THE Supreme Court, in its first decision on testing for drug and alcohol abuse in the American workplace, ruled this week that some workers in sensitive government jobs and some entrusted with public safety may be forced to undergo such tests. By a 7-to-2 vote, the justices upheld mandatory blood and urine tests for railroad workers involved in accidents. By a separate 5-to-4 vote, they upheld urine tests for US Customs Service employees seeking drug-enforcement jobs.
The court said tests for the railway and Customs Service workers do not violate privacy rights, even when there is no evidence in advance of individual drug or alcohol abuse. The rulings do not directly affect most private employment and do not deal directly with random drug tests.
In the railway workers case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the court: ``The government interest in testing without a showing of individual suspicion is compelling. Employees subject to the tests discharge duties fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.''
In his opinion for the court in the Customs Service case, Justice Kennedy said the nation's fight against drug smuggling demands that customs workers be healthy and not likely to be bribed by offers of money or drugs.