The Moral Dilemma of Peemeistering

From 2005 to 2008 I maintained a blog about my experiences working in the drug test industry. Every Sunday I revive one of those experiences here. But this is a new post! Kind of my final thoughts on the moral dilemma of Peemeistering.

The nature of drug testing is a very sticky one. During my six years as a Peemeister I saw a lot of sour faces when explaning to people what I did for a living, and not all of them were a reaction to how much of my day I spent in close proximity to pee.

The arguments against drug testing are passionate: “it’s an invasion of privacy!” “It’s nobody’s business what I do in my own home!” “It should all be legalized anyway!” Some opponents of the drug testing industry are so vehement in their objections that nothing short of complete dismantlement will satisfy them.

It should be clear since I spent so long working in the industry myself, but I have no personal objection to the practice of drug testing. I don’t view it as an invasion of privacy because there is no invasion taking place. You have to willingly choose to subject yourself to the test. If your employer hands you a drug test form after a job interview, you can throw it away if you want. If you’re asked to take one after filing an insurance claim, you can deny that as well. Of course, doing so means you won’t be working at that place, or that your workman’s comp claim will be denied. Choices have consequences. That’s life.

I disagree at least weakly with the second objection, as well. It is your employer’s business what you do when you’re off the clock, at least to some extent. This is a very grey area, and it depends a lot on what your job is and what’s expected of you, but when a company hires you your employer is taking a vested interest in how you represent that company. It would certainly be perfectly legal for a kindergarten teacher to take on a night job at a local strip club, but imagine you’re the principal in charge of dealing with the media fallout after the angry phone calls from parents start rolling in. You certainly wouldn’t go to that press conference and make the case that what your employees do off the clock is none of your concern.

The third point, though, about how it should all just be legalized… that’s hard to argue against. I mean, it’s hard to argue against logically. Because you know? It all should be. Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s and it’s certainly not working now. Whatever evils may occur from people putting xyz-substance into their system, it’s occuring whether or not xyz is obtainable. It’s easily provable that more harm is being done to our society by fighting an unwinnable war against drugs than the actual drugs themselves.

That’s the situation I found myself in for a long time, sitting there holding what looked like two mutually exclusive opinions. I feel that if you were to boil all of my political leanings down to one core statement, it would be something like “people should be free to just do whatever they want.” Everything else is really just baggage to deal with conflicts that arise when one person wants to hurt someone that doesn’t want to be hurt. Following the logical extension of that idea in one direction leads to “companies should be allowed to hire whomever they want.” Following it in the other leads to “people should be allowed to put whatever they want into their own bodies.”

Somewhere in between is the icky business of drug testing.

As I’ve said, though, choices have consequences, and that’s how I eventually resolved the issue in my own head. A lot of companies have Drug Free Workplace policies, stating you cannot work for them unless you pass a drug test first. However, not every company does that. So, if you choose to partake of an illegal substance, that’s fine… but you do so with the understanding that you will have to work for a company that doesn’t care.

This is true of lots of things. For example: you can choose to never wear a tie. You can choose to get a tattoo of a swastika on your forehead. You can choose to dye your hair bright lime green. You can choose to never wash your clothes. All of these things will bar you from employment at various establishments, and with good reason. That last one might even get you thrown out of a movie theater.

Does it really apply to drug use, though? Surely, a company has a strong incentive to not hire someone with a swastika on their forehead, and testing for “swastika on forehead” is pretty easy. How does this apply to someone who, say, recreationally smokes marijuana? Surely that’s none of an employer’s business.

But it can be. Most employers look for reasons to not hire people, you know. I know for a fact that my boss shreds resumés with spelling errors. It doesn’t matter what your history or qualifications are, or how well you present yourself, or what race/religion/creed/nation you hail from. If you misspell one single word, your application goes in the shredder, full stop. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fourth grade dropout that can’t spell your own name right, or an over-qualified Harvard graduate who just happened to miss a typo.

The reason is simple: the company needs people who can spel werds currektly. It’s impossible to know the good spellers from the bad by conducting a job interview, but there is probably a strong correlation between “bad spellers” and “people who misspell a word on their resumé”. And if the odd Harvard graduate gets dumped because of it? That’s okay; there are still 400 applications on the table to pick from.

Similarly, the company needs people whose mental faculties are about them. You can’t do the work if you’re drunk or high, and it’s impossible to tell from a job interview how likely a person is to show up for work in such a state. They can, however, request a drug test, and while the correlation isn’t perfect, the set of people who will come into work high is going to be entirely inside of the set of people who can’t pass a drug test. If some responsible users get tossed out because of that policy? Well, still 300 applications left. The line goes around the block.

The friend who helped get me this job is someone I would classify as a responsible drug user. A year or two prior the tables had been turned; I was the Peemeister and he was the one out of work. He asked me, what’s the best way to cheat on a drug test? I told him: don’t cheat. Just lay off the stuff until you get hired somewhere. As far as I know, that’s exactly what he did.

The wrench in all this is as follows: most companies don’t have Drug Free Workplace policies as a safeguard against hiring drug users. Most companies have them because having such a policy makes their insurance costs go down. See, there’s a choice/consequence thing going on over there too! They’re not forced to have a DFWP policy, but the incentive to do so is pretty huge. The question is: would it still be huge if these substances weren’t illegal?

I don’t think they would be. I think the industry would probably dry up, except in certain niche cases. In support of this is the fact that most DFWP policies only require pre-employment testing. Virtually no one does random testing after employees have already been hired. My old boss disagreed with me, and thought legalization would actually be good for business, though I doubt his rationale had any basis outside of mere wishful thinking.

The point is, I could imagine a system where all drugs are perfectly legal, yet where employers still would be disinclined to hire the people who used them. The only way they can find out whether you are such a person is to request a drug test. You may deny the request, of course; it’s a free country. But then they’re under no obligation to hire you.

1 comment to The Moral Dilemma of Peemeistering

  • Kishi

    I’d forgotten how much I missed this category. Fortunately, it’s probably been long enough that I can go back and read all the entries again.

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