For those of us who must face drug testing to get or keep our jobs, our worst fears have been realized. A local government agency, the D.C. Police Department, performed pregnancy tests using the urine samples of female job applicants -- without their knowledge. That is frightening news.
My first response was, "How dare they?" I'm no lawyer, but I don't think an employer has the right to invade anyone's privacy that way. It's like their reading my medical records without my permission. That's just plain wrong.
Apparently the D.C. Police Department didn't think so. The personnel officer defended the secret pregnancy testing by saying, "We don't discriminate against people who are pregnant." But he added: "However, we will defer you until the completion of your pregnancy. Wouldn't you want to know whether you're pregnant before you become a police officer?" Maybe I would, but I wouldn't want to find out from the police department.
The police department claims the pregnancy tests were to protect the women from the rigors of police academy training. That sounds as if the department is very concerned for the women's well-being. But I don't think women or men need Big Brother to watch over them, secretly checking their medical conditions and making job decisions for them.
The scariest aspect of this whole incident is that this kind of thing could be happening all over the country. Hundreds, maybe thousands of employers require workers to take drug tests. Who knows what other kinds of personal information employers may be gathering from those samples? Without our knowledge, employers may be searching for evidence of pregnancy, AIDS, diabetes and medicines used in the treatment of psychiatric as well as physical disorders.
I work for the U.S. government in a position defined by my agency as "sensitive." I am subject to drug testing. Though the test I may take is governed by guidelines set up by the government, how can I be sure my test is not mishandled? How can I convince my supervisors beyond any doubt that I am not a drug abuser if I'm the victim of a false test? I can't. My 16 years of federal service could be flushed down the drain.
My union is challenging mandatory federal employee drug testing in the Supreme Court and U.S. District Court on the grounds that it violates our constitutional rights. I think we have a good chance of winning. But the outlook may not be as good for the millions of people in other private and public sector jobs. They are at the mercy of their employers.
Legislators, administrators and judicial officials nationwide should look twice at the civil rights and constitutional abuses that are possible with drug testing. Anyone who has held the notion "It can't happen here" is wrong. It happened in the D.C. Police Department, and it can happen again. -- Sandee Black is a U.S. Customs Service inspector at Dulles Airport and chief steward of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 159.