The Washington Post

@Work Advice: Just say no, or quit?

(Deb Lindsey)

Reader: My company recently instituted a randomized drug testing policy. If called, you must report to a testing center within three hours or face termination.

I am morally opposed to unnecessary drug testing. Nobody at our company has any interaction with children, operates machinery or does anything else in the course of their job duties that could be affected by recreational drug use outside of business hours.

I enjoy this job and have a great work environment. My boss is supportive and encouraging. This company took a chance hiring me right out of college, and I truly appreciate the opportunities it has offered. Although I have been here less than a year, I oversee a key component of our operation. If I were to leave, it would be a devastating blow to my already understaffed department.

If I were called to drug testing, I would decline — and would be terminated immediately under the new policy. Should I tell my boss my view? I am worried this would either be seen as blackmailing her into making sure I am not called or make me a target for testing. Should I start looking for a new job? I am heartbroken over the prospect of losing this job, but I will stand for my beliefs before I grovel for a paycheck.

Karla: Your outrage and sense of conviction are duly noted. But if you plan to express them to your boss, you’d better be prepared to back them up by refusing to continue working for an employer whose policy violates your morals — whether you’re called for testing or not. Otherwise, you’re just blowing smoke.

An employer has the right to know if employees are partaking of illegal substances, even if lives aren’t at stake. And even in states where those substances are legal, employers can still impose a drug-free workplace policy on the grounds that they don’t want workers who engage in activities that may cloud their professional judgment. In enforcing this policy, employers can opt to test only those workers who appear to be under the influence — but that approach carries the potential for bias and abuse. Random testing is fairest, as long as the same consequences apply to performers at all levels.

Of course, demanding urine samples without good reason is invasive, promotes an atmosphere of mistrust and won’t detect evidence of other common performance-impeding habits, such as binge drinking or all-night World of Warcraft campaigns. If you still feel compelled to tell the boss what you think of this policy, emphasizing those business-related drawbacks might be more effective than huffing and puffing about morals.

Thanks to Sharon Snyder of Ober | Kaler.

Are you surviving a recent layoff by doing work completely different from what you trained for? Willing to share your story with readers? E-mail me, and tell me what you’re doing to get by.

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Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at
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