Information Commission to ban blanket drugs test

Employers could soon be banned from testing staff for drugs or alcohol
unless the results would have a direct health and safety impact on the
business.

New guidelines from the Information Commissioner will outlaw blanket testing
of employees and restrict checks to staff such as machine operators, where
there is a specific safety risk.

The new rules are set out in the latest and final part of the Employment
Practices Data Protection Code. They advise employers how to comply with the
law when handling information on the health of employees.

The code has been published for a three-month consultation period and joins
other guidance on recruitment and selection, employment records and monitoring
at work.

Assistant information commissioner David Smith said the Data Protection Act
provided very specific cover for sensitive data, which would include the
rationale behind any testing.

"Employers will have to satisfy very strict reasons before testing and
it will only be allowed if consent is given or there’s a health and safety
issue," he said.

Last week, the TUC claimed testing had doubled over the past year and that
staff were being degraded by unjustified and over-zealous employers.

Andrea Nicholls, head of the employment department at law firm Howard
Kennedy said organisations would have to rethink the whole approach to testing
and medical records.

"Testing will only be suitable if it impacts on the job, but companies
will also have to consider if it’s appropriate to ask certain questions in
medical questionnaires," she said.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of
Personnel Development (CIPD), said the commissioner had taken a common sense
approach, but warned that employers testing staff because of concerns around
performance or illicit use outside work would now have to step back.

Mike Young, HR director at Avaya said companies shouldn’t be testing staff
for these reasons and that existing policies to deal with alcoholism and
addiction were sufficient.

The code also covers data laws around occupational health schemes and
medical examinations. It also specifically forbids genetic testing in the
workplace.

In response to last week’s Personnel Today news barometer poll, 53 per cent
of readers said that drug testing was worthwhile.

By Ross Wigham

www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

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