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April 15, 2002

Pre-hire drug screens under way

By Michael Terrazas


Emory’s new pre-employment drug screening program, now in its second month, is being piloted in four University divisions before being expanded to all departments, probably within a year or so, according to Human Resources (HR).

Implemented March 1 in HR, Campus Life, Facilities Management and Community Services, the program tests nonfaculty job candidates who have received conditional offers of employment from Emory for illegal drug use. If a candidate tests negative, the job offer is formalized; if a candidate tests positive or refuses to submit to the testing, the job offer is rescinded.

“I am confident this program will help prevent health and safety problems in the division of Campus Life,” said John Ford, senior vice president and dean of Campus Life. “We will gain some useful experience implementing it as we fill several positions over the next few months.”

The policy has been under review for some time, according to Alice Miller, vice president for HR, but the decision to adopt it was made last fall. After taking a few months to form an implementation plan, the program was introduced last month for the test divisions, each of which requested to begin a drug screening program for potential employees, Miller said.

“This is just to maintain a healthy, safe workplace,” she said. “We’re the only major employer in Atlanta that does not do pre-employment drug screening, so that makes us a haven for those who are unemployable anywhere else.”

The testing is performed by Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of medical diagnostic and testing procedures with hundreds of laboratory testing facilities across the United States; the company has 24 facilities in the Atlanta area alone. Its website says it performs medical testing on 100 million patients each year.

Once a job candidate receives a conditional offer of employment at Emory, the candidate has six days to visit a Quest location and provide a sample. Test results are sent to a medical review officer at the University, who then informs HR and the hiring supervisor wheth-er the candidate has tested positive or negative for illegal drug use. Job candidates who test positive may not reapply to Emory for 12 months, and positive test results caused by appropriate use of prescription medication will not affect offers of employment.

Del King, director of employment services, said his office will work with supervisors to provide all necessary information and consent forms to job candidates, including those living out of state. Since Quest offers so many testing locations nationwide, King said he does not foresee undue difficulty in getting job candidates tested within the six-day period, regardless of where they live, but he said extensions could be made in extenuating circumstances.

“We don’t want this to become a complicated logistics nightmare,” King said. “We will work with [supervisors].”

Since the program began, King said, 53 job candidates have been tested, with one person testing positive. Emory Healthcare has tested job candidates for drug use for more than five years, he continued, and out of 1,700 hires last year, 43 candidates tested positive. The University hired about 1,500 new employees last year.

Miller said Emory Healthcare also reserves the right to conduct for-cause drug testing of current employees, but there are no plans to institute such a policy at the University—“We’re not coming after our employees,” Miller said—nor are there plans to implement drug-testing for prospective faculty.

“There are some deep differences, rooted in history and tradition, in the ways the faculty and the nonfaculty at every university are treated,” said President Bill Chace. “Faculty have been exempt from certain procedures and tests at Emory, just as they are at every university. They enjoy certain privileges, the most important of them being lifelong security of employment (tenure), and such privileges are, I believe, inalienable features of being a deeply learned person, a professor. I think it quixotic and wrong-headed to accord treatment of exactly the same sort to everyone on a campus, and I am comfortable in saying that faculty will always enjoy their traditional privileges.”