’s random drug testing to prevent impaired workers from harming or killing themselves and others.

Does random drug testing prevent that? NO! But it might discourage someone from coming to work impaired if he thought he might get caught and knew he’d be in serious trouble.

That’s my defense. Right or wrong, for those reasons I can look our employees in the eye and tell them I believe we must have a drug and alcohol policy that includes random testing with pretty serious penalties for violations. I do NOT agree with “one strike and you’re out” programs; there’s just too much chance for borderline cases or errors.

Some industries do have those policies of immediate discharge with no questions. In fact, a nearby nuclear power plant is one of them. The thought of one or more of those guys working impaired (kinda like the pilot of your jetliner) is something I don’t want to have to worry about. But it could happen, even with all the programs in place.

Okay, on a more pleasant note, how was the Rolling Stones concert last night, Joy?


Christina said...

I understand your reasons perfectly. Although my personal feelings are more along the lines of "live and let live" and "if no one is getting hurt where's the problem?", I realize that situations where the actions of one person can affect the safety of others require a more cautious approach. I would be sympathetic toward "Mr. X", except that calling in sick the day after a party is a dead giveaway.

The Rolling Stones kicked ass!!! Really, they put on a great show - we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mike said...

Thanks for comment, John. Odd, but the word I didn't get when I tried it was also hiccup!
....Did you happen to glance at the post following - "Top 100 Songs of 1966?" Try the site for your own - brings back a lot of memories.