In modern world, there are numerous ambiguous situations where ethics and moral philosophy are necessary in order to take the right decision and to distinguish what is good or bad. One of such situations is the issue related to drug testing and drug use by employees.
Nowadays, many companies require the information about drug use and/or drug testing by their employees; however, there exists people’s rights concerning privacy. Is drug use information really private and should be only claimed in exceptional cases, or should employees disclose this information necessarily and pass drug tests? The aim of this essay is to analyze this ethical issue using the principles of moral philosophy based on utilitarian and common-good approach.
Utilitarian philosophy is best described as the one which prescribes acting so that the greatest good will take place for the greatest number of people. This approach focuses in the consequences of the action rather than on the action itself. However, my vision of moral philosophy includes elements of common-good approach: the individual’s basic right in society, being the right of everyone to freely shape his life by responsible action, in pursuit of virtue and in accordance with the moral law.
From this point of view, the situation when the employer demands from all workers to disclose information about drug use or to pass drug testing is unethical and should not take place; this is a violation of the basic idea of free individual and his rights. However, there is another aspect of the problem: there are some professions where the condition of the individual is highly important and may impact the lives of other people, the so-called safety-sensitive occupations, for example, airline pilots, train engineers, truck drivers etc.
Basing on the utilitarian principle, they should be treated differently from other professions, because the evil brought by testing is not so significant as the evil resulting from critical mistakes in such professions.
Currently, there are regulations concerning drug and alcohol use privacy; the necessity of disclosing such information should be properly documented – “document the need and purpose of the testing programme”(International Labour Office, 1993, p. 115). However, the situations when all employees have to pass such tests are legal and do happen; however, it is unethical to make everyone pass such tests just because someone is suspected is use drugs. In such situations, many people suffer because of suggestions and not proven facts.
Moreover, drug testing and disclosure of information about drug use often to not lead to the desired result: National Academy of Sciences report found workplace drug use “ranges from a modest to a moderate extent,” and noted that much of reported drug use “may be single incident, perhaps even at events like office parties” (International Labour Office, 1993, p. 127). Therefore, in most cases drug testing and use of drug information both violates the right of people for privacy and does not really solve the problem, which contrasts with utilitarian moral philosophy. In my opinion, the situations where information concerning drug use should be disclosed, need to be limited to safety-sensitive professions and to the cases when there are reasons to perform such inspection. In case when all employees should be tested for efficiency, other procedures which do not violate privacy rights, should be used. For example, “an alternative to alcohol and drug testing of a biological character has been suggested… computerized impairment video test to assess motor skills or other characteristics necessary to job performance” (International Labour Office, 1993, p. 280). Therefore, using utilitarian moral philosophy with elements of common-good approach, we can come to the conclusion that drug use and related information is private thing and should be disclosed only in exceptional cases, when the reasons for testing a particular person exist. In other cases, procedures which do not violate personal rights should be developed.
International Labour Office. Workers’ privacy. International Labour Organization, 1993.