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Is It Time to Reinstate Employee Drug Testing in the Netherlands

The word is out that some employers in the Netherlands drug test their employees even though it’s not legally allowed. The General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) (GDPR) specifically states that only a targeted group of employees must submit to drug testing. Even so, it’s reported that tens of thousands of workers are illegally drug tested each year.

Back in 2018, the GDPR banned employee drug testing in the Netherlands with the exception of the following occupations:

  • Drivers
  • Skippers
  • Pilots

The test is conducted by a company doctor and all results are kept confidential to remain in compliance with rights to privacy.

Risking a fine

An investigative report by a well-known team of journalists with Investico broke the news. Investico is the country’s leading platform for investigative journalism. Employers are definitely requiring employees—other than those listed above—to take a drug test. They even risk hefty fines if it’s brought to the attention of GDPR.

During the investigation, one of the companies involved, Arbofit, admitted to illegally testing its employees. They even offered to share the results—and for good reason. They want governing officials to realize that the ban on drug testing employees should be lifted.

As it should be

A spokesperson for the company told the investigative team that Arbofit values the health and safety of its employees over privacy laws.

They should be commended for that.

Providing a safe workplace should be paramount on every employer’s list. Those who implement a drug-free program, complete with employee drug testing, are making a statement that is hard to overlook.

Drug use on the premises will not be tolerated.

Putting protocols in place

Even though the Netherlands has very lax drug laws, the Opium Law of the Netherlands made a distinction between hard and soft drugs.

Hard drugs are substances considered to have a high risk of addiction.

They are:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy

Drugs with a low addiction risk are deemed soft drugs.

They are:

  • Marijuana
  • Sleeping pills
  • Hashish
  • Sedatives

Whether someone is using hard or soft drugs in the workplace, though, doesn’t really have any bearing on the fact that they are putting themselves and others at risk of being involved in an accident. Moreover, your employees shouldn’t have to worry about going to work one morning and winding up in the hospital instead of returning home again at the end of the day.

Actually, knowing that there is drug use going on in the workplace has a detrimental effect on every aspect of your company. Employees who don’t feel safe are going to become less productive. They may even begin calling in absent to avoid having to work with someone who puts them at risk. Or worse, seek employment elsewhere.

Speaking of calling in absent, though, drug abusers are notorious for it. Moreover, medical costs are higher when drug addicts are present in the workplace because they tend to visit the doctor frequently. And, we’ve hit on the fact that drug impairment and accidents can go hand-in-hand.

Drawing the line

If someone is involved in an accident on the job, they should be tested for drugs as soon as possible. Waiting only allows the drugs time to dissipate from their system. How long depends on the individual drug.  Some drugs can’t be detected after a few hours while others remain in the system for days and weeks afterward.

How long depends on the drug.

For instance, LSD has the shortest detection period of one to three days in urine and only two to three hours in blood. On the other hand, if someone who uses marijuana daily over an extended period is given a urine drug test, they could test positive for over three months after they stop smoking.

Employee drug tests

The largest drug test producers in the Netherlands sell between fifty and seventy thousand tests to individual companies throughout the year. This fact alone is proof that many companies are testing employees for drug use despite the illegality.

The three primary drug tests used for employee drug testing are all accurate and cost-effective.

They are:

  • Urine drug test—most widely used
  • Oral fluid drug test—determines recent drug use
  • Hair follicle drug test—detects any and all drug use for a 90 day period

The only remaining option is to look for drugs with a blood test. They’re extremely expensive though and can only be conducted by trained medical staff in a qualified setting. Therefore, employers normally reserve them for post-accident situations.

Other scenarios in which an employer could require a drug test are:

  • Pre-employment
  • Random
  • Reasonable suspicion
  • Probationary

Getting the word out

Currently, the fact that employers drug test workers who don’t fall into the “driving” realm of employment is sliding under the radar of authorities. Reports from several Dutch trade unions attribute that to the fact that employees feel pressured to test or lose their jobs.

Another reason that employees aren’t turning in their bosses for illegal drug testing is that they realize the danger presented by someone who is impaired by drug use. It’s harder to feel as if drug abuse should be hidden from the world by your right to privacy when you aren’t the one using drugs at work. Looking at things from that side of the fence, employers who are making the choice to drug test employees should feel they have a leg to stand on.

So, stand.

The Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) is on your side. They have been advocating for the legal testing of workers for a while now and they aren’t going to quit. Help them institute change. Plan ways to get physically involved.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, if you feel that drug testing to ensure the safety of workers is necessary, contact your government officials. That’s where we have to make a start. We have to work and none of us should have to fret that there is even the slightest threat that someone won’t be going home again at the end of the day.

It’s time to make some noise.


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