To pee or not to pee

Law student, freelance writer and journalist

The Fourth Amendment states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures” cannot be violated without a warrant. Perhaps this revelation should be relayed to a local temp agency I’m involved with, and other corporations enlisted in a questionable drug war.

In need of a summer job, I was hired by the company and agreed to submit to a drug test. Any disagreement, of course, could result in my termination. So, it’s reasonable to say I agreed to give a sample of my urine under duress. The legally binding document I signed authorizing the drug test may as well have read, “Give us your urine or go broke.”

I was instructed to go to a local walk-in testing center and provide a photo ID. As I found out, it is basic protocol to treat their test subjects like criminals—Fourth Amendment be damned. I was told not to flush the toilet after filling a small cup with urine, not to wash my hands following the test and not to open the bathroom door before the sample was given to my handlers through a small sliding door. To be fair, I should note that the employees at the lab were as friendly as possible. However, in addition to the humiliating protocol and clear constitutional violation, several aspects of corporate drug testing should be called into question.

First, employers argue validly that drug testing often reduces insurance costs for hazardous work places. However, as in my case, a vast amount of testing is forced on employees with no such concerns, according to an ACLU report. In the previous case, testing for actual impairments can be effective with less infringement on the Bill of Rights.

Second, employees can be tested even though there is no reason to suspect a drug addiction. Whatever the nature of employment, no tests should occur without at least probable cause. Unfortunately, the state of California offers its citizens no such guarantees—in spite of a federal constitution that calls for just that.

Third, urine-based drug testing is hardly fair. The most common drug found by urinalysis, according to the ACLU, is marijuana, which can take over a month to dissipate, while other truly debilitating drugs can dissolve within a day. In sum, a weekend marijuana smoke, hardly a capital crime, can result in unemployment. To counter these problems, the state should work to establish testing guidelines more in line with the Constitution.