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Various Test Approaches: A Look at Pros and Cons

INTEREST in on-the-job drug testing - both in the public and private sectors - has skyrocketed since the White House began pushing the concept in 1986. Below are the pros and cons of some types of drug testing used in the workplace. Random testing. In this most controversial form of testing, when your number comes up, you are tested.

Private-sector employers are generally wary of random testing, which is currently under legal challenge.

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Advocates say that it deters drug use and that it prevents supervisors from singling out certain workers to punish or embarrass them.

Opponents say that it could be unconstitutional. Police cannot search a person's house without obtaining a warrant; neither should employers be allowed to conduct a personal ``search'' of an employee without reasonable cause, they argue.

Periodic testing. All workers take drug tests, usually at the time of their annual physical exams. The arguments pro and con are similar to those for random testing.

Pre-employment testing. In one of the most popular tests used in the private sector, job applicants submit to testing as part of the hiring process.

Advocates say employers should have a right to know if a prospective employee is a drug user, particularly in jobs involving national security or public safety. Opponents say applicants have even fewer rights than employees.

An initial positive test will probably disqualify an applicant, even though more-thorough (and expensive) testing could prove the result of the initial test to be false.

Post-accident testing. Drugs tests are required any time a worker is involved in a job-related accident.

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The US Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of post-accident testing, in a case involving train crews in the federally regulated railroad industry.

Reasonable-cause testing. You are tested if your employer suspects you of drug use.

Advocates say this is the least pernicious type of testing, because the government (or the employer) must show reasonable suspicion before conducting a bodily search.

Opponents say it could stigmatize workers and lead to unfair practices by employers. Supervisors, they add, do not have the training to identify the symptoms of drug use.

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