ALBANY The city of Albany has changed its random drug testing policy; limiting it to "safety sensitive" employees only, city officials say.
Previously, all city employees were eligible to be randomly selected for drug testing quarterly. Under the new policy, only employees described by the city's department of human resources as "safety sensitive" -- police officers, firefighters, heavy equipment operators and the like, will be randomly drug tested, City Attorney Nathan Davis said.
Davis said that the change came as HR continues reviewing the city's personnel policy and is meant to decrease liability to lawsuits.
"It's just something done out of an abundance of caution," Davis said. "We want to make sure that we have a policy that is set on objective footing."
Davis said that all applicants for city employees will still be subject to a pre-employment background check and drug screening, but that, once hired, random drug testing will cease for all non safety-sensitive employees.
"Once you get on board, you can still be drug tested, if the supervisor believes or has evidence that the employee may be under the influence," Davis said. "Just the random testing would stop."
While random drug testing is common for most employees in the private sector, public sector employees like cities and municipalities have to tread a more cautious line in how they test their employees, City of Albany Human Resources Director Henry Cohen says.
"There are stricter standards in the public sector than in the private sector, particularly in regard to employee search and seizure," Cohen says. "We have to have a reasonable suspicion to test employees unless they're in safety sensitive positions or if they're required to by DOT like those who have CDL driving permits."
Cohen said he doesn't believe that changing the policy will lead to increased drug use by those employees who wouldn't be randomly tested under the new policy.
"No, because we do have a drug free workplace and we train our department heads and city supervisors to be able to spot the signs of drug use," Cohen said. "The moment that's noticed, then we can test for verification."
According to a 2010 report filed with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 22 million Americans over the age of 12 reported using illicit drugs within a month of being surveyed.
Of those 22 million, roughly one fourth were non-medical users of prescription pain medication, which typically aren't tested in pre-employment or random drug testing panels.
More than 77 percent of those surveyed said that they had used Marijuana within the last month, making it the most popular drug used by Americans 12 and older. Cocaine use was at its lowest levels since 2002.