Drug Testing and Ethics

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Camille Dickinson
Business Ethics
Module 5
November 27th 2010

Is drug testing an unwarranted invasion of employee privacy? Which is more important--getting drugs out of the workplace or protecting the privacy of the employee? What about other health-threatening activities, i.e. smoking outside of working hours, unprotected sex, etc. Should employers be able to question or test employees or potential employees about these activities? Both of these scenarios are tricky ones. On the one hand, any employer would want to get drugs out of the workplace. On the other hand you don’t want to invade an employee’s privacy. At the same time some jobs may require employees to conform to a certain standard of behavior both on and off the job, but how much is too much? How much should be employees be judged and how high of a standard should be set. Where do we draw the line? Shaw and Barry in their text Moral Issues in Business state “A firm has a legitimate interest in employee conduct off the job only if it affects work performance” (Shaw & Barry 2010, p477). It can be argued that as long as the drug use doesn’t affect the employee’s work performance, then he shouldn’t be tested. If he is tested and the result is positive, but work performance is satisfactory, then drug use should not be considered as grounds for termination. Perhaps a better way to state this could be that as long as employee performance meets or exceeds the expected standards, then drug testing should not be used even if drug use is suspected. Egoism can be used to argue from both points of view. According to this theory, “an act is morally right if and only if it best promotes an agent’s interests” (Shaw & Barry, 2010 p59). Following this theory, if the employer drug tests several employees and fires all who test positive, then they are acting in their best interests. On the other hand, if the employee’s best interests are served through their drug usage, then the employee has acted in the best moral way that he can. Using this theory does however raise some interesting questions. If the best possible person for a specific job is fired as a result of a drug test result, and the company’s performance in that specific department falls as a result of this, then was the action a morally right one? From a personal point of view, I believe that drug testing should be used only if the job requirements demand it. I don’t see any need for the person who picks up my garbage to be tested. I do however see a need for the school crossing guard at my children’s school to be tested. The person who shovels the snow from my driveway in the winter and mows my lawn in the spring and summer doesn’t need to be drug tested. My doctor should be. Several years ago my husband and I had a spat over my decision to hire the town drunk to do some lawn work and prune some tree branches off our roof. In all fairness I had no idea that he was the town drunk when I hired him, I was out in our backyard picking up fallen branches and he walked by at that moment. He asked if I had any odd jobs to be done and since he came across as clean and presentable and lucid I hired him on the spot. It wasn’t until three weeks later when my husband came home early and saw Bruce (the town drunk) at the top of a 50 foot tree sawing branches off that he realized who his new handyman was. Since he was usually the one on call at night whenever Bruce had one of his “benders” and had had cleaned him up several times, he now knew where Bruce was getting his drinking money from. My husband came home and told me he’d fired him. I rehired Bruce a day later. My reasoning was that he’d never shown up drunk, he did a great job on any task I set for him and his fee was reasonable. It was within my best interests to keep Bruce employed therefore I was acting as an egoist. It was within Bruce’s best interests to remain employed since it gave him the money to support his habit. He was acting as an egoist. We were...
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