A Substance Abuse Free Work Environment

Did you know that seventy percent of all illegal drug users are employed either full or part time.  In fact, one in twelve full-time employees reports current use of illicit drugs and one in every ten people in this country have an alcohol problem.  What does this mean for you?

The problems of substance abuse hurt the workplace and cost money.  Substance abusing workers are more likely to miss workdays, to injure themselves or others as compared to drug-free workers.  The direct costs include absenteeism, tardiness, overtime pay, sick leave, insurance claims and Workers’ Compensation.  The hidden costs include diverted supervisory and managerial time, friction among workers, damage to equipment, poor decisions, damage to the company’s public image and personal turnover.  The good news is that recovering employees are productive, effective and loyal.

A company with a policy about substance abuse sends a clear signal to present and future employees about where your company stands.  The following can help you begin to establish a substance abuse program but you should always consult with an attorney to make sure your policy conforms to all legal requirements.

Create a written substance abuse policy.  Write a clear, comprehensive policy about where you stand, what you expect from employees and what you will do if your policy is violated.  Let everyone know that you are committed to a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.  Involving employees from all levels to work on the policy will build support.  Your policy can include:

  • Let your employees and applicants know that drug and alcohol use on the job, or that affects job performance, is not permitted.
  • State a policy on the use of alcohol at company sponsored activities.
  • State the corporate position on drug testing and, if you test, the consequences of a positive test result.
  • Describe the responsibility of an employee with a drug or alcohol problem to seek and complete treatment.
  • Identify resources where employees with problems can get help.

Once written, explain the policy to your employees and have each employee acknowledge in writing that he or she has received the policy.  It is important that the policy is fair and consistently applied.

Start a supervisory training program.  Supervisors are in direct contact with workers so they can detect performance problems that may indicate substance abuse, document unsatisfactory work performance or behavior and talk to employees about the problems and what needs to be done about them.  Supervisors must be able to explain the policy to employees and know when to take action but they should not be responsible for diagnosing or treating substance abuse problems.  Supervisors can be trained about methods of detecting drug and alcohol use as well as prevention and education strategies.

Supervisors should be trained on how speak with the employees for positive results; encouraging the employee to seek help and not creating an environment of shame and guilt.  Supervisors must also be trained on handling each situation in a confidential manner.

Establish an employee education and awareness program.  Guest speakers and brown bag lunch meetings are excellent ways to provide information on substance abuse.  It is important that employees know the consequences of substance abuse on and off the job and how to get help.  It is important to create a programs and a corporate environment where employees are encouraged to seek help.

Provide access to an Employee Assistance Program.  An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help employees identify and resolve the problems including substance abuse, family difficulties or financial problems through confidential, short term counseling, referrals and follow up services.  Your company can establish an EAP at or near the workplace, purchase the service from an outside EAP provider or join a consortium to offer EAP services.  Remember, recovering employees become productive and effective members of your workforce.

Establish a drug testing program, where appropriate.  Starting a good drug testing program is not a simple process but it can be done.  Your program must meet several requirements including statutory or regulatory requirements, disability discrimination provisions, collective bargaining agreements and any other requirements in effect.  You must decide who you will test, when you will test, for what drugs you will test and what you will do if the test is positive.  It is always prudent to consult an attorney who specializes in drug testing to ensure that your drug testing program is fair, accurate and meets all the numerous legal requirements.

Creating a positive environment that encourages employees to get the help they need will be more effective than creating an environment in which employees feel their job is threatened or they feel shame and guilt.  Strict confidentiality should be maintained at all times.