The “Ought Implies Can” Argument Drug testing has become a hot topic under the microscope recently. The problem is the question whether or not it is morally wrong to test employees for illegal drug use. In order to justify drug testing in the work place one must look to rights, among other things, to determine what sorts of controls are morally permissible. In order to really determine whether or not drug testing is needed one must evaluate the connection between drug testing and the prevention of drug related harm.
One theory that that many people use to justify the morality of Drug testing in the work place is a theory that is called “Ought Implies Can”. Showing that a person was incapable of doing something otherwise blocks the normal moves of praise or blame and therefore absolves the agent of responsibility for a given act. Basically, we believe that persons can not be obligated to do things that they are not capable of doing. If they fail to do those things then they can not be held accountable.
To imply the argument to drug testing is not as broad as the previous example. If corporations are responsible for harms caused by employees under the influence of drugs, they must have the ability to prevent these harms. They must therefore, have the ability to test for drug use. This argument is vague to say the least. In the argument there are four distinct senses of “Responsible” that appear with some regularity in the argument. They are being legally liable, culpable or guilty, answerable or accountable, or bound by an obligation.
The first argument is legal liability. If the employee causes harm to a third party while preforming on behalf of the company, the company has to compensate the third party. This is because the firm was acting through the employee thus, the company is held accountable. This is often called Respondeat superior. This doctrine is grounded not in fault, but in concerns of public policy and utility. Because it does not imply fault, legal liability can not be used successfully as an “Ought Implies Can” argument.
Another words, holding corporations legally liable for harms committed by intoxicated employees while at the same time forbidding drug testing is not inconsistent. It can be viewed as another instance of liability without fault. We must be able to attribute more than legal liability to corporations if the “Ought Implies Can” principle is to be applied. Corporations must be held accountable in one of the other three arguments in order for the argument to work. The culpable or guilty argument takes a different approach.
This argument states that an agent, in this case the corporation, should be held morally responsible if the act can be imputed to the corporation. This requirement could be satisfied if it could be shown that the firm intended the resulting harms, ordered their employees to work under the influence of drugs, or ignored the fact that there were employees that were working under the influence of drugs. However, this argument tends to be a little drastic and really can not apply to make the “Ought Implies Can” theory work either. Clearly in most cases drug use would not simply be ignored.
In fact, drug use is quite likely to be prohibited by company policy. Therefore this argument does not justify drug testing. In this third argument corporations could actually be held accountable for the harmful acts of there employees. Through a series of agreements, the corporation delegates its employees to act on its behalf. For these reasons it could be argued that corporations could be held responsible for their employees negligence. If this is the case then corporations should have the right to test their employees for drugs.
This last argument which is called bound by an obligation supports drug testing as well under the “Ought Implies Can” theory. If corporations have an obligation to prevent danger to all of its employees and consumers then they should be able to do what ever is needed to prevent drugs and overall prevent danger. Another words, if corporations have obligations they must be capable of carrying them out, on the principle of “Ought Implies Can”. Corporations have an obligation to prevent harm in the work place. Drug use is like to cause harm thus, corporations must be able to take steps to eliminate that harm.
As a result, drug testing is an effective way to eliminate drug abuse, which in essence causes harm. Therefore, they must be permitted to test for drugs. Finally, does the “Ought Implies Can” theory work? It really depends on what argument one uses to support it or argue against it. Clearly, if a corporation has an obligation to prevent harm to others some sort of control is in order, but not total control. If drug testing is morally permissible than why would it stop there? It could get out of hand and employers could start administering polygraph tests or even psychological manipulation.
There has to be another way to prevent harm or at least create an atmosphere where corporations can not be held accountable. The fact is that drug testing is skeptical at best. Most of the time when drug testing is administered it is very unreliable. There has always been a high rate of false negatives and false positives. For instance, drugs are sometimes not picked up by the test. Because of this situation, if the test is given to an employee, and he passes but then causes harm on the job due to intoxication, the corporation can not possibly be held responsible.
If the corporation is held responsible what good did the drug test do in the first place? The fact is that if corporations are going to be held responsible then they are obligated to do something but not drug testing. Drug testing is clearly not the answer because they are highly ineffective. In addition, if this type of situation occurs more often than not when the test is administered, than all the test is really doing in most cases is wasting the employees time and the employers money.