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Drug Screening across Europe


EUDrug and alcohol abuse is a global problem, so it’s natural for U.S. and global companies expanding their workforce program internationally to include screening as part of their hiring process. However, those looking to implement drug and alcohol screening in Europe need to be very mindful of local laws and customs. What is possible in the U.S. may run afoul of privacy laws in Europe, where the rights and protections for employees (and potential employees) are more guarded.

In Europe, local laws vary widely a great deal. It’s really only in Finland (2003), Ireland (2005) and Norway (2005) that clear legislation exists regarding drug testing in the workplace. Elsewhere, much of the legal framework, where it exists at all comes from interpretations of a combination of various national laws, including those on Labor Codes, privacy, data protection, and health and safety at work.

All members of the European Union do abide by The European Convention of Human Rights as well as EU directives on data protection and health and safety at work. Therefore, there is some degree of harmonization on basic principles. There is often a clearly qualified level of risk/response, though qualified in various different ways: many countries state that testing can take place when there is a health, safety, or security risk, or when it is “necessary,” “proportionate,” “justified,” or “reasonable,” or when there is suspicion of drug abuse. In Europe, the emphasis is generally placed on health aspects, rather than the possible illegality of drug use: in many countries, occupational doctors can only inform the employer whether an employee is “fit for work,” rather than revealing the full results of the test.

Obtaining the consent of employees to be screened via their employment contract is useful in some countries like the U.K. However, Belgium and Finland believe that fundamental rights such as the right to privacy are indivisible and therefore an individual cannot consent to waive such rights.

Countries also vary considerably in their emphasis on testing before or during employment. Pre-employment testing for screening purposes is actually illegal in the Netherlands; however testing is permitted for job applicants in some countries in certain situations.

At the end of the day, close consultation with local counsel as well as background screening experts familiar with the local environment is highly recommended as organizations look to incorporate drug screening into their global background screening programs.

Copyright © 2015 Aletheia Consulting Group

Aletheia Consulting Group provides expert cost-effective global advisory solutions for multinational organization human resource, compliance, privacy, and security risk management resource needs. Our primary focus is on companies that have overseas operations that seek to navigate the sometimes challenging sea of international risk management involving the people, processes, technology and organization. If you’d like to learn more about our Services for Multinational Employers please feel free to contact us at Terry.Corley@me.com.

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