If you’re hunting for a job in L.A., there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to submit to a urine drug test. This is because of a 1997 California Supreme Court decision that held the jobless have fewer constitutional rights than the employed.
The court case goes back to the mid-’80s, when the city of Glendale started a drug-testing program for new hires and employees up for promotions. The ACLU’s constitutional challenge took almost 10 years to wend its way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that pre-employment drug testing does not violate someone’s right to privacy, but that testing employees up for promotion is unreasonably intrusive.
As a result, drug testing for new hires is now widespread, from the LAPD to Ralphs and Home Depot, even in industries where off-hours dabbling would seem to have little effect on work performance — and, of course, where there are no checks on alcoholism. “Companies are authoritarian, and they want employees to know who is in control,” says Marvin Krakow, a civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles who represented the ACLU in the Glendale case. “We have in place a whole bunch of laws that encourage people to do drug testing, even though it is abusive and unnecessary.”