Screening employees for drug use by testing hair follicles has gained a growing following because some believe it is the most accurate method of detection. However, employers that drug test employees may want to avoid using such techniques for now, or risk serious reputational damage after a Massachusetts state board ordered police who were fired as a result of positive hair test results be reinstated.
Commission issues landmark ruling, orders six officers rehired
Recently, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission released a 134-page ruling on a lawsuit, ordering six Boston cops who were fired after hair follicle tests showed traces of illicit drug use be reinstated.
More important perhaps for the future of employee drug screening was the board’s attitude toward hair testing, which it derided as unreliable, saying, “The present state of hair testing for drugs of abuse … does not meet the standard of reliability necessary to be routinely used” as the basis to an employee termination decision.
The six ex-cops failed drug tests in the early to mid-2000s after hair samples indicated the officers had used cocaine. However, upon the commission’s ruling, the former police officers were asked to be rehired with back pay to October 2010.
The board also considered the appeals of four other former cops, but did not grant their wish to be reinstated.
Future of hair testing up in the air?
Called a “work in progress” by the commission, the future of hair testing in employee drug screens remains uncertain both at the local and national level. In its ruling, the board noted the FBI Laboratory had recently suspended hair testing while a probe into its efficacy is undertaken.
“There has been a long-standing debate within both the scientific and law enforcement communities as to how accurately hair tests are able to differentiate between drugs found in hair due to ingestion as opposed to contamination by external or passive means,” the ruling read. “There are no uniform, nationally approved standards for hair testing. Protocols vary from laboratory to laboratory and have changed significantly over time.”
Despite its general support of hair testing as a viable means to detecting drug use, the board held it could not be relied upon as the sole basis for termination, which throws Boston’s hair testing policies into chaos.
“This decision could have impacts across the city,” Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, told the Boston Herald.
Compliance with employee drug testing is an essentiality no business can afford to ignore. As different methods become more popular, and also more scrutinized, firms can work with an HR partner to conduct totally compliant screenings.