Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where’s The Outrage? Employer Drug Testing & Personal Privacy

Recently, much furor was stirred as word spread that companies were asking to see the Facebook pages of job applicants, going so far as to ask for their Facebook passwords. PC World, in an article titled “Privacy is a Sci-Fi Fantasy, ” states that “The assault on personal privacy has ramped up significantly in the past few years. From warrantless GPS tracking to ISP packet inspection, it seems that everyone wants to get in on the booming business of clandestine snooping -- even blatant prying, if you consider reports of employers demanding Facebook passwords prior to making hiring decisions...What happened? Did the rules change? What is it about digital information that's convinced some people this is OK? Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.”

This problem with employers asking for personal information goes farther back than Facebook or the proliferation of personal information being stored digitally. I put the blame squarely on the decades-long practice of companies drug testing employees, looking for illegal substance use.

Even when the job market was good, people would allow companies to drug test them for illegal substances. Whether or not the applicant had marijuana (or any other illegal drug)  in their system had no bearing on the job for which they were being hired. Many companies used the excuse that if a person used illegal drugs, they would be more likely to steal from the company, or have a higher absence rate, or have behavioral problems. Sadly, I’ve worked with many people who were secret (and not so secret)  alcoholics who were more damaging to the company than those that I knew who smoked an occasional joint. As alcohol isn’t illegal, the company couldn’t get away with testing for that.

Still, if a person is told that as a condition of employment is they have to be drug tested - either using the urine sample method or the hair follicle method - most submit to the test without objection. Now, isn’t taking a sample of your hair or your urine – you know, parts of your body or a byproduct of your body – a more horrific invasion of personal privacy? Yet, in 2012, drug testing as a condition for employment is still very legal and very much in practice…but many are more worried about someone looking at the Facebook page, where people willingly post the details of their personal lives.

I’m of the opinion that a prospective employer – or your current employer – has no right to drug test you, much less ask for access to your Facebook page, especially those areas that a Facebook user has designated as private. But companies get away with demanding the information because people have been willing to surrender to worse in order to get a job. It goes without saying that a person shouldn’t be handing out their Facebook password – or ANY password – to anybody, period. If we need a law to mandate that companies can’t ask for that kind of digital information, then let’s go a step further and extend a job applicant’s – or an employee’s right – not to be drug tested unless there is a specific job related need for doing so. (For example, a school bus driver should likely be drug tested, while someone working a clerical job in an office may not have need to be tested.) While I don’t have any illegal substances in my system – and never did in all my years of working and beyond – I still believe that drug testing is a major invasion of privacy. Oddly,  there’s been no outrage about that over all these years. Maybe there should be.

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