Pre-employment drug testing is prudent


Last week my colleague, Sean Maskill, wrote that pre-employment drug testing is a barrier for young people seeking work, especially in farming.   Should farmer employers consider implementing drug testing as part of their recruitment process?

Sean Maskill argued that, with some testing methods picking up historical personal recreational use of drugs (such as cannabis), these tests may not necessarily determine an applicant’s propensity to work while intoxicated, and rejecting a person based on historic use may be an unreasonable and unnecessary barrier to employment.

Some drug testing methods may pick up on historical drug use (especially cannabis use, which takes longer than other more sinister drugs to leave the body), however, pre-employment drug testing is a reasonable and prudent approach to minimising the risk that potential workers will attend work intoxicated.

Although pre-employment drug testing will be indicative of historic drug use (which may or may not be outside of work time), it is also an indication of someone with an inclination to use it again in the future.  Cannabis use (for example) causes impairment of motor skills and judgment. This is a health and safety hazard, especially if the effects are felt whilst at work, in roles where the operation of heavy machinery is an integral part of a job.

Farms are unique workplaces where workers typically live on site.  Their home is also their workplace, and while there may be varying levels of risk areas (for example the farm dairy, compared to the farmhouse deck), the line between at work, and at home is a blurred one.  Where a worker lives in the workplace, drug use, and therefore drug tests, are very relevant as to a person’s suitability for live in farm work.

The potential legalisation (or decriminalisation) of cannabis does not change things.  Decriminalising cannabis will put cannabis in the same category as alcohol.  Private use (so long as it does not impact on employment), should not be the concern of your employer.  However, on farms, where workers often live in, even drug use in a worker’s own time, will be a very relevant concern to the farmer owner, particularly when the worker’s residence will be surrounded by the farm.

Ultimately, whether an employer chooses to employ someone who has tested positive for either recent or historic drug use is a discretionary decision.  However, drug testing is an important and necessary part of the pre-employment screening process, especially on farms.

Implementing drug testing as part of the recruitment process is perfectly reasonable, and should be encouraged.  It is not the drug testing that is a barrier to employment, but the drug use itself.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Lauran Bergin