Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Taking the piss

Air New Zealand's bid to alcohol and drug test all 10,000 of its employees is up before the employment court at the moment and is quite rightly being contested by the unions (story here).

Now lets be quite clear on this, I think employers have a right to be protected from employees who abuse drugs and alcohol and who are unable to carry out their job properly. As it stands most employment contracts I have seen prevent employees from turning up under the influence of these stubstances and, as is right and proper, promise an absolute bollocking for any employee who does.

Air New Zealand, however wants to go much further. It is worried about employee's cognitive abilities being impaired by the long term effects of drugs and alcohol and the effects this could have on public safety. Its a prefectly valid concern, you don't want pilots having the attention span of a goldfish or maintenance people failing to put parts of the wing on properly and having it fall off over Mangere (bit late for that I guess)...but Air New Zealand's Approach is flawed.

The most obvious flaw is the fact that alcohol and drug testing will not necessarily measure cognitive impairment nor will it pick up employees who are failing to perform due to things like stress, illness, not having enough sleep, not having enough coffee or whatever else. If they actually measured cognitive ability directly or had regular performance appraisals to make sure that their employees can still do their job this would be a hell of a lot better.

Being forced to pee in a cup by your employer is pretty humiliating and I'm of the opinion that you should only be forced to do this if it is absolutely necessary. Pilots and maintenance crews have the public's lives in their hands so drug testing them is fine...but all 10,000 employees? I'm sorry but piss testing the accounts clerk, telephonist and tea lady is quite frankly unneccesary.

I'm also very uneasy about employers being able to dictate what people do outside work time to that extent...if an employee takes alcohol or drugs...doesn't turn up to work intoxicated and doesn't allow it to affect his or her work then its really no one else's business (except possibly the police's).

I think there is plenty of scope here for the courts to protect the rights of both employers and employees, lets hope they do.