City Council heard a report from City staff regarding Evanston’s employee drug testing policy at the Sept. 8 Human Services Committee meeting. Staff did not report any immediate changes to the policy, but the Committee recommended two tweaks: mandatory drug testing after accidents and more stringent documentation requirements in the case of “reasonable suspicion” drug testing.
The report came in the wake of an NAACP complaint filed over the summer after two City employees were sent for drug testing shortly after speaking publicly at a Second Ward meeting. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, made the referral requesting examination of the policy.
City Human Resources Director Jennifer Lin presented the report, which was not included in the public packet. She said the City tests for drug use under four circumstances: pre-employment, return to work after a leave of absence, promotions/transfers/voluntary reduction, and reasonable suspicion. The only category at issue was the last.
Ms. Lin then broke down “reasonable suspicion” into three sub-categories. First, the City may test following an accident or injury, which at the suggestion of Ms. Lin based on a request from Committee chair Seventh Ward Alderperson Jane Grover, will be amended to “incident.” A second sub-category is performance-related, as when a supervisor reports suspicious behavior and sends an employee for testing. Finally, the City may test based on corroborated third-party reports, though Ms. Lin said there is no record of third party reports in recent memory.
The City has proposed changes only to the post-accident testing regiment, suggesting that testing be made mandatory. Such testing “seems to be the trend that is happening in other municipalities,” said Ms. Lin. In 2014, she said, there were 98 accidents, “70 of them involved other vehicles parked or otherwise.” So far in 2015, there have been 59 accidents, 39 involving other vehicles. These accidents create “really great incidents of post-accident testing being required and mandated by the City,” she said.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, agreed with the suggested changes. “I think after any incident there ought to be” mandatory drug testing, she said. She then turned her attention to the second possible reason for drug testing – reasonable suspicion based on performance, the crux of the NAACP complaint.
“I just want to be real clear on how that would work,” said Ald. Holmes. “Suppose I saw Erica [Storlie, Deputy City Manager] walking down the hall. She stumbles over something and I report that. Does she have to go for drug testing?”
Ms. Lin said performance based requests require independent corroboration by a department head “when practical. … I would not simply take your word for it.”
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said the City should have stronger documentation requirements for any such reasonable suspicion drug-testing referrals. “If we have supervisors [sending employees for drug testing], I’d like to see more documentation,” he said.
Ms. Storlie said the matter is the subject of ongoing negotiations with unions and employees, and “in order to ensure safety and in order to ensure we cover what needs to be covered, it’s not always practical” to have independent corroboration before sending an employee for testing. There may be “additional enhancements to the policy,” she added, “but we’re not done with [negotiations] yet.”
The “when practical” aspect calls for even greater need for thorough documentation, said Ald. Miller. “I’d like to see a specific set process for documentation of allegations or reasonable suspicion,” he said.
Ald. Braithwaite asked if supervisors would receive any training “in order to define suspicious behavior.”
“We all have a layman idea of what ‘under the influence’ is,” said Ms. Lin. The City will bring in experts to train field supervisors as to the reality, she said.
“You got my point. Thank you,” said Ald. Braithwaite. [According to the NAACP complaint, the two employees tested after speaking out at a ward meeting did not have drugs in their system, based on test results.]
Ald. Grover then suggested a wording tweak, changing “practical” to “practicable,” but said, “department policy does not require City Council approval.”
Nevertheless, Ald. Miller asked that the policy be brought back to the Committee before implementation, with suggested changes incorporated. The changes include more specific documentation requirements, training for supervisors as to what under the influence actually looks like, and changing “accident to “incident” and “practical” to “practicable.”