And if so, why not test for alcohol?
Scott Ehrisman watches Sioux Falls banker Dana Dykhouse bemoan the rising rate (now 25%) at which job applicants fail First Premier Bank’s drug test and suggests that Dykhouse could attract a better class of applicants by paying better wages.
I suggest that Dykhouse could overcome his problem by forgoing probes of prospective employees’ private lives and fluids and focusing instead on visible, practical signs of inability to perform the job. If an applicant’s speech is slurred or erratic, if the applicant appears tired or agitated to the point of distraction, if the applicant can’t answer questions logically or type up a letter or spreadsheet without mistakes, don’t hire the applicant. If the applicant can stride confidently into the interview, shake the boss’s hand, pay attention, and pass practical tests—like teaching applicants delivering a practice algebra lesson—then what does it matter to the employer if the employee vacations in Denver and ingests some herbal remedies?
If employees’ private, off-clock behavior does matter enough to justify bosses’ demanding cups of their urine, then why don’t bosses also test for alcohol and ban employees who drink? A 2006 study found that 15% of workers reported drinking alcohol before coming to work, drank at work, or were under the influence or hungover at work at least once during the year; only 3% engaged in similar behavior with illegal drugs. Alcohol is involved in 40% of motor vehicle fatalities and pedestrian deaths. Alcohol is responsible for about half of trauma deaths and nonfatal injuries. Alcohol costs the U.S. economy $249 billion a year, while illegal drugs nick $193 billion. (Tobacco racks up $300 billion in economic costs, so shall we test for smoking, too?)
Alcohol abuse is more widespread and damaging than use of marijuana and other drugs, yet First Premier Bank isn’t breaking out the breathalyzers. CEO Dykhouse can have an adult beverage or two in the luxury suite at his SDSU stadium, and as long as he can walk into the office unaided on Monday and add $2 million and $2 million to get a $4-million tax break, no one will question his fitness for work, let alone demand a whiff of his pee.
Alcohol and drug use affect job performance. So do any number of other behaviors and private issues about which employers have no business asking. If applicants can provide solid résumés and straight answers, hire ’em. If they can consistently perform the work, keep ’em. If they come in late or miss too many days or make too many mistakes, fire ’em. Good managers don’t need cups of pee to build and maintain a good workforce.