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Drug Testing News

Urine sample required of job seekers


1/13/2003
By SHARON LINSTEDT

It used to be that the keys to a successful job search were a solid resume and good interview skills. Now more often than not, job applicants also have to score a passing grade on a drug test to seal the deal.

"With all my experience, it came down to peeing in a paper cup," said Paul, who recently made a mid-life career leap to a quality control job at a local manufacturing company.

"I hadn't looked for work in 20 years, so it never occurred to me that a urine sample could have such importance. It felt like an invasion of privacy, but if you want to work nowadays, I guess this is what you do."

Paul, who passed his test with flying colors, is among the millions of American workers who have faced mandatory drug and alcohol screenings as a condition of their employment. And it's likely he'll encounter future testings if his new employer is among the growing number of businesses that have added random testing to their workplace routines.

"It used to be primarily companies governed by federal rules that tested employees, particularly transportation jobs, like truck drivers and railroad workers," said Wayne Groves, founder of Buffalo-based Aurora Drug Testing Services. "That was my bread and butter when I started my business in 1995."

While government-regulated industries still provide a strong business base for Groves' company, his client roster now includes businesses he would not have imagined, ranging from a small appliance repair company with just over a dozen staffers, to Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings Baseball. "Now it could be any company in any field, big or small. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of business it is, employers want to know who's working for them," Groves said.

According to the American Management Association (AMA), 51.7 percent of companies now require all new hires to undergo medical testing, up from 48.7 percent in 1998. Another 13.6 percent require screenings for selected categories of workers.

According to the AMA's 2002 employer survey, drug testing is the primary factor in workplace medical testings, practiced by 67 percent of major U.S. firms. The so-called "fitness for duty" tests are generally limited to screening for street drugs, with most electing to use a basic "five panel" test that checks for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP and opiates.

Keep in mind that some prescription drugs, such as codeine will trigger a positive on the test. The same goes for diet compounds that contain amphetamines.

A positive test from a legal drug shouldn't present a problem as long as it can be explained through documentation from a doctor or pharmacy. Also, in most cases, the screenings are not broad enough in scope to detect other types of legal drugs workers would probably prefer to keep private, such as anti-depressants, Viagra, or fertility drugs. And while a urine sample could be used to determine if an applicant or worker is pregnant, only 0.8 percent of companies check for that in their testings.

Some 2.9 percent include breast and colon cancer in the tests, while 2.2 percent screen for HIV infection.

While the tests may feel invasive, employers are well within their rights to require job applicants and current employees ante up samples of urine, saliva, sweat, hair or in rare cases, blood, as long as the screenings are done for appropriate reasons, following accepted testing protocol.

"There has to be a good reason like an accident on the job, or smell of alcohol, it can't be because of race, gender, personality differences or productivity concerns," Buffalo labor lawyer Rob Boreanz said.

Employees who believe they are being singled out for testing should check if there is a written policy that defines "good cause." If none exists, they should find out who made the request for testing and why.

If there are still concerns, the worker should get as much documentation as possible for a potential challenge, including exercising their right to a "split sample," which they could have screened by an independent lab of their choice.