Appeals court puts end to Forest Service’s random drug testing

Charles Cloutier/Shutterstock.com

A federal appeals court has struck down the Forest Service’s random drug testing policy, reversing a previous decision at the district court level, according to FedSmith.

The ruling specifically applied to employees at the Job Corps Conservation Centers that the Forest Service runs. The centers offer vocational training related to conservation and management of public natural resources. The Agriculture Department -- the Forest Service’s parent agency -- designated all Job Corps positions as subject to random drug testing. After initially backing off the decision due to union dissent, the Forest Service reinstated the policy in 2010.

The National Federation of Federal Employees filed a lawsuit against the Agriculture Department and Forest Service shortly thereafter.

“We conclude that [Agriculture] Secretary [Tom Vilsack] has failed to demonstrate ‘special needs’ justifying random drug testing of all Forest Service Job Corps Center employees,” the District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court wrote in its decision. “Even assuming that subjecting all Job Corps employees is premised on important government interests, the lack of a foundation for ‘special needs’ to intrude on their Fourth Amendment rights significantly undermines these interests.”

The court sent the issue back to the district level and issued a preliminary injunction to suspend the drug testing program until the district court comes up with a solution.

“The issue here was not the drug testing itself, but rather an overly broad policy requiring suspicionless testing of all Job Corps employees, many of whom have worked for the government for 20 years or more with no incident,” Stefan P. Sutich, general counsel for NFFE, told Government Executive. “This decision reaffirms the fundamental principle that federal employees do not check their constitutional rights at the workplace door.”

(Image via Charles Cloutier/Shutterstock.com)

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