Volume 13, Issue 8 ~ February 24 - March 2, 2005
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Bosses’ Breathalyzer Bill: A Whiff of Trouble

We thought a friend of ours was kidding when he mentioned a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow companies to administer breathalyzer tests in the workplace.

After all, he’d ordered a beer at lunch with his burrito.

He was right in what he told us. And if he kept up his lunchtime practice, he might no longer have a job under the dubious piece of legislation that has reared its head in Annapolis.

We support random testing for pilots, bus and train drivers and professionals who hold many lives in their hands each day.

But the proposal in Annapolis by Del. LeRoy Myers, a Republican from Western Maryland, and 34 other House members is so broadly written that it threatens workers everywhere.

Myers, who operates a construction company, personalized his legislation by saying he wants to prevent his employees from operating equipment in a dangerous fashion. He told an interviewer that one of his workers, whom he suspected of drinking at lunch, got injured on the job.

While the sentiment is laudable, it seems to us that Myers might focus his efforts on refining his staffing rather than unleashing a policy that is ripe for misuse.

No one in business, ourselves included, want someone drunk in the office. But we don’t think it’s wise, either, for Bay Weekly and most other companies to keep drawers full of testing kits ready to demand, as House Bill 502 spells out,breath derived from the human body by forced exhalation from the lungs.”

Then there’s the matter of the alcohol — a mere 0.02 — the level that “shall be officially considered positive for alcohol abuse.”

You may recall that 0.08 is the threshold for being charged with driving under the influence in Maryland. The difference raises an obvious question about fairness.

You’ve heard the term a little nip. Well, a tiny nip, indeed — perhaps even cold medicine — could set in motion a nightmare scenario.

This sounds to us like a recipe for harassment and perhaps unfair branding as a problem drinker. Under Myers’ hard-line bill, you might not even have the chance to appeal. For it asserts that “to protect the health and safety of the employee … immediate verbal notice of the employer’s disciplinary action” can follow the breath test.

As readers of this space know, we get a little tired of the behavior modifiers in or out of government telling us what we shouldn’t do.

We’re hoping that Myers and those who support his plan — among them the Maryland Retailers Association — truly are concerned about employees and not simply about protecting themselves from liability.

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