Many government employers ask applicants to submit to drug testing before beginning work. A recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling may make employers rethink that strategy and prepare to clearly articulate a business-related reason for drug tests. A blanket testing policy may spell trouble.
Recent case: Janet Lanier applied for a job as a library page. The library offered her the job, contingent on a clean drug test. Lanier refused to submit to the testing, and the library withdrew the offer. Lanier then sued the library, arguing that forcing her to undergo drug testing as a condition of starting work violated her right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from unreasonable government searches and seizures.
The city of Woodburn, of which the library system is a part, contended that it had a substantial and important interest in screening employees because drug abuse is a serious social problem that adversely affects job performance. The city also argued that children must be protected from those who use drugs. Those factors, it said, outweighed any constitutional right to privacy Lanier might have.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the city’s argument. It said that “suspicionless testing must be far more specific and substantial than the generalized existence of a social problem.” The court said the city would have to provide evidence that Lanier actually would have extensive contact with children before it could rely on that contact as a rationale for drug testing. In cases where there is no high risk or safety issue, the need for blanket testing must be clearly stated. (Lanier v. Woodburn, No. 06-352622, 9th Cir., 2008)
Advice: Consult your attorney about how to handle drug testing. He or she can help you craft a solid business case for testing.
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