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In Praise of Drug Testing
 

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Just days before the Super Bowl, the National Football League and the players' union agreed to a plan for more extensive drug testing, and for larger fines for players who fail tests, ESPN reports. The move can be read as an effort to prevent the NFL from facing the same kind of troubles that Major League Baseball has faced over steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The NFL's testing regime, which the union ratified, will test more players per week, meaning that more tests will occur throughout the course of a year. The tests will also be conducted in a random fashion, so that players can't plan their drug use around predictable tests.

Of course, testing for steroids in sports is very different from testing for illegal drugs in the workplace. But still, when I heard about the NFL and players' union coming together to endorse a new plan, I recalled a column that Norm Brodsky wrote in Inc. in November 2004. In that column, Norm said that reluctantly, his company had begun drug testing.

"We'd heard rumors about marijuana being bought and sold on our premises. We'd also seen a marked increase in petty theft and minor accidents, which I suspected was related to drug use," Norm wrote. "People were running forklift trucks into walls and dropping skids of boxes onto the floor as they were being moved from one spot to another. Items would disappear from the shipments of goods that we kept in the warehouse for customers of our trucking business. I couldn't blame all of the problems on drug use, but I felt certain that it was a contributing factor."

"Still, I hesitated to start drug testing... I had reservations about punishing people for doing something I'd also done at their age. In addition, I knew that drug testing could result in our having to let some employees go -- maybe even some good, long-term employees -- at a time when the growing labor shortage was making hiring increasingly difficult. That seemed likely to cost us a substantial amount of time and money -- not to mention emotional anguish -- over and above the cost of the testing itself. But I eventually decided that we had to go forward anyway, mainly because of the accidents. No one had been seriously injured, but I knew our luck would run out sooner or later."

So, with ample warning to his employees, Norm started drug testing. The results of the first test were stunning: half of his workers failed. Read his column (here's the link) to find out what happened next.

In the meantime, what do you think? Do you conduct drug testing at your company? Do you think that the NFL's idea of hitting an athlete's wallet following a failed drug test is sound? If employees fail at your company, what are the consequences for them?

Last updated: Jan 24, 2007




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