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An Evaluation of Fitness-for-Duty Testing

 
Debra R. Comer
; 103rd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, NY; 1995-08-15. Posted: 2002-10-19; Modified: 2006-02-06.
[Identifier: http://www.doctordeluca.com/Library/PublicHealth/tlccomer.html]
 
Related resources:
War on Doctors: Academic Quality Articles, Official Reports, and Legal Documents  ;   Drug War Journalism and Advocacy archives
 
See also:
A Critical Assessment of Workplace Drug Testing -
DeLuca, 2002
 


Contents

| i. Overview | ii. Introduction | I. Employees' responses to workplace drug testing programs | II. How effective are workplace testing programs? | III. Fitness-for-duty testing | IV. Criticisms of fitness-for-duty testing | V. Concurrent research | VI. Archival data from two manufacturers of fitness-for-duty tests | VII. Interviews with former users of fitness-for-duty testing | VIII. Interviews with current users of fitness-for-duty testing</> | IX. Impact of fitness-for-duty testing | X. Questionnaire responses of employees currently taking fitness-for-duty tests | XI. Sample | XII. Revisiting questions about fitness-for-duty testing validity | XIII. Conclusion | References | Appendix A: Interview questions asked of representatives of current users of fitness-for-duty tests | Appendix B: Items assessing views toward fitness-for-duty tests |

This research assesses computerized fitness-for-duty testing, which has recently been adapted commercially as an alternative or supplement to biochemical drug testing in the workplace. After presenting the scant literature on fitness-for-duty testing programs and addressing criticisms of these programs, and discussing concurrent research on fitness-for-duty testing, the author presents a field study of two such devices. Specifically, archival data from test manufacturers are analyzed, as are response s to semi-structured interviews with managers of fitness-for-dutytesting organizations and to questionnaires completed by their employees. Practical implications for implementing fitness-for-duty testing are explored.

i. Overview

In light of the intrusiveness and questionable effectiveness of workplace drug testing programs, performance-based fitness-for-duty testing has emerged as a promising option for employers interested in preventing employees from working while impaired. However, the validity and feasibility of fitness-for-duty testing have not been systematically investigated. In particular, employees' attitudes toward these tests have not been examined.

This paper reviews the scant anecdotal research on performancebased testing programs, addresses criticisms raised by detractors of performance testing, and reviews concurrent research on fitnessfor-duty tests. Next, a field study of two commercially u sed tests is presented. Archival data from test manufacturers are analyzed, as are semi-structured interviews with managers of organizations using fitness-for-duty testing and questionnaires completed by their employees. Implications of implementing fit ness-for-duty testing are considered.

ii. Introduction

In just a few short years, workplace drug testing has become a common organizational practice. Whereas in 1987, only 21.5% of the respondents surveyed by the American Management Association reported that they conducted some form of drug testing, 87.29 % indicated that they tested in 1994 (Greenberg, Canzoneri, & Straker, 1994). Nevertheless, workplace drug testing has been questioned on the grounds that it invades employees' privacy by providing their employers with information about their off-hour ac tivities (see, e.g., Abbasi, Hollman, & Murrey, 1988; Flaig, 1990; Haas, 1990; Hanson, 1988; Kupfer, 1988; Lewis, 1990; Malia, 1989; Maltby, 1990; Mendelson & Libbin, 1988; Orentlicher, 1990; Pavlovich, 1989). Desjardins and Duska (1987), for example, ha ve argued that if an employee is using drugs, so long as he or she performs responsibly, the organization does not need to know about this drug use, and that if the employee's performance is compromised by the drugs, the employer may rightfully discipline or dismiss the employee but still does not need to know the root of the impeded performance (see also Caste, 1992; Moore, 1989)

I. Employees' responses to workplace drug testing programs

The proliferation of workplace drug testing and controversy over its intrusiveness have led to research on the effects of various drug testing practices on the attitudinal and behavioral responses of employees and job applicants. This research suggest s, indeed, that the perceived appropriateness of drug testing has important implications for employees' attitudes and behaviors.

When Stone and Kotch (1989) asked blue-collar employees at a manufacturing firm to respond to scenarios involving hypothetical drug testing practices, those who read a scenario in which advance notice of drug testing was provided to employees responded more favorably to the testing than did those who read about a program requiring employees to give urine samples without warning. Those who read a scenario in which employees with positive test results were placed in rehabilitation responded more favorab ly than did those reading about a program that fired employees who tested positive. Similarly, Murphy, Thornton, and Reynolds's (1990) college student respondents viewed drug testing less hospitably when a failed test led to applicant rejection or employ ee termination. These students also reported feeling more positively disposed toward both testing on suspicion and post-accident testing for both current employees and applicants than toward random testing or periodic testing of all individuals. Stone a nd Vine (1989) reported that drug tests that provided organizations with medical information about their employees were perceived as having violated privacy. Latessa, Travis, and Cullen (1988) and Murphy, Thornton, and Prue (1991) found that drug testing was opposed when it was not limited to individuals performing dangerous or safetysensitive work.

Hanson (1990) surveyed and solicited written comments from railroad and chemical workers about drug testing at their own organizations. Respondents generally viewed testing as justifiable only for current employees who seemed to be under the influence or for job applicants. These employees found it especially distasteful to be subjected to post-accident testing in cases where the mishap clearly resulted from nonhuman error. Their comments also revealed their perception of random or periodic testing without reasonable suspicion as a humiliating intrusion on their privacy, as well as a sign that managers distrusted them and discounted their years of good service. Some railroad employees feared that drug testing was being used to reduce the workforce. In Axel's (1990) large-scale survey, companies that conducted drug testing reported employee resentment as a major problem. The drug testing program at a major hospital had to be scaled down, just months after its inception, in response to the complain ts of irate employees (Hopkins backs off..., 1991).

Drug testing may take its toll on job applicants as well as current employees. Karren (1989) reported that the drug testing policy of a hypothetical organization was a key factor in about 20% of his student subjects' decisions whether to join it. On the basis of their empirical findings, Murphy et al. (1990) cautioned that high-caliber job candidates may refuse employment offers from organizations with offensive testing practices. Likewise, in a study by Crant and Bateman (1990) that asked students to assume the role of a recent graduate seeking a job to respond to a description of a fictitious organization, those presented with a scenario about an organization that did not conduct drug testing had more positive attitudes toward the organization and reported greater intentions to apply for a job than did those who read about one that did test. In a similarly designed experiment by Ross, Ringer, and Miller (1992), in which all students assumed the role of a job-seeker who had been invited for a secon d interview, those asked to submit a urine specimen expressed less positive attitudes toward the application process and the organization and reported lower intentions of continuing the application process and accepting a job if offered than did those not asked to take a urine test.

II. How effective are workplace testing programs?

Not only does drug testing elicit negative responses from employees, but there is a lack of definitive evidence of its effectiveness at achieving organizational safety or productivity (see Cropanzano & Konovsky, 1993; Harris & Heft, 1992; Morgan, 1991; Normand, Lempert, & O'Brien, 1994; Thompson, Riccucci, & Ban, 1991). That is, despite conventional wisdom, drug testing has not been shown to have predictive validity as a measure of organizational effectiveness (Hoffman & Lovler, 1989; Vodanovich & Rey na, 1988). Because certain demographic factors may simultaneously affect one's decision to use drugs and one's work behavior (see Holcom, Lehman, & Simpson, 1993; McDaniel, 1988), only some of those members of the workforce who use drugs are compromising their performance by using them on the job, and some off-hours drug use may even boost productivity (Gill & Michaels, 1992; Register & Williams, 1992). Although proponents of drug testing presume it will discourage drug use, those current employees most deterred by the prospect of workplace testing are likely the most casual offhours users who abstain from their at-home use in order to avoid potential embarrassment and job loss. Because addicts have less control over their drug intake, testing may not so easily deter their substance abuse (Orentlicher, 1990), which has greater potential for personal and organizational harm. Thus, applicant screening may keep both serious and casual users from gaining employment in the first place (although some member s of this former group may thwart detectors by altering their own urine or even substituting drug-free urine samples; see Bearman, 1988; Crown & Ross, 1991; Hanson, 1988), but testing cannot prevent incumbents' drug use in the workplace.

Another problem with drug tests is their inability to detect drug use in time to prevent it from causing harm. Testing can only distinguish between someone who has used or been exposed to a drug and someone who has not; it cannot tell when the former took the drug, how much was taken, how frequently this person has taken this drug, or the effect of the drug on the user (Axel, 1990; Lundberger, 1986; Morgan, 1987). By the time an employee's test result has been interpreted as positive, any drug-impair ed behavior would already have taken its toll. On the other hand, the metabolites in a person's urine that produce a positive test result do not necessarily mean the person cannot work, as any effects of the drug could have long worn off by the time the test was administered. As explained by Orentlicher (1990), "a test that is positive for drug use may be falsely positive for drug impairment" (p. 1039).

Because there is considerable evidence that drug testing can have a potentially negative impact on employees' attitudes and behaviors, and that it can neither dependably deter incumbents' workplace drug use nor detect their impaired performance resulti ng from such drug use, its usefulness as a management tool should be questioned.

III. Fitness-for-duty testing

What is needed is an alternative to biological testing that is better suited to identifying the substandard work that should ultimately concern managers -- before it occurs -- while preserving employees' rights: actual performance-based fitness-for-du ty testing. The technology of performance testing was developed 30 years ago, but it has been applied commercially only since the late 1980s (Stevens, 1990). According to accounts in the popular press, the computer-based critical tracking test, a sort o f video game in which employees engage in the same psychomotor skills their jobs require, is less intrusive and more valid than urine testing for determining impairment that may or may not stem from drug use (Flaig, 1990; Frieden, 1990; Maltby, 1990; Stev ens, 1990; Yes, test..., 1991). Test-takers use a control knob to try to keep a constantly and randomly veering cursor centered on their video screen. Employees' scores at a given trial, based on speed and accuracy, are compared to their average previou s performance.

Although test-takers' baseline performance may eventually improve, a complex algorithm precludes mastery (Maltby, 1990; Stevens, 1990). Further, the test has been designed so that an employee cannot trick the computer into establishing a low baseline (so as to pass the test later while impaired), because an unusual lack of progress on baseline-setting trials is recognizable (Fine, 1992).

Compared to urinalysis, the critical tracking test takes less time to collect data (about a minute); it costs approximately 100 to 200 dollars per employee per year, affording more tests than urinalysis programs that charge about 40 to 60 dollars per t est per employee (Fine, 1992); and results are immediately available (Fine, 1992; Frieden, 1990; Hanson, 1990; Maltby, 1990; Stevens, 1990; Warshauer, 1991). Further, because the test measures employees' reaction time and coordination, it assesses job pe rformance rather than personal matters. Maltby (1990) has even reported that performance testing has detected drug use in cases that eluded urinalysis. For instance, whereas cocaine will not show up in the urine of an employee who has used it just minut es before a test, a (valid) performance test will readily and unequivocally disclose the employee's impaired skills.

Fitness-for-duty testing has generally been used to assess the motor skills of drivers, pilots, etc.; indeed, a leading commercial supplier of the critical tracking test recommends its product especially for individuals whose jobs do not provide them w ith an opportunity to correct mistakes of hand-eye coordination (Sandra Jaffe, Director of Marketing, Performance Factors, Inc., personal communication, 7/92). However, another test battery has potential applications for a variety of occupations. The Es sex Corporation's computer-based Delta-WP system can test short-term memory, perception, reasoning, linguistic/symbolic manipulation, and spatial relations, in addition to psychomotor functioning (Delta-WP Manager's Manual, 1994). Licensing for the softw are costs from 2,495 dollars per organization. Optional testing materials and training and consultation are available for additional fees.

As skills testing has only recently been adapted for the workplace, it is not yet widely known or understood beyond what little has appeared in a handful of articles in the popular press.

Indeed, not one of 50 drug-testing organizations in a recent survey practiced performance testing; and representatives of the 84 nontesting organizations in the sample generally viewed performance testing as less appropriate than drug testing (Comer & Buda, in press). Likewise, a mere six (.756%) of the 794 organizations responding to the American Management Association's latest survey (Greenberg et al., 1994) reported that they used performance testing. It is also notable that the concept and techno logy of fitness-for-duty testing are generally more familiar to transportation experts and biomedical engineers than to psychologists in either academia or industry. Indeed, Drasgow, Olson, Keenan, Moberg, and Mead's (1993) recent review of the advantage s of computerized tests over more traditional paper-and-pencil tests did not mention the application of the former to determine fitness for duty. Yet skills testing seems promising for organizations that care more about their employees' readiness to perf orm than the cause of any impairment. Organizations that use performance tests have reported that they are more effective and efficient than urine tests; that they have the added capacity to detect the harmful effects on performance of illness, sleep dep rivation, and emotional preoccupation (as well as drug use); and that employees prefer them to drug tests (McGinley, 1992; Stevens, 1990). For example, according to the vice president of a gasoline and diesel fuel transporter, a significant drop in accid ents and mistakes followed his company's implementation of performance testing for truck drivers (McGinley, 1992). Nonetheless, as such accounts are anecdotal, and information about these testing programs is more journalistic than scientific, it is neces sary to conduct a less haphazard evaluation of the impact of impairment testing. Indeed, Harris and Heft (1992) and Gilliland and Schlegel (1993) recently commented on the lack of "scholarly writing" about performance tests, and called for studies on the ir validity and efficacy. And Normand et al. (1994), recognizing the potential of this form of assessment, likewise recommended: "further research is a high priority" (p. 206).

The remainder of this paper attempts to provide a more systematic evaluation of fitness-for-duty testing. First, criticisms of these performance-based tests are addressed. Then, after describing concurrent research on these tests, the author presents her own field study. Archival data from two test manufacturers are examined, as are semi-structured interviews with managers of organizations using these tests and questionnaires completed by their employees.

IV. Criticisms of fitness-for-duty testing

As discussed earlier in this paper, drug testing has been readily accepted, despite the absence of strong evidence that it is enhancing workplace safety and productivity (Cropanzano & Konovsky, 1993; Morgan, 1991; Normand et al., 1993). Indeed, govern mental and organizational decisions to implement drug testing have sometimes stemmed more from sociopolitical or symbolic than rational practical factors (Cavanaugh & Prasad, 1994; Guthrie & Olian, 1991; Karper, Donn, & Lyndaker, 1994; Thompson, Riccucci, & Ban, 1991; Zimmer & Jacobs, 1992). In contrast, many in the U.S. will not even consider fitness-for-duty testing until extensive evaluation has occurred. Blanton, Kidwell, and Bennett's comment, that "until the reliability of performance testing is fi rmly established, criticism of it will continue" (1992, p. 355), is instructive. Performance testing, it appears, is dismissed out of hand by those wedded ideologically to urine drug testing, even as it is viewed skeptically by those made cautious by the momentum of the drug-testing movement.

Fitness-for-duty testing has been faulted for not ascertaining if an employee who fails an impairment test is using drugs (see, e.g., Blanton et al., 1992; Butler, 1993). As discussed, however, a major asset of behaviorally-based tests is that they pr otect employee rights by not disclosing to employers the cause of impairment. Rather, unlike biochemical tests, they are designed to determine whether or not the employee is impaired. As summed up by erstwhile urinalysis proponents Normand et al.: "If.. .the goal is to identify impaired workers to either refer them to treatment or to prevent them from performing a task that may endanger themselves or others, then behavioral indicators provide a more direct means than drug tests of identifying employees u nable to perform at required levels....[T]o minimize hazardous behavior and other performance problems [b]ehavioral indicators may be a better means...than are chemical tests" (1994, p. 206).

Nonetheless, much is at stake in terms of the national commitment and investment toward biochemical testing. For example, in the transportation industry, drug testing efforts are expanding: recently passed Department of Transportation regulations requ ire biochemical testing for mass-transit workers and intrastate truckers and bus drivers, which more than doubles the number of workers who must submit to these tests (Newman, 1994). Organizations that must conduct biochemical testing, as well as those t hat have taken it upon themselves to do so, can be expected to have less incentive to incur the additional expense of performance testing -- regardless of the relative merits of the two approaches.

A related criticism is that the critical tracking test, a major type of performance test, does not always detect impairment when relatively low levels of alcohol or marijuana have been consumed (Butler, 1993). The particular concern is that the CTT do es not consistently pick up impairment at the blood alcohol level used to arrest individuals for drunk driving. Apparently, the standard used to determine legal driving has been reified and deemed infallible. However, the same blood alcohol level cannot realistically be appropriate for all drivers (John Morgan, M.D., Professor of Pharmacology, City of New York University School of Medicine, personal communication, 12/8/94). The degree of impairment associated with a given BAC is not constant and may va ry among individuals. This may be explained in part by the phenomenon of tolerance. Tolerance is a decrease in the magnitude of an effect of a given dose of a drug after repeated exposure to the drug ("Alcohol-related impairment," p. 2).

Indeed, more experienced alcohol drinkers exhibit less perceptual, motor, and cognitive impairment than their less experienced counterparts across a range of blood alcohol levels (Chesher & Greeley, 1992; Morrow, Yesavage, Leirer, & Dolbert, 1993). Rel atedly, in the case of marijuana, Grinspoon and Balakar explain that some chronic users develop behavior tolerance...learning to compensate for the effects of the high. [This] may explain why farm workers in some third world countries are able to perform heavy physical labor while smoking a great deal of marihuana....Behavioral tolerance substantially reduces the effects of intoxication on attention and motor coordination in long-term users (1993, p. 146).

Again, the real issue should not be whether an individual has been engaging in certain behavior (that is, ingesting a particular quantity of a drug) that could compromise some individuals' performance, but whether this individual's performance has, in fact, been impaired. A valid fitness-for-duty test, unlike a physiological test, can assess an employee's actual readiness for work. On the other hand, "the tolerance acquired for a specific task or in a specific environment is not readily transferable to new conditions" ("Alcohol and tolerance", 1995, p. 2). Hence, an employee whose tolerance enables him to compensate, and thus easily pass his well-learned fitness-for-duty test and competently perform familiar aspects of his job, may imperil himself a nd others if faced with a novel situation at work.

Blanton et al. (1992) have criticized performance tests on account of "the complexity involved in developing proper employer responses for all the contingencies that can lead to an unacceptable score" (p. 358). Again, they have missed the point. The cause of impairment -- whether it be lack of sleep, emotional stress, substance use, etc. -- is unimportant. What matters is that job performance may suffer. If a pattern of impairment emerges, then the employer may understandably be concerned about the employee and perhaps recommend that the employee seek counseling, but still does not need to know the cause of the impairment (see Desjardins & Duska, 1987). And surely, any decent administrator or human resources manager should be able to design an app ropriate system for addressing test failures.

Butler (1993) is concerned that some performance-based tests may not appropriately assess performance on tasks and skills relevant to those that employees use to do their jobs. Indeed, the job-related face validity of fitness-for-duty tests may be imp ortant insofar as Rynes and Connerley (1993) and Schuler (1993) observed that individuals have more favorable views toward selection devices they deem job-relevant. Yet, one's performance on a behavioral test of any type would seem more closely related to one's ability to do one's job than would the results of a biochemical test. Thus, it has been argued that employees would be more apt to accept a fitness-for-duty vs. biochemical test on the grounds of job-relevance (Gilliland & Schlegel, 1993).

More importantly, Gilliland and Schlegel (1993) note that because readiness-to-perform tests are used primarily to detect the presence of performance-impairing risk factors, their job-related face validity, i.e., whether they appear to be assessing act ual job performance, may be less relevant. Gilliland and Schlegel (1993) do acknowledge that job-related face and criterion validity may be important to bolster the legal defensibility of using fitness-for-duty tests. On the other hand, they point out a major disadvantage of claiming job-relevant criterion validity: If a test has only risk-factor (and not job-related) criterion validity, then individual differences on the test do not matter, because individuals' test scores are simply interpreted in li ght of their own baseline. However, suppose there is evidence that the test has job-related criterion validity. Suppose further that Jack meets his baseline but underperforms Jill, who fails to meet hers. It may not be equitable or sensible to prevent Jill from climbing a steep hill while allowing her co-worker, Jack, to do so (see also Gross, 1991). Thus, if job-related criterion validity has been established for a test, manufacturers and clients need to address questions regarding the equity and pra cticality of using relative vs. absolute impairment to determine readiness to perform.

Another criticism waged against performance-based fitness-for-duty tests (often by proponents of biochemical testing) is that employees can and will cheat on them, by performing beneath their capabilities on their baseline-establishing trials, so as to pass later when they are under the influence (Clark, 1994). Vendors of testing devices claim (naturally) that their products have been designed to prevent cheating. Likewise, Gilliland (personal communication, 10/12/94) asserts that "falsing" is not t he serious problem some make it out to be. Rather, he believes that although it is possible to suppress one's performance one day, variability in performance from day to day would make it "awfully hard to consistently fall short of your [true level of] p erformance." In contrast, Dennis Attwood (personal communication, 6/26/95), a human factors engineer at Exxon, disagrees. Although he supports fitness-for-duty testing in theory, he questions the validity of tests that measure voluntary responses becaus e test-takers can "fudge up or down." He says that he would have greater confidence in a test that monitored changes in an involuntary response, such as pupil diameter.

Fitness-for-duty tests have also been faulted for not being able to prevent a worker from using an impairing substance after passing his or her early-in-the-shift test (Butler, 1993). (Of course, there is no guarantee that a worker will refrain from r iskimpairing behavior after taking a drug test.) Gilliland and Schlegel (1993), also, raise the question as to the sufficiency of daily testing, but are concerned about detecting fatigue rather than drug use. They recommend testing "following breaks or lunch prior to returning to work" (p. 31). However, inasmuch as testing employees more than once a day may increase logistical and administrative burdens, a reasonable compromise might be to test all employees at the beginning of their shift and randomly select a percentage of them each day for a second, post-break test.

Whether test-takers can "recruit" -- that is, motivate or psych themselves up to give the performance test all their energy and attention for the short period of time it requires -- is another important question (Gilliland, personal communication, 10/1 2/94). Some people may be able to perform at very high levels for a minute or so -- even in the face of high impairment. In particular, there may be certain risk factors (e.g., emotional stress) that will not be detected by a brief behavioral test but t hat can still detract from job performance (Gilliland & Schlegel, 1993). Also, as noted earlier, employees who are too impaired to perform non-routine tasks may still be capable of performing a well-learned fitness-for-duty test or accustomed aspects of their jobs. If so, the predictive validity of the testing methodology to detect these risk factors would be compromised.

According to anecdotal reports, employees respond positively to impairment tests. But Butler (personal communication, 9/26/94) posits that performance testing can be just as intrusive as drug testing. Indeed, employees may resent having to take perfo rmance tests, especially more than once daily. Relatedly, Gilliland and Schlegel (1993) posit that failing one's performance test "can, and probably will, be viewed as stigmatizing in the same manner as a positive biochemical drug test" (p. 30). They fu rther reason that because a performance test failure may stem from any number of factors, hapless employees may be the target of rumors and doubts. Moreover, Blanton et al. (1992) argue that performance testing is no more desirable than urine testing beca use it is equally susceptible to corrupt managerial prerogatives.

Yet another potential problem with performance testing is the hidden administrative costs it may generate, including the expense of procedures for follow-up in cases where employees fail their performance tests (Gilliland & Schlegel, 1993). Conducting biochemical tests, offering counseling, and/or reassigning skilled employees to nonskilled non-safety-sensitive jobs and replacing them compound the costs of computer equipment and training.

Moreover, even though it takes just a minute or so to run one trial of a performance test, if an employee fails several consecutive trials, at least 10 minutes must elapse before the employee can try again. This waiting period is sure to break the flo w of operations at an organization. Also, in large organizations with many employees or sites, testing apparatus and program coordinators are needed at every station or site, thus driving up the initial costs of a fitness-for-duty program (Transportation Research Associates, Inc., 1994).

In sum, the following questions remain about fitness-for-duty tests:

1) Do fitness-for-duty tests detect the presence of performance-impairing risk factors and/or do they predict actual job performance?

2) To what extent can employees pass their fitness-for-duty tests when they are capable of performing routine aspects of their job but unfit to meet the challenge of novel non-routine tasks?

3) To what extent can employees recruit -- motivate themselves sufficiently to pass their fitness-for-duty test -- even when they are too impaired to work?

4) What kinds of policies have organizations devised to administer these tests and address test failures?

5) To what extent are fitness-for-duty test administration and interpretation susceptible to managerial prerogatives?

6) What are the administrative costs of fitness-for-duty testing?

7) To what extent can employees cheat on fitness-for-duty tests?

8) How do employees view fitness-for-duty testing? These questions will be revisited after considering concurrent research on these tests, archival data from two test manufacturers, interviews with managers of former and current fitness-for-dutytesting client organizations, and questionnaires completed by currently tested employees.

V. Concurrent research

As Gilliland and Schlegel advised in a critical report on readiness to perform (RTP) testing: The degree to which an RTP measure is related to either job performance or a risk factor cannot be assumed -- it must be verified empirically. Further, it sh ould be verified by comparing the specific RTP measure in question with actual job performance measures or with task performance measures while in an experimentallymanipulated risk-factor state (1993, p. 11).

Gilliland and Schlegel are presently analyzing data they generated in a "synthetic work environment" (personal communication, Gilliland, 10/13/94). They have, in essence, conducted the very sort of empirical study called for in their 1993 technical re port. For four weeks, college student research participants "worked" for two hours per day, taking five readiness-to-perform test batteries and two job performance tests expected to be linked with performance on the RTPs. (Before the experimental trials began, they performed training trials to establish baseline scores.) The investigators collected objective data on the effects of alcohol, sleep loss, and antihistamines on RTP tests and task performance, as well as subjective data concerning how perfor mers felt after exposure to the various stressors. Their data will thus provide evidence as to the risk-factor and job-related criterion validity of each test battery.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) is sponsoring its own evaluation of fitness-for-duty devices. The purpose of the evaluation, led by David Kerr of Battelle, is to determine if any commercially available test works well enough to be used in the transportation industry. According to Kerr (personal communication, 6/26/95), five of the six vendors of fitness-for-duty tests invited to participate in the laboratory study accepted. Stephen Andrle of TCRP emphasized that alt hough test vendors have made impressive claims about their products, it is necessary to assess their validity and feasibility. He explained that due to "quirks" in the experimental environment, results of the investigation, in which subjects performed fi tnessfor-duty tests after drinking screwdrivers, were inconclusive. A second phase of the project, which will repeat the first phase but also include a placebo group, is to be completed by the spring of 1996 (personal communication, 6/29/95).

Attwood (personal communication, 6/26/94) insists, however, that what is missing is a solid field study in which actual employees take a fitness-for-duty test under true workplace conditions. Such a study would need to expose these employees to stress ors (such as alcohol and fatigue), and then use manipulation checks to ensure that the stressors had their intended effects and to determine if the stressors affected performance on the fitnessfor-duty test. He underscores the need for a field (vs. labor atory) study because a performance test must be "sensitive to the factors you care about" but immune to factors like light and noise in the testing room, "which are the reality in the testing situation". Indeed, an investigation he and his colleagues con ducted suggests that distractors in the test-taking environment can seriously undermine the usefulness of a computerized fitnessfor-duty test: "[T]asks that are intended to measure fitness-for-duty must be located in an area that is free from distraction so that the measured behavior is not confounded by other mental activity (Attwood, Nicholich, & Muise, 1994, p.5)."

The study I will now present does involve real employees who take fitness-for-duty tests under actual workplace conditions. Because I did not conduct an experiment, but obtained data less obtrusively, my methodology is less rigorous than that used by G illiland and Schlegel or by the TCRP (or, presumably, that required to satisfy Attwood). Nevertheless, this study, unlike those of these other investigators, is better able to provide insights into how well fitness-for-duty programs work in real organiza tions and how real employees view fitness-for-duty tests.

VI. Archival data from two manufacturers of fitness-for-duty Tests

Two prominent commercial fitness-for-duty tests are the Essex Company's Delta-WP and Performance Factors Inc.'s Factor 1000.

Delta-WP has been carefully developed according to sound psychological testing theory. Research by Turnage and Kennedy (Turnage & Kennedy, 1992; Turnage, Kennedy, Smith, Baltzley, & Lane, 1992) documents the extensive empirical evidence of the reliabi lity, stability, and construct and predictive validity (for risk factors) of the tests, which involve selecting on one's keyboard the correct answer about the images on one's screen. The seven tests in the Delta-WP repertoire that measure different facto rs important for cognitive, perceptual, and psychomotor skills are combined into various batteries to match the skill and educational levels of the test-taking population at a given client company (Delta-WP Manager's Manual, 1994; personal communication, Janet Turnage, 9/28/94). A test-taker's score is the sum of the scores on the (usually) three subtests in the battery.

According to David Parry, Manager of Information Systems and Product Manager of Delta-WP at the Essex Corporation (personal communication, 10/11/94), Delta-WP is measuring impairment broadly and generally, and that the capabilities of Delta-WP to use j obspecific test batteries are therefore neither especially necessary nor practical (for clients who would have to pay for a job analysis). In essence, he asserts that the test has risk-factor criterion validity, but makes no claims about its job-relevant criterion validity. Indeed, the Delta-WP Manager's Manual (1994) clearly specifies that empirical research on the relationship between an employee's test score and his or her performance on the job has not yet been conducted. Only an indirect relations hip between test score and future on-the-job performance is suggested in the Manual, which posits that the implementation of Delta-WP in a workplace may contribute to a reduced number of accidents because a) impaired employees who are detected will not ha ve an opportunity to make mistakes or perform in a hazardous fashion and b) the knowledge that they will be taking a fitness-for-duty test will discourage employees from arriving at work in an impaired state.

A passing score for an employee takes into consideration the employee's own baseline as well as the passing score standard set by the compan -- ybased on tradeoffs between costs of preventing employees who are actually fit from working on a given day ( false positives) and costs of potential damage caused by employees who pass but are not fit to work (false negatives). The client works with the test manufacturer, Essex, to determine, and make adjustments to, this standard, thus meeting Gilliland and Sc hlegel's (1993) recommendation of consumer involvement in standard-setting.

The passing score standard is set depending on the employer's comfort level with test scores that deviate a little vs. a lot, such that a passing score for a given employee indicates that the employee is performing within n% of his or her baseline.

Parry (personal communication, 10/11/94), echoing Gilliland's (1994) views on falsing, asserts that it would be difficult for an employee to deflate performance artificially on the baselinesetting trials so as to pass later when impaired, because it wo uld be too tough to repeat the pattern of continued depression.

Because it is highly unusual for a test-taker to give more than a very few incorrect responses per test, doing so would alert test administrators. Thus, a test-taker would have to depress his or her response time, which, according to Parry, would be t ricky.

Although there is no research specifically addressing the use of Factor 1000, a particular version of the critical tracking test, Performance Factors, Inc. asserts that it acquired the license for the critical tracking test in 1988, maintaining its val idity and embellishing upon its applicability for the workplace with the Factor 1000 system (Factor 1000 Fitness-for-Work Assessment Program Technology Overview and Technical Validation, 1991-1994). There is, indeed, much empirical evidence of the risk-f actor criterion validity of the critical tracking test (Allen, Jex, & Stein, 1984; Allen, Stein, & Jex, 1981; Allen, Stein, & Miller, 1990; Belleville, Dorey, & Bellville, 1979; Burns & Moskowitz, 1980; Jex, 1988; Klein & Jex, 1975; O'Hanlon, 1981; Stolle r & Bellville, 1976). Evidence of its job-related criterion validity is considerably sparser (but see Allen, Stein, & Jex, 1981).

At companies using Factor 1000, a test-taker sits in front of a video screen showing a cursor that is beneath a target area and surrounded by a boundary marker on each side. The test-taker uses the control knob to try to keep a randomly careening curs or centered between the markers. Each time the cursor is returned by the test-taker to its position between the markers, it accelerates, until, finally, the test-taker can no longer control it. As the brief testing session progresses, it becomes increas ingly difficult to control the cursor. In a sense, controlling the cursor is akin to trying to stay perched atop a bucking bronco that bucks more vehemently as the rider persists. Scoring depends on how far the cursor veers from the center each time, ho w long the test-taker takes to regain control of the cursor each time, and how long the cursor is kept centered. A passing score is one that meets or exceeds the employee's baseline in at least one of eight attempts (Factor 1000 Fitness for Work Program: Common Questions and Answers, 1993). Because a test-taker's baseline is set so that he or she has a 60% chance of passing any given trial, there is only a .06553% probability of his or her passing none of the eight trials, according to Marc Silverman, Chief Technology Officer of Performance Factors, Inc. (personal communication, 11/21/94).=20 Silverman adds that the computer algorithm can detect if an employee is purposely underperforming, and will alert test administrators accordingly.

An employee who has not taken the Factor 1000 critical tracking test within seven days (e.g., during a leave of absence for a reason unrelated to impairment) has several practice trials to "refresh" his or her skills at the test (Factor 1000 Fitness fo r Work Program Policy and Procedure Development Workbook, 1994).

In contrast with Essex, the manufacturer of Delta-WP, Performance Factor, Inc. does claim that Factor 1000 has jobrelated validity and advises the test be administered only to those performing work requiring hand-eye coordination: Hand-eye coordination is a basic requirement for jobs which involve manipulating or controlling equipment or devices with the hands or feet. Therefore, hand-eye coordination is the job function tested through Factor 1000 (Factor 1000 Fitness for Work Program Common Questions and Answers, 1993, p. 5).

Nonetheless, Silverman has displayed greater confidence in Factor 1000's risk-factor validity than its job-related validity, telling me that not meeting one's baseline means that one is at risk, not that one will necessarily have an accident (personal communication, 11/21/94).

Because Performance Factors, Inc. believes that performance on the Factor 1000 test can predict work performance, its client companies are encouraged to set specific productivity and safety goals so that the impact of Factor 1000 can be assessed (Facto r 1000 Fitness for Work Program Development Workbook, 1994).

Performance Factors also asserts that use of Factor 1000 deters risky behavior because employees know they will have to pass a performance test (Factor 1000 Fitness for Work Program Common Questions, 1993).

The job-related criterion validity of Factor 1000 also requires Performance Factors, Inc. to address the situation in which an employee who fails to meet his or her personal baseline, but outperforms a co-worker, is considered impaired: Workers learn t o perform their jobs given the set of skills each possesses, and if a critical skill is missing they are not able to compensate (Factor 1000 Fitness for Work Program Common Questions and Answers, 1993, p. 14). So, even if Paul outperforms Richard, if Paul does not meet his baseline, he is not deemed fit to perform because he is unaccustomed to working under these conditions. If Richard meets his baseline, even though he underperforms Paul, he is allowed to perform a safety-sensitive job because he will b e working under skill conditions that are normal for him.

VII. Interviews with former users of fitness-for-duty Testing

It is instructive to consider the experiences of former users of Factor 1000. (There are no former users of the Delta-WP, a product that has only very recently been available for commercial use.) Newspaper articles from a few years ago reported on ot her Factor 1000 customers, some of whom, I discovered, had discontinued their testing programs.

One former Factor 1000 customer had gone out of business and another had, according to the EAP representative, stopped administering Factor 1000 due to union problems (I was unable to contact the former program administrator, who had since left the org anization). But I was able to ask the general managers of 1) a small Midwestern tool-and-die company, 2) his counterpart at a sister organization, a tire-and-wheel distributor, and 3) a West Coast transportation concern why their companies had discontinu ed using Factor 1000 and how they, their managers, and their employees had viewed fitness-for-duty testing.

In the case of two of the companies, it was not possible to determine whether using Factor 1000 had improved safety or productivity because no "before" measures had been taken. At the third, the safety record while Factor 1000 was in place was not sig nificantly better than that of other branches of the company, which were not using Factor 1000.

The three general managers described the following types of problems: Logistical glitches. One general manager complained that reassigning employees to non-safety sensitive work and finding replacements for them stressed his operations: "Having to p lace the one who failed elsewhere created grief." Another problem was that daily testing took a lot of time because there were not enough terminals (which are expensive). Because employees could not start working before their test, time was wasted. Sta ff time was also consumed by monitoring the testing process. Additionally, some employees have schedules not conducive to testing. E.g., salespeople ordinarily do not report to the office until they have made their morning calls in the field, and long-d istance truckdrivers work odd shifts. Validity concerns. One general manager asserted that employees who felt and behaved normally could not always pass the test, even if they thought they were doing well. Another reported that some days, the program se emed much harder than others. On "easy" days, he explained, the cursor moved very little; on "hard" days, it moved all over. Employees at these organizations grew to believe that whether they passed or failed depended on chance. And one doubtful superv isor, who experimented during his off hours by trying out the test when he was inebriated, concluded that the test lacked validity after he passed it in his impaired state. Challenges to privacy. Some employees perceived testing as an imposition, rather than as a boon for their welfare. Those with excellent performance records complained about having to submit to daily testing. Further, people knew who failed and there was a stigma attached to failing. Test-taking anxiety. Respondents told me that som e older employees had computerphobia. (Indeed, Sharit and Czaja, 1994, observed that older people may have difficulty learning computer skills.)

Additionally, some other employees, regardless of their age, lost sleep worrying about their daily duel with the computer. Although Burke, Normand, and Raju (1987) found that attitudes toward computer-administered tests were generally positive, it sho uld be noted that their sample consisted of clerical office workers -- a group that does not ordinarily perform safety-sensitive work and is therefore not ordinarily made to take a fitness-for-duty test. Supervisors. Not only did supervisors dislike deal ing with subordinates' complaints, but they thought the testing program preempted their authority. They resented that the test result prevailed as the deciding factor even if they deemed their subordinates fit for work.

When asked to account for these complaints, PFI's Chief Technology Officer Marc Silverman (personal communication, 11/21/94) countered that technology (i.e., the hardware and software of the test itself) is less important in the success of Factor 1000 than how management implements the testing program.

Having consulted with clients to design appropriate policies and procedures, he believes that organizations that are concerned about their employees' safety and welfare and have amicable labormanagement relations generally have greater success with an impairment testing program. He seems to attribute failures of organizational testing efforts to faulty client implementation rather than to any flaws with his company's product.

VIII. Interviews with current users of fitness-for-duty testing

Based on my conversations with representatives of companies that had abandoned their fitness-for-duty testing program, as well as the asserted assets and drawbacks of such testing discussed earlier, I designed an interview for representatives of organi zations currently conducting impairment testing (see Appendix A).

Although all questions were asked of all respondents in the sample, the order varied depending on each respondent's particular comments.

As reported earlier, only a handful of organizations conduct fitness-for-duty testing. Although half of the organizations I contacted were found in trade publications (some organizations, apparently, are happy to gain publicity for their innovativenes s), I depended on the test manufacturers for the names of the others. I spoke with representatives (two presidents, two human resources directors, and two managers) of four West Coast clients of Performance Factors's Factor 1000 (a municipality, a petrole um distributor, an ambulance service, and a resort) and two mid-Atlantic clients of Essex's Delta-WP (a contractor of security guards and a pharmaceuticals concern).

In four of the six organizations in the sample, only those employees in safety-sensitive positions take fitness-for-duty tests. In one of the other two, the executive staff also takes the test, to show support, and in the other, everyone in the organi zation takes the test, in the name of solidarity and fairness. Testtakers at these organizations include emergency medical technicians, paramedics, security personnel, drivers of motorized vehicles, machinery/equipment operators, maintenance workers, sci entists, inspectors, and those responsible for children.

At five of the six organizations in the sample, even employees with outstanding records take a fitness-for-duty test every day. Respondents explained that daily testing guarantees safety, and, as such, is the cornerstone of this type of program. The f ollowing comments, from three respondents, are representative:

  • We need to know if they're fit for duty.
  • We have to be sure.
  • It wouldn't be an effective program otherwise. Judging future performance test results from past ones is an useless as using pre-employment testing and never testing again.

At one organization, management considered retesting employees who work 24-hour shifts in the middle of a long shift, but decided it would be too much of a burden.

These remarks raise questions about the adequacy and advisability of the other organization's random fitness-for-duty testing system. Here, not every employee is tested every day. Instead, because employees, who are contracted out to other businesses , work at many different locations, "roving" supervisors, armed with laptop computers, are sent to about 10 to 15 sites on a given day.

These sites are chosen at random; thus, some employees could be tested several times per week, and others, only once every several weeks. It has been asserted that "a random testing protocol for fitness-for-duty analysis may hinder the overall objecti ve of conducting fitness-for-duty analysis" (Transportation Research Associates, Inc., 1994, p. 86). Likewise, a representative of the test manufacturer told me that he does not endorse this random testing. First, although all employees there are "eligi ble" every day for testing, any of those not randomly selected on a given day may, of course, go to work in an impaired state. Second, some of those who are selected for testing take the test after their shift has already begun. Third, if a long period passes between an employee's consecutive random tests, lack of practice at the test will affect the employee's ability to meet his or her baseline and thus complicate interpretation of test results.

All organizations in the sample test job applicants for drug use and test employees for cause. One also conducts post-accident testing, and two organizations are also required to conduct random drug testing for their employees in transportation-relate d jobs.

Nonetheless, at three organizations, representatives told me they perceived behavior-based testing as more effective than drug testing because of the former's ability to detect impaired behavior every day before it can cause harm. (One of these repres entatives commented, further, that drug testing did not make sense in light of research findings that most on-the-job accidents result from stress and fatigue rather than from drug use.) They also perceived fitness-for-duty testing as less intrusive than drug testing.

Reasons for implementing fitness-for-duty testing. At one organization, fitness-for-duty testing was implemented in hopes of reducing the high rate of accidents and workers' compensation claims. In contrast, another organization, with a low accident record, testing was adopted pro-actively to ensure continuing workplace safety. At a third organization, whose representative asserted, "There's no room for error in our industry," fitness-for-duty testing was initially implemented as a pro-active measur e for one group of employees, and was later expanded to other groups after a customer rejected a flawed product. At a fourth organization, fitness-for-duty testing was initiated to appeal to customers and was seen as a way to gain a competitive edge. The other two organizations wanted to enhance safety, and viewed behavior-based testing as less intrusive than drug testing.

IX. Impact of fitness-for-duty testing.

Although fitness-for-duty testing is conducted to ensure safety, its impact is generally not monitored systematically. Instead, respondents pointed to anecdotal evidence that fitness-for-duty testing is working.

Only one of the six respondents gave me any "hard" data about the effect of his organization's fitness-for-duty testing program. He pointed to steadily decreasing insurance premiums, workers' compensation claims, and minor accidents, all of which he at tributes to increased alertness resulting from fitness-for-duty testing. When I pointed out that his company has had urine drug testing for most of the time that fitness-for-duty testing has been in place, he claimed confidently that the latter was the tr ue boon to safety and productivity. When asked how he knew, however, he replied only with, "You can just tell."

Most of the other respondents pointed to anecdotal evidence that fitness-for-duty testing is working. As one commented, "Our best feedback comes from employees." Employees who are less sharp than usual, yet not impaired enough to fail their test, hav e told her that because they are focused on safety now, they take pains to concentrate at work. A second explained that the test "gets their attention, gets people to refrain from risky behavior the night before" that could make them show up tired for wo rk. A third also alluded to the deterrent quality of fitness-for-duty testing, going so far as to say that "It seems as if people have changed their lifestyles because of the test." He and another respondent indicated that because employees are entitled to a maximum number of unexcused absences, they cannot afford to fail the test repeatedly and will therefore come to work ready to perform. This other respondent also told me that the fitness-for-duty test had saved an employee's life at her organizatio n. (After failing the test, the employee was discovered to have kidney failure.)

At the remaining organization in the sample, not even anecdotal signs of the impact of fitness-for-duty testing are collected: "Just keeping track of who passes or fails each day is enough to do," the manager expressed in an exasperated tone. Testing policies. Some organizations have very specific and precise policies; others use more flexible case-by-case approaches to decide what to do when employees fail to meet their baseline. The latter grant greater discretion to supervisors, to the extent that an employee's actual test result becomes less important for determining how it is interpreted.

At one organization, employees who fail their test the first or second time within a 90-day period go home, taking a sick day because there is no safety-nonsensitive work to do; another employee takes over their safety-sensitive duties. The employees may be advised, but are not required, to visit the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor. After the third failure within that 90-day period, an EAP visit is mandatory. After the fourth failure, the employee must submit to a drug test.

The policy is similar at another organization. However, an employee who fails is usually reassigned to work that is not safety-sensitive. Also, EAP counseling is not mandatory until the fourth failure, at which time the EAP counselor may also ask for a drug or alcohol test. Failure to comply with the EAP results in suspension or termination. The respondent explained: Human Resources has full discretion. This eliminates favoritism. Our goal is not to punish but to help; the EAP is the step between failing and being possibly fired.

At a third organization, there is broader supervisory discretion. If an employee fails all the allowed trials, the supervisor consults with the employee to decide if the employee should be granted yet another trial, after a half-hour to an hour has pa ssed.

Upon failing this extra trial, the employee is sent home without pay (there are no sick days) and a part-timer or substitute takes over. Although the respondent conceded that "it's a bit of a pain to juggle the schedule when someone fails and can't wo rk," he hastened to add, "but it's better than having an accident." Nobody at this organization has failed more than once a month, and failures are usually due to fatigue. However, employees understand that they can be asked to take a drug test after "e xcessive" failures and that they can be disciplined up to termination.

Counseling is not recommended, "because that would get into the specifics of why the employee failed," but it is provided upon the employee's request.

At a fourth organization, someone who fails is interviewed by a human resources representative, who first checks that the employee is doing the test correctly. An employee who fails either takes vacation or sick time, goes home without pay (if no sick days remain), goes home to sleep a few hours and return later, or is reassigned to a position that is not safety-sensitive (possibly for less pay): "No impaired person should be doing safety-sensitive work." The employee's work is either divided among co-workers or assigned to a replacement. Counseling may be recommended, especially for a first failure. Nobody has yet been tested for drug or alcohol test use after failing the fitness-the-duty test, but the organization is considering having someone t ested after three failures within 30 days.

At the organization that conducts random testing, roving supervisors have great discretion. Even if an employee fails, if the supervisor believes the employee can do the job and the employee has a good track record, the employee will be "given the ben efit of the doubt" and allowed to work. If the employee is new, he or she will more likely be sent home, replaced easily by someone on the long backup list.

The remaining organization in the sample has no policy whatsoever. Rather, anyone who cannot meet his or her baseline is handled on a case by case basis. Such flexibility gives total discretion to the supervisor. For example, it is up to the supervi sor to decide whether an employee who fails his or her test should be given another opportunity to pass. At this lean-staffed organization, sending someone home would create logistical difficulties, so supervisors try not to exercise this option (which h as caused trouble). Instead, those who fail are given safety-nonsensitive responsibilities.

Employees' responses to fitness-for-duty testing. As described by their representatives, employees' responses to fitness-for-duty testing depend on effective communication of these programs. At one organization, employees reacted positively, seeming ly because they were educated and convinced about the need for testing and because their input was solicited and used. Plus, their top management depicted behavioral testing as preferable to biochemical testing. Similarly, at two other organizations, ap propriate preimplementation training emphasized the necessity and safety benefits (for employees) of testing.

The other organizations might also have benefitted from careful pre-implementation campaigning. Some employees at the fourth organization complained ("Why are we doing this? Why don't we get a raise for learning new skills?") until they became accust omed to testing. This same group of employees had difficulty with the left-right spatial relations involved in Delta-WP's manikin test. The program administrator eliminated this test, replacing three minute-long tests with two 90-second tests.

Although employees are no longer confused, they are bored by their daily test session. The representative of the fifth organization implied that employees are still ambivalent about testing: "They feel they're above [daily testing]" even though they welcome "a system that assures them that the guy [working] right next to them is okay." And the respondent from the sixth organization told me that "the ones who stand to get caught don't like it," but that the others have not complained.

Supervisors' responses to fitness-for-duty testing. Supervisors' responses to fitness-for-duty testing, like those of employees, seem to be affected by the nature of program implementation. At four of the organizations, supervisors had wholly positiv e views of testing. As one respondent offered, "Everyone's accepted it, probably because top management fully supports it....We started the program by getting support from the top and working down."

Likewise, another commented, "Everything's worked out smoothly because we spent five months planning it and introducing it." In contrast, supervisors at a fifth organization, according to the representative's report, initially viewed testing negativel y. They complained that daily testing consumed too much of their time, worried about their subordinates' stress, and disliked having to deal with subordinates who failed. However, after the organization provided follow-up training, installed more comput er stations, and established training coordinators and interviewers to administer the daily testing and handle test failures, supervisors developed more positive attitudes. At the sixth organization, although some supervisors have belatedly come to appre ciate the benefits of fitness-for-duty testing for ensuring a safe workplace, they continue to view the program as a "put-on" -- something the president put on supervisors without first asking if they thought it would be useful. Furthermore, the represen tative told me that one employee had always been able to pass her fitness-for-duty test -- even though she seemed impaired -- because she was an expert at video games. However, this employee was unable to perform her job satisfactorily and was terminated .

X. Questionnaire responses of employees currently taking fitness-for-duty tests

The questionnaire sent to employees in the fitness-for-duty testing organizations began by asking respondents to provide general information about themselves: number of years worked at the organization, job title, gender, age, and education. Employee s then answered 16 five-point Likert-type questions assessing their views of performance testing (see Appendix B). These items, pretested with employees who had taken Factor 1000 until their organization discontinued performance testing, assessed employe es' views of a) the ability of fitness-for-duty tests to measure impairment, b) their fairness, c) their ability to create a safe workplace, and d) their cost-effectiveness; as well as e) the impact of these tests on employees' job satisfaction and f) emp loyees' experience of taking tests. Respondents were also provided with blank space, which they were invited to use to explain their responses and/or record any other comments about their experiences with performance testing.

Of the six organizations in the sample, one had been conducting behavior-based testing and drug testing for nearly five years at the time of my telephone interview. The remaining five had been testing their employees for a mean of only five months. At the company where testing had been going on a while, it would have been appropriate to administer a questionnaire to employees without any delay. The company president took a long while to read the brief questionnaire I had sent for his perusal. (The original version of the questionnaire for this organization, which must conduct random urine drug testing, included several items asking respondents to compare performance testing with drug testing.) Each of the several times I called him, he professed he had not yet had an opportunity to read it. When finally, I politely assured him that it would take him less time to read the questionnaire than to tell me he hadn't yet read it, he promised to read it and decide by the end of the week. While I awaite d his response, I received a call =66rom a marketing representative of Performance Factors, Inc., who chided me for intruding on his client with sensitive questions (and presumptuously advised me on the fine points of conducting organizational research). At that point, I concluded that I might have inadvertently pressured the company president to the extent that he could not confront me directly with his decision not to participate in my study. When I called him to explain that it was, of course, his pr erogative not to administer my questionnaire to his employees, and to apologize for any discomfort I might have caused him, he assured me that he did not feel uncomfortable and that his reason for contacting the test manufacturer was to seek advice as to whether he should administer the questionnaire. It would appear that the test manufacturer advised the client to deny me access to his employees, for fear that the questionnaire would stir up negative feelings about fitness-for-duty testing.

A half year later, I called each of the representatives of the five other organizations to ascertain how fitness-for-duty testing was progressing and to seek permission to distribute my questionnaire to assess employees' views toward testing. I learne d that one organization had postponed its fitness-for-duty program.

Moreover, according to the new safe workplace coordinator (my initial contact, the deputy director of personnel, had since accepted a position elsewhere in the organization), before the postponement, employees at the organization's primary site had bee n taking daily fitness-for-duty tests on a "dry-run" basis only. That is, employees who did not meet their baselines could not perform safety-sensitive work that day, but faced no disciplinary repercussions.

The program was suspended in response to DOT drug-and-alcohol testing regulations, which the organization must address for its employees in transportation-related positions by January of 1996. (Apparently, both the fitness-for-duty and drug-and-alcohol policies described to me during the interview phase of the research had been planned but were not formally in place.) The organization decided to defer fitness-for-duty testing until its biochemical testing program was underway for necessary employee gr oups. Both types of testing will constitute its "safe workplace plan."

Meanwhile, the safe workplace coordinator described to me some problems he foresees with fitness-for-duty testing. Although he praised fitness-for-duty testing for obviating the "awkward" situation of having to administer a drug or alcohol test for re asonable suspicion, he complained that such testing required too many resources -- trainers and coordinators, as well as computers.

He also explained that travel between the organization's primary site and its scores of widely dispersed testing sites, to conduct train-the-trainer sessions to expand the testing program, had all too frequently been pre-empted by inclement Arctic weat her. I asked the safe workplace coordinator if I could distribute my questionnaire to employees who had been taking fitness-for-duty tests before the program's abeyance. He refused to give me access, replying that he wanted to "monitor the program inter nally."

Three organizational representatives who participated in the interview phases of the study immediately consented to distribute my questionnaire. One neither responded to my letter nor returned my numerous phone calls. I decided to reinitiate contact with the company president whom the test manufacturer had advised against administering my questionnaire. I told him I had removed the questions asking employees to compare performance-based testing with urine drug testing (as such questions were not per tinent to any of the other organizations) and asked him if he would review the new version of the questionnaire. Not long after I sent him a copy of the questionnaire, he agreed to distribute it if I would remove Question 7 (because he felt employees wou ld not be in a position to judge whether fitness-for-duty testing is a sound investment) and Question 12 (because he wanted to avoid the "legal" issues he thought it raised). He was also worried that asking employees their gender and age might be constru ed by them as discriminatory. I explained to him that researchers typically gather demographic information about their sample, but offered to add the following phrase: "The purpose of Questions 1-5 is to gather some basic information about the individual s responding to this survey. However, if there is any question you would prefer not to answer, please leave it blank."

The data from this organization are not included in the analysis to follow, because employees had not yet received questionnaires when this manuscript was prepared.

XI. Sample

Responses from 62 individuals are included in the data analysis. At one organization, 42 of 100 individuals returned the questionnaire; at another, nine of 35 (25.7%) did. These 51 individuals responded about Factor 1000. At the third organization, which uses Delta-WP, the representative informed me that nine (one whole unit) of the 35 individuals who were sent the questionnaire had stopped taking the performance test before the questionnaires arrived, and one supervisor had refused to distribute th e questionnaires to her unit of six, for fear of the impact on her job security of her subordinates' participation in my research.

Further, my representative told me she had overheard some employees' complaining: "Why should we help anyone connected with this test?" (Of course, it would have behooved them to express their negative views to an outsider.) Still, eleven of the 20 ( 55%) receiving the questionnaire responded. In sum, the questionnaire had a 40% response rate across the three organizations.

The mean age of the 19 females and 43 males in the sample was 36.95 years (s.d. 11.57). All but three (95.16%) had at least a high school diploma or G.E.D. Forty-five (72.6%) had completed at least some college, and 17 (27.4%) had earned a bachelor's degree. Data analysis. The scree plot of a principal components factor analysis indicated that one factor, accounting for 49.5% of the variance, comprised the items in the questionnaire (Eigenvalue 7.92 and Kaiser's Measure of Sampling Adequacy .84). A ll items loaded onto this factor except Question 6. The mean loading for the other 15 items was .72.

Responses to these 15 items were averaged to form a scale of employees' attitudes toward fitness-for-duty testing (coefficient .93). Values ranged from 1 to 4.533, with a median of 2.57 and a mean of 2.60 (s.d. .90). That is, employees generally had somewhat negative views toward fitness-for-duty testing. It is notable that three of the five highest (most positive) scores toward fitness-for-duty testing came from one company's human resources director and vice president of operations, as well as an employee there who commented that her own experience with fitness-for-duty testing was limited because she had worked for the organization for only five weeks and was therefore "not positive" that testing "indicates level of work ability." Attitudes towa rd fitness-for-duty testing were not significantly correlated with gender, age, education, or years in the organization.

Forty-nine (79.03%) of the respondents wrote comments in the space provided. Only one comment was purely positive: "It is not annoying or unfair to take a performance test because it is good to know if you are aware of what you are doing on the job" ( female, 33, about Delta-WP).

Nine comments were neutral or mixed. For example: "We have not had it in operation very long to give real accurate answers to the questions above" (male, 36, about Factor 1000). "Although I'm not real fond of performance testing, I do think there is a need for it....[W]hether it works or not, [it] is at least a means of trying to be proactive in safety concerns (male, 37, about Factor 1000)." "Performance testing is a valid way to assess my fitness for work and is much more palatable than drug testing . As with any method, I don't think it is 100% foolproof" (male, 40, about Factor 1000).

Whereas a total of three respondents commented that fitnessfor-duty testing is preferable to drug testing, two expressed the opposite opinion.

Six commented that fitness-for-duty testing is stressful: "Taking the test every day causes more stress than the job" (male, 42, about Factor 1000). "The test itself is stressful in that if one doesn't pass right way, we tend to get upset, which seems to affect performance. In other words, if I wasn't impaired to begin with, I may be by the end of the tries of the test" (female, 42, about Factor 1000).

Six expressed that performance testing is intrusive and/or that it signals a lack of trust: "I feel it is an invasion of privacy for me to take this test" (female, 32, about Delta-WP).

"I have worked for this organization for 23 years and have always had satisfactory to exemplary performance evaluations. I feel "untrusted" [sic] now that I have to proved my fitness for work before every shift" (male, 45, about Factor 1000).

Four respondents complained that fitness-for-duty testing is too time-consuming: "My co-workers and I are already faced with limited time. The ten minutes it takes for the test alone is very valuable, not to mention waiting to take it and having to ret ake it if the printer jams, etc." (male, 24, about Delta-WP). "Personally, I've had difficulty passing Factor 1000 if I have a lot of work issues to deal with early in the morning. I resent having to take valuable time out to find a free machine and then deal with it if I don't pass on the first try" (female, 33).

Twelve respondents commented on the unfairness of performance testing. Many deemed it unfair because not everyone in their organization is tested. Additionally, some consider testing unfair because a) it does not measure what it purports to measure, b) individuals with higher baselines must always perform better, or c) the test is personally discriminating: "Where I work, not all employees have to take the test -- a double standard which...causes a bad attitude" (male, 29, about Factor 1000). "It's b een really hard for me. I have mixed dominance. My left eye is dominant and my right hand is dominant... I've never been good at video games because my hand-eye coordination wasn't up to par....[A]fter you fail three sets of eight we have to take a drug test. Which I think is wrong. Because I've failed it more times than anyone [else] at the company" (male, 23, about Factor 1000).

The most common topic of respondents' comments about fitnessfor-duty testing was their doubts as to its validity. Whereas three individuals indicated their uncertainty about the validity of performance testing, 33 have decided more definitively that t esting does not work. Several reported that they have seen impaired individuals pass and fit individuals fail: "I have failed the computerized fitness test when there was no reason for me to be "unfit" -- no controlled substances, plenty of rest, no undu e stress. I have also seen people come to work extremely hung over and pass. I have seen people drink three beers and two shots of hard liquor and pass. This is not a foolproof system" (male, 45, about Factor 1000). "As a drug user, I can assure you th at Factor 1000 does not work" (male, 27).

In addition to commenting about performance tests' inability to detect the presence of risk factors, employees also question its job-related validity: "I have seen workers hung over to the extent that [they] can't do their jobs well, but can pass Facto r 1000" (male, 60). "I don't feel [Delta-WP] is an accurate representation, mainly because it is not directly job related....[T]he only way to evaluate a worker and deem him/her "fit to work" is simply by being observed by the supervisor, or by judging th e quality and quantity of work (male, 24)."

Respondents also observed that the difficulty of Factor 1000 varies: "I believe that the test is inconsistent. [It] has let me in when it shouldn't have, with a considerable amount of ease. I myself have never been locked out. Some days it is more d ifficult and other days it lets me in with little effort" (male, 21). "Performance testing is inconsistent with respect to failure region. For example, some tests take as much as two minutes to complete with the marker remaining in the white area for mos t of the test time and a failure result, while some tests are passed with only 15 seconds of test time" (male, 23).

Moreover, contrary to test manufacturers' assurances, some employees assert that they can pass or fail intentionally. "I have failed because I wanted to. The reps said there is no way that a person could alter the results. Not true" (male, 44, about Factor 1000). "You can get a majority of answers wrong but do it very quickly and get a very good score. I know this to be true because many people I work with don't pay any attention to the questions or simply keep one key depressed for the entire test and end up with very good scores" (female, 32, about Delta-WP).

XII. Revisiting questions about fitness-for-duty testing validity.

Factor 1000 and Delta-WP are designed to have both riskfactor validity. Factor 1000 is also intended to have job-relevant validity. Many respondents, however, reported that individuals too impaired to work can pass while fit individuals often fail.

According to employees' accounts of their own and others' behavior, individuals under the influence of drugs pass their tests. It is possible that these individuals have built up tolerance to their drug of choice, enabling them to perform their well-l earned fitness-for-duty test and the more routine facets of their jobs.

But they may be too impaired to perform unfamiliar tasks. It is also plausible that individuals who are too impaired even to perform the most basic aspects of their job can concentrate for the moments required to pass a fitness-for-duty test. Still, despite these validity problems, some believe that fitness-for-duty testing may deter a proportion of employees from engaging in risky behavior. Testing Policies. Organizations have handily devised policies to administer fitness-for-duty tests and addres s failures. Typically, employees can fail their test only a few times within a given interval of time before they must visit an EAP counselor and/or take a drug test. In some organizations, someone who fails a test on a given day is, according to human resource policy, removed from safety-sensitive responsibilities and either sent home or given other work. In other organizations, the employee's supervisor has greater input in interpreting a test failure, and may determine that the employee is still rea dy to perform, even if he or she has failed. No evidence was found to suggest that supervisors abuse this prerogative. Administrative costs. According to reports from organizations that have discontinued fitness-for-duty testing, as well as organization s that currently test their employees, testing entails more expenses than simply purchasing software. Organizations must decide whether it is more costly to set up additional computer testing stations and thereby reduce employees' waiting time to take da ily tests, or to save on equipment costs but increase workers' downtime. The daily administration and interpretation of these tests also require time and effort. Organizations with smaller staffs especially encounter difficulties when they need to repla ce an employee who is found unfit to perform safety-sensitive work. Falsing. Despite test manufacturers' that test-takers cannot purposely depress their scores without being noticed, some employees reported that it is possible to fail or pass deliberatel y. Perhaps the test manufacturers are correct, but falsing goes undetected because organizations cannot afford the time needed to monitor employees' test patterns as comprehensively as they should. Employees' views. In general, employees' attitudes towa rd fitnessfor-duty testing are somewhat negative. Employees consider these tests stressful, intrusive, time-consuming, unfair, and invalid.

XIII. Conclusion

Performance-based fitness-for-duty testing would seem to be a promising tool to prevent substandard work and unsafe behavior. The popular press has sung the virtues of fitness-for-duty tests, and laboratory research has supplied evidence that they are psychometrically solid. But what has been conspicuously absent from the literature is a systematic investigation of fitness-for-duty testing programs in organizations.

The study presented in this paper reviewed archival data from two commercial test manufacturers, interview data with managers of former and current clients of fitness-for-duty tests, and questionnaires completed by employees who take fitness-for-duty tests. The results suggest that fitness-for-duty testing loses something in the translation from theory to practice. These tests emerge valid and reliable in laboratory investigations; yet current test-takers and managers of former test-takers assert that fit individuals fail while obviously impaired individuals pass, and employees claim they can pass or fail their performance tests at will. Further, introducing and administering a fitness-for-duty testing program require an ongoing commitment, which, a pparently, has left most organizations no time to monitor whether fitness-for-duty testing actually enhances organizational safety and productivity.

These results are personally disappointing to me. Although I, like Dennis Attwood and some of my respondents, still advocate fitness-for-duty testing in theory, I am not convinced that Factor 1000 or Delta-WP is accomplishing what its clients expect.

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Appendix A: Interview Questions Asked of Representatives of Current Users of Fitness-for-Duty Tests Why was impairment testing implemented? In what ways would you say impairment testing has enhanced safety and/or productivity? reduced accidents, mistakes, and injuries? affected absenteeism? How do you know? What kinds of human resources policies have been adopted to deal with those employees who fail their tests -- the first time or repeatedly? Who determines the outcomes for those who fail? Why? In which (if any) situations is counseling recommended? Why (not)? In which (if any) situations is drug or alcohol testing recommended? Why (not)? If an employee has sustained an excellent performance record over a period of time, does the employee still take a daily impairment test? Why is that? How have employees reacted to this? In general, how have employees responded to impairment testing? In general, how have supervisors responded to impairment testing of their subordinates?

Appendix B: Items Assessing Views toward Fitness-for-Duty Tests 1. Performance tests can measure if an employee is fit to perform his or her job. 2.47 (1.29) 2. Taking a performance test is fun. 2.186 (1.21) 3. Performance testing is an effective way to cut the costs of risky behavior in the workplace. 2.45 (1.18) 4. Performance tests are fair. 2.50 (1.28) *5. Performance testing is an invasion of an employee's privacy. 3.39 (1.36) *6. Taking a performance test can be stressful. 2.13 (1.19) 7. The cost of administering and interpreting performance tests is a sound investment that pays off in the long run. 2.47 (1.17) *8. I would be more satisfied with my job if I didn't have to take any performance tests. 2.47 (1.35) 9. Knowing that my company conducts performance testing makes me feel safe when I'm at work. 2.32 (1.28) 10. Taking a performance test is a pleasant experience. 2.00 (1.00) *11. It is unfair for an organization to administer performance tests to employees. 3.29 (1.23) *12. The results of a performance test reveal personal information that someone's employer has no right to know. 3.68 (1.15) *13. It is annoying to take a performance test before every shift. 2.22 (1.35) 14. The results of an individual's performance test indicate whether or not the individual is too impaired to work. 2.35 (1.35) 15. I feel good about working for an organization that conducts performance testing. 2.77 (1.31) 16. I feel more secure because my company conducts performance testing. 2.45 (1.26)

[END]

 

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