Should Postgraduate job applicants be drug tested?

Opinion writer Mary Bulgin questions whether it’s ethically sound to drug test graduates, given the intrusive nature of such an action

It is no revelation that some university students experiment with recreational drugs. But the insistence on compulsory drug testing for all postgraduate job applicants would sour the working world with mistrust. The transition from studying to beginning a career should be a feeling of acceptance, but instead, postgraduates will be met with an accusatory welcome.

Whilst some may consider drug testing for postgraduate employment just as routine as a criminal record check, surely they should remain distinctly separate. Employers are merely assuming criminal activity with no evidence. This is blatant intrusion into the private lives of applicants.  According to drugs charity ‘Release’, ‘the expansion of drug testing into non traditional areas could breach employees’ human rights’.

In a recent report by the Guardian, Met Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe stated that testing was needed to discourage the demand for illegal substances. He said testing could take place in ‘all occupations’ but cited in particular teachers, intensive care nurses and transport staff. This attempt to spread the trend of testing to other job sectors such as the business world is unnecessary. It is the street end of drugs that needs to be tackled. We should all take note that this opinion is cited from the voice of law. The tax heavy law is who is meant to deal with this, not employers.

Granted, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect drug screening in certain lines of work; nobody wants a skittish coke head doctor stitching them up. Safety critical careers require testing in order to protect the public. However, it is this obsessive worry about health and safety that constantly fractures the employee to employer relationship. A spreading fear of being sued stems from the American law suit culture. Random drug testing has become routine procedure in the United States with many colleges requiring a drug test pass just to enrol. Businesses are reluctant to challenge the increasing trend of drug testing at work as it gives the impression that they are standing for unsafe practices. In reality conforming to the trend is decreasing the moral of their work force and giving a rise to bad attitudes within the work place.

Graduates just want to make a living, not enter the Olympics.  Surely the future intellects of our society deserve a bit of credit. Unless your weekend antics are impacting on your work life it should not be any of your employer’s business. The younger generation are far more aware if the risks and side effects of recreational drug use than our acid hippy parents were in the seventies. Ergo, why should we be trusted less?

Us students like to think of ourselves as an intelligent bunch. The majority of us have the common sense to keep any wild behaviour out of the work place; if we don’t we get sacked. Being unemployed generally isn’t what debt ridden graduates aspire to be.  An adult who has managed to graduate after at least three years of degree level study must have a pretty decent work ethic.  Isn’t the motto ‘work hard, play hard’?

The test isn’t even reliable. There is no exact answer as to how long drugs remain in the user’s system.  Factor’s such as weight, metabolism and tolerance all come into play and street bought drugs certainly do not have a consistent strength.  Moreover, the employers attempt to eradicate supposed ‘junkies’ from their work force is unsuccessful. Harder drugs are expelled from the bodies of users quicker than softer drugs. Consequently, an applicant who once had a puff on a spliff at a party over a month prior to the test could easily loose out to a heroin user; heroin is flushed out of your system in less than a week.  Great expense would have to be spent to ensure these tests are reliable, as a positive result could easily ruin career prospects. I know we’re all in agreement that students have been hit hard enough with the government’s ‘great expenses’.

I am not suggesting that employers should condone the use of recreational drugs. I am merely stating that testing should only take place with a just cause. Wasting money on unnecessary drug testing seems ludicrous in this economy. So if you postgraduates play hard make sure you work hard too. Employers should leave criminality in in the hands of the law and maintain a scrap of confidence in the fresh meat of the career ladder.