New ACLU Report Debunks Workplace Urine Testing, Citing High Costs, Low Dividends, Junk Science

September 1, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, September 1, 1999

NEW YORK – In a special report issued today, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging corporate America to drop workplace urine testing, citing evidence that the tests do not pay dividends in decreased accidents and absenteeism or increased efficiency and productivity.

The 27-page white paper, Drug Testing: A Bad Investment, examines ten years of research and empirical evidence on drug use among workers, its impact on work performance, and whether urine testing is an effective tool for identifying drug abusers in the workplace.

Driven by an industry-led panic that drug use is common — even epidemic — in America’s workforce, employers today require tens of millions of American workers from all walks of life — most of whom are not even suspected of using drugs — to pass a urine test to get a new job or to keep the one they have.

According to the ACLU’s report, the drug testing industry’s promotion of “junk science,” based on unsubstantiated claims and phantom research, has fueled the growth of employee drug testing since the mid-1980’s. But respected scientific institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences have looked at the record and found little support for most of the drug testing industry’s claims.

“We have always believed drug testing of unimpaired workers stands the presumption of innocence on its head and violates the most fundamental privacy rights,” said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. “Now we know that sacrificing these rights serves no legitimate business purpose either.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • “Lost productivity” studies claiming that drug users cost businesses up to $100 billion each year are based on dubious comparisons of household drug use and income, with no analysis of actual productivity data;
  • The moderate use of illicit drugs by workers during off-duty hours is no more likely to compromise workplace safety than moderate off-duty alcohol use;
  • A recent survey of 63 Silicon Valley companies found that urine testing reduces, rather than enhances, worker productivity.

Although some federal employers and private businesses are required by law to test employees in specific safety-sensitive occupations, most employers are under no obligation to conduct drug testing. Yet according to a 1996 survey, 81 percent of Fortune 500 firms conducted urine tests on their employees.

“It’s time for employers to ask themselves whether subjecting their employees to such an invasive and humiliating procedure is worth the cost, not only in human terms, but in actual dollars and cents,” said Lewis Maltby, director of the ACLU’s National Taskforce on Civil Liberties in the Workplace and lead author of the report.

“Alternative solutions, such as impairment testing of workers in safety-sensitive positions and wider use of Employee Assistance Programs are more cost effective and do not raise the same privacy and fairness problems,” he added.

Maltby said he is sending Drug Testing: A Bad Investment to CEOs, union officials and human resources professionals, along with a letter urging them to consider less intrusive alternatives to urine tests as a condition of employment.

In addition, the ACLU has established a toll-free number, (800) 323-8820, that human resources managers can call for more information on drug testing and its alternatives.

Click here to download the ACLU’s New Report, Drug Testing: A Bad Investment, in PDF format.

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