Cities Cut Back on Pre-employment Drug Testing

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

City governments around the state are rethinking their urine-testing policies in the wake of the ACLU's success in curbing Seattle's suspicionless urine-testing program.  Last October, the Washington Court of Appeals unanimously ruled unconstitutional the City of Seattle's program of requiring urine tests of successful applicants for employment.  Citing the strong privacy protections in the Washington Constitution, the Court called the City's practice "humiliating" and "breathtakingly broad."  A majority of City Council members urged the City Attorney not to appeal the ruling, and he has agreed not to pursue the case further.

Now officials in Spokane, Tacoma, Bellingham, and Everett have halted or seriously curtailed their cities' employee urine-testing programs in light of the ruling.  The ACLU is urging them to limit testing to the narrow categories of employees in truly safety-sensitive positions that were not at issue in the Seattle lawsuit – sworn police officers, firefighters, and positions requiring an employee to carry a firearm or have a Commercial Driver's License.

The ACLU believes that suspicionless urine testing is a humiliating practice that invades privacy and treats people as suspects when there is no reason to believe they have done anything wrong.  We also encourage officials to read the ACLU's policy report, Drug Testing: A Bad Investment, which debunks claims that testing is a cost-saving device or an effective management tool.