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City to Test Job Applicants for Drugs and Alcohol

July 31, 1986|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

The City of Glendale will begin testing civil-service applicants Friday for drugs and alcohol in a program believed to be among the most comprehensive in the nation.

The program will apply to all applicants for city jobs and city employees seeking promotions and may be expanded to include random testing of all city workers, officials said.

"Eventually, we expect to involve just about every employee in the city," said City Atty. Frank R. Manzano. "We are walking on virgin ground."

The Civil Service Commission adopted the drug-testing policy last week after officials professed shock at the apparent growth in abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, among job applicants and workers.

Pilot Study

Tests conducted on potential city workers in a three-month pilot study started last November found that 20.8% of all job applicants were drug abusers. John F. Hoffman, city personnel director, said the percentage, which was "significantly higher than we had anticipated," reflects societal norms.

Under the city's new policy, applicants who fail a urine test because of drug or alcohol use will not be hired, and city workers will be required to pass a urine test to be eligible for a promotion. Workers who fail may be referred to a city-sponsored rehabilitation program or be fired, city officials said.

The city in the past has ordered testing for drug abuse in individual cases and sponsors a rehabilitation program.

Hoffman said the program in the first year will screen 300 to 350 applicants and employees applying for promotion. The chemical analysis of urine samples will detect use of alcohol and all types of drugs, including amphetamines and methamphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, methadone, Quaaludes, Valium, opiates and marijuana.

The tests will detect a drug, such as cocaine, that has been ingested in the previous two to four days, or marijuana that has been smoked within a period up to 30 days, Hoffman said. The applicant will be given an opportunity to explain any use of legal drugs in excess of the amounts prescribed by their doctors, he said.

He said that alcohol can be detected for 10 to 13 hours after consumption.

Drug-testing programs recently have been on the increase in government and private business. The U. S. Department of Justice reports that a quarter of the Fortune 500 companies now require such tests. But they are generally limited in scope. Most involve only some new job applicants, usually those in public-safety positions such as police officers and firefighters. Few programs require the tests for promotions.

Manzano said Glendale's policy will apply in hirings and in promotions to all positions, including parks and recreation workers, because they should set a "positive role model for children," and inspectors and clerks who "need to work without impaired judgment," he said. The Glendale Unified School District has screened job applicants for drug abuse since 1984.

'Moral Responsibility'

According to the new guidelines, the city has "a moral and financial responsibility to the citizens and the community to provide quality service in a timely and cost-effective manner."

It also suggests that employees "at any and all levels" who have drugs or alcohol in their systems "are impairing their ability to perform their duties at full, efficient capacity."

Although some courts have ruled that random testing without just cause is an invasion of privacy, Manzano said other recent court decisions have approved it. He said the city has no immediate plans to initiate random testing, but the city attorney's office is monitoring court rulings to determine if such tests can be done.

San Diego City Atty. John W. Witt, who has done extensive research on court rulings on drug testing, said a federal court in Georgia last year ruled that a city could conduct random screening of city employees if a city has facts indicating that widespread use of drugs by city employees on duty is affecting the ability of the city to function.

A study conducted by Glendale found that substance abuse was involved in 18% of all disciplinary actions taken against employees and work-related accidents in 1984 and rose to 26% this year. Hoffman said the number of employees requiring discipline, however, is small, ranging from 40 to 50 a year.

Hoffman said that, although alcohol abuse has long been a leading problem among workers, problems stemming from the use of cocaine and marijuana now exceed those related to alcohol.

"Cocaine is now available and affordable to middle-class America," said Hoffman, adding that the use of illegal drugs generally is found most among workers 30 and under.

Glendale's policy, developed after more than six months of research by staff members, may become a model throughout the country, city officials said. Hoffman said the city has received "several dozen" calls from other public agencies seeking information.

Literally, a Model

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