In April 2019, West Lothian Council announced that they would be introducing a zero tolerance drugs and alcohol policy.
In addition to the new policy, random drug testing of staff in safety critical roles is also set to be implemented. This decision to randomly test employees specifically within the blue collar sector of the council (HGV drivers, bus drivers and those who operate heavy machinery) has raised questions from unions.
The concern is that this becomes an issue of discrimination, with certain members of staff being prejudicially targeted.
West Lothian Council’s response was that the testing would be decided on a ‘with cause’ basis; if a manager had reason to believe an employee was under the influence of drugs and alcohol while at work; if a specific safety related incident occurred; or if a complaint was made concerning an employee and drug use.
Head of Corporate Service, Julie Whitelaw, said the decision for random testing those in safety-related roles is based on risk, for both employees and customers.
Many, including Unite’s Pat Tedford believe this approach is problematic and contradicts the idea of a zero tolerance policy. Commenting to press, he said: "Why are they singling out only a certain percentage of employees when we state that there is a zero tolerance policy? Zero tolerance means zero tolerance for everyone.’’
Is there a right or wrong way to implement random drug testing?
Zero tolerance doesn’t come with caveats or exceptions. If you state that your organisation upholds a zero tolerance policy to drugs and alcohol, singling out groups of employees for random drug testing is not the right route to go down. This type of approach is counter-productive and can lead to a number of problems.
From apprentices to the CEO, everyone should know and understand your company’s drugs policy - and everyone should be equally subject to it. This promotes a culture of fairness. When you single out one group for random testing, you create division, and, by proxy, you engender the belief that some people within the company are more likely to be taking drugs than others.
This type of disunity becomes even more apparent when the group you’re singling out are blue collar workers. Division due to socio-economics and power is something which already exists in many large organisations. Selecting a group of people for random testing - who happen to be the ones on the lower end of the pay scale - plays to dangerous stereotypes and only serves to deepen these divisions.
In the case of West Lothian Council, the argument that some jobs carry higher safety risks, is, in our view, irrelevant. Physical safety is not the only objective of a zero tolerance drugs policy.
Every employee within your organisation has a responsibility to do their job to the best of their ability and to positively contribute to the work culture as a whole. Anyone, at any level, can have a drug or alcohol issue. Whether an employee operates a forklift or is sat at a desk all day, the effects of drug and alcohol abuse will have a significant impact on their ability to do their job properly and the company as a whole.
One of the most important factors to consider is the responsibility you have for your employees’ welfare. A zero tolerance policy shouldn’t be interpreted as punitive or something which simply serves to protect the business.
In order for a drugs and alcohol policy to be truly effective, it needs to be more than just a deterrent - it should also focus on welfare. Testing can reveal long-term substance abuse, which, when identified, allows employers to offer suitable support.
A drug and alcohol policy shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction or a method for catching people out and punishing them. It needs to be strategic. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want the workplace culture to be like? How can you protect the welfare of all your employees? How can you effectively deter employees from taking drugs?
When you answer these questions, the counter-intuitiveness of selective drug testing becomes apparent. Random drug-testing should apply to everyone within your organisation. Zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance for all, irrespective of who they are or what type of work they do. This approach protects and serves all your employees. Crucially, it helps to create a culture based on responsibility, fairness and equality.
Cansford Labs offer a wide range of drug and alcohol testing. To find out more, give us a call.
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