Court to Rule on Testing of U.S. Workers
The Supreme Court agreed today to consider barring the U.S. Customs Service from conducting drug tests for people seeking drug-enforcement jobs, setting the stage for its first ruling on the constitutionality of mandatory drug testing for public employees.
The court said it will hear a challenge to the testing program by a federal workers union that says taking urine samples from employees violates their privacy rights.
The outcome will carry no direct effect on such tests conducted by private, non-governmental employers.
President Reagan signed an executive order in 1986 calling for drug testing of government employees.
The Transportation Department, with 30,000 employees, became the first Cabinet-level department to adopt random testing for civilian workers. The program covers those in safety-related jobs such as air traffic controllers, Federal Aviation Administration pilots and workers with high-rated security clearance.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the Customs Service tests, which are not administered randomly, are lawful.
Likened to Searches
The appeals court said the tests may be considered searches but do not intrude unnecessarily on the privacy rights of workers.
“Because of the strong governmental interest in employing individuals for key positions in drug enforcement who themselves are not drug users and the limited intrusiveness of this particular program, it is reasonable and, therefore, is not unconstitutional,” the appeals court said.
The National Treasury Employees Union challenged the testing program, which requires some workers to provide urine samples in restroom stalls as a person overseeing the test waits outside the stall. The tests are conducted by an independent company hired by the Customs Service.
The union president, Robert M. Tobias, praised the high court’s decision to hear the case, saying its ruling “should clarify the constitutional boundaries of drug testing for federal employees and, we hope, destroy Reagan’s plans for wholesale testing of the federal work force.”