By Mark A. Rothstein
SAGEBRUSH, TEXAS, JUNE 29. At a hastily called news conference, J. T. "Slim" Graymatter, President of Prototype Industries, announced that he was canceling plans to screen all applicants and employees for a gene that some scientists say is related to violence. Graymatter, 67, had sent shock waves through the business and scientific communities last week when he announced that his company would begin testing immediately for a gene that predisposes people to aggressive behavior and violence. The test, known as the recycled karyotype test, is being promoted by a startup venture, Alltest Genetics.
Graymatter explained that he originally agreed to use the test because of recent studies showing that homicide is a leading cause of workplace fatalities. He was convinced that testing employees was the high-tech solution to the problem, thereby rejecting more conventional approaches that stress workplace security measures and supervisory training.
In response to questioning, Graymatter said that employee testing was usually his first line of defense against problems in the workplace. An example is the problem of employee dishonesty. He said, "I loved those lie detector tests. They scared the pants off the employees, and they'd admit to anything - - even stuff they didn't do." The only trouble is Congress made them illegal in 1988. He then switched to paper and pencil "integrity tests," but Graymatter said "they weren't worth a damn because there were no wires or printouts or anything."
Two of Graymatter's favorite tests are urine testing for drugs and back strength testing. According to company records, employee drug abuse has never been a problem, but the testing "is designed to keep it that way, without worrying about silly education programs or rehabilitation," he said. It also sends a clear message that management is not "soft on drugs," said Graymatter.
As to back strength testing, the company bought the latest equipment designed to determine which applicants and employees have the strongest back muscles. The company's back injury rate is still well above the industry average, but Graymatter said the manufacturer of the back machines said it will take some time before the Prototype rates show improvement. Graymatter defended the strength testing. "Back injuries are our largest workers' comp expense. We had to do something. The experts we hired said to teach the fellas how to lift and to give them lifting equipment. Can you believe that? They know how to lift stuff."
Finally, Graymatter was asked if his decision to abandon the genetic testing program was caused by the adverse publicity that his earlier announcement had generated or the statement issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that genetic screening was probably a violation of federal law. Graymatter said that neither of these things had anything to do with his decision. "My grandson Billy is a 10th grader who just finished high school biology. Last night he explained to me what it meant to screen out everyone who had a Y chromosome." He quickly added, however, that "if they come up with some other gene test, I'd be interested.