School bus drivers face drug, alcohol testing today Federal law goes into full effect

January 01, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Starting today, school districts around the country may begin keeping a closer check on their employees' lives.

Nationwide, all school bus drivers will be submitted to drug and alcohol testing.

Districts will decide whether to refuse employment on the results of the checks, depending on the violations and on how closely the employee would be working with children.

But the bigger issue is drug and alcohol testing. It has been a sensitive issue for the past decade as more and more employers have begun to require the examinations, which some call an invasion of privacy.

In the mid-1980s, only the U.S. armed services and a handful of private transportation companies engaged in testing. By 1995, 87 percent of large private companies and many governmental agencies tested their employees and job applicants for drugs.

And as testing has increased, so has the number of court cases challenging it. In 1989, after years of conflicting decisions from federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that urinalysis is a search under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

But the court said that in "safety-sensitive" work -- specifically jobs that involve transporting people or weapons or having access to highly classified information -- the government's need to conduct the tests outweighs the employees' right to privacy.

According to that ruling, only those three categories of public employees can be subject to drug testing without cause.

Because the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to private companies, private employers have almost unlimited authority to test for drugs.

The federal law that comes fully into effect today does not just apply to school bus drivers. It requires any person who holds a job or is applying for a job that requires a commercial driver's license to be tested.

On Jan. 1, 1995, employers of 50 or more commercially licensed drivers had to start testing. Today, employers of fewer than 50 drivers will have to comply, too.

Under the law, testing must be done on drivers before they're hired, after accidents and when supervisors have "reasonable suspicion" that an employee has been drinking or using drugs. It also calls for the random testing of at least half of a school district's drivers each year.

Employers, including school districts, will have to monitor testing, set up alcohol and drug misuse prevention programs, maintain test records and submit annual reports to the Department of Transportation.

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