Nearshore Americas

U.S. Style Drug Testing Yet to Take Hold in Latin America’s Corporate World

While in the United States drug testing has become a widely accepted and common pre-employment check, in other countries it remains a sensitive subject and a debate framed by complex issues over the right to privacy.  So how does this affect a truly globalised sector such as BPO, where a US client’s expectations may come into conflict with local cultural and legal restrictions? Nearshore Americas spoke to two of the Nearshore BPO sector’s biggest players to find out.

As well as its US operations, consulting and outsourcing firm Neoris operates in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. In the US a pre-employment drug screen is standard procedure and a condition for taking up employment. Employees may also have to take a further test if they are assigned to work on the premises of a client that requests testing, or after a workplace accident. However, the company does not use random testing. A positive test result is grounds for dismissal if the employee has already begun working.

“We just want to have fully productive non-impaired employees for safety reasons and for potential liability,” said Lianne Wynn, Neoris’s US HR manager. “But more than that, when we think of the billions of dollars that are lost annually due to lost productivity I think it gives us as a company and certainly our clients a sense of reassurance.”

Hesitant Brazil

For France based outsourcing giants Capgemini, who have operations in Brazil and Guatemala as well as the United States, their US-side policy is even more client-driven. In the States, while all candidates go through employment, education and criminal checks, pre-employment drug tests – along with financial checks – is the client’s call to make. Although for their clients in the financial sector, both are mandatory.

It is a middle-ground policy that the company is happy to stick to for the moment. “If we find that most of our clients require that the employees do require drug testing and most of the other consulting organizations are doing that, then we will adapt,” said Joanne Liapis, the company’s HR Director for North America and Global Business Partner, “but right now it does not appear to, so the common policy that we have, which is as mandated by the client contract, works well for us.”

“In my personal view I would love to have all the background checks possible because this would help the decision, it would help the client”

However, for both companies, things are not so simple at their Latin American operations. The only country in which Neoris carries out drug testing as a standard procedure is Argentina, where the tests form part of an overall medical check candidates undergo. However, elsewhere drug testing is not used as it is neither customary nor a requirement, according to the companies regional HR chiefs. Nevertheless, Neoris’ operations in Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil said they would drug test if the client requested it.

“While it may vary geography to geography the main emphasis is, like in the US, if our client requires something special or in addition to what we would normally lay out we are fully compliant and supportive with what they need,” said Wynn.

Legal Hurdles Hamper Plans

Capgemini’s Latin America HR manager Elcio Szwif says his company takes a more legally cautious approach, especially in Brazil. “It is a grey, grey area,” he said. “In Brazil, there is no law that forbids or allows drug tests. However there is a law about privacy. There is also a question of discrimination and a person could sue the company if he or she believes that the job was not offered because he or she felt discriminated [against].”

This has, at times, brought the policy into conflict with the clients’ wishes. “Sometimes [clients] do want to see drug tests and we say unfortunately the law in Brazil does not allow it because [the job position] is not an operator that could put lives in danger.”

However, he said, this has yet to create serious issues with global clients who are generally accustomed to operating within a foreign context. “They do understand that the law in the country [must be] upheld, that it is important the company follows it,” he said. “If you want to operate in a place you should obey the law 100%, so there is no big debate on this.”

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The situation is similar in Guatemala, he added, although the issue of financial checks creates greater debate than drug testing.

While at Neoris, the HR team are content with the status quo, at Capgemini Szwif would like to see an expansion of the power of companies to perform background checks, even though it remains a polemical issue in Brazil, where he is based.

“In my personal view I would love to have all the background checks possible because this would help the decision, it would help the client,” he said. “However, other people have the view you might be criminalizing someone that one day may put his life back in place and we’re not giving them the opportunity. The question is: What is the threshold?”

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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