Establishing a Workplace Substance Abuse Policy

Workplace Drug Policy Can Reduce Loss

Man With Counselor
Helping Employees With a Problem. © Getty Images

Establishing a workplace substance abuse program can drastically reduce the cost to business and industry from decreased productivity and increased health claims.

Statistics show the loss that businesses suffer from absenteeism, injuries on the job, mistakes in work, and many other problems are reduced when a program is in place. But there are many approaches to establishing an effective program.

There is no absolute "model" substance abuse program that is right for all companies.

The program should be tailored to the needs and circumstances of the individual company.

There are, however, five standard components of a comprehensive workplace substance abuse program, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:

  • A written policy statement
  • Supervisor training
  • Employee education and awareness
  • Employee assistance for providing help
  • Drug and alcohol testing

Training and Education

Another important factor for a substance abuse program is training supervisors to understand the company's substance abuse policy and procedures, to identify employee problems, and to know how to refer employees to available assistance so that any personal problems that may be affecting performance can be addressed.

Of course, another step in the process is to educate employees about the company's substance abuse program and any assistance that is available to them through the company. Depending on its size, the company may wish to establish it's own Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or seek help from outside organizations to provide help and support to those employees who need it.

Typically, EAP's are designed to provide free, confidential short-term counseling to help with a variety of job-related and personal problems. An EAP can be established in-house or contracted from professional counseling service firms.

Drug Testing

Many companies follow the Example of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for their drug testing programs, which like all federal programs were established by Executive Order, signed by President Reagan Sept.

15, 1986.

The DOT tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine and amphetamines. Testing for alcohol is somewhat more complicated because alcohol remains in the blood stream for only a few hours.

Sometimes just by having a policy of drug testing a company can reduce substance abuse problems. But drug testing is not allowed in every state and a complete drug testing package may cost between $40 and $100.

Therefore, employee drug testing is not a feasible option for every company, and there is some evidence that drug testing is not worth the $1.2 billion per year price tag on testing services in the U.S.

Alternatives to Testing

If you are in a state with tough drug-testing laws or have a smaller company, you may want to leave drug-testing to the larger companies and establish a strong discipline policy, instead.

In fact, some proponents believe that a strong discipline may be better than drug testing, unless performance and productivity in the workplace is significantly impaired because of drug and alcohol abuse.

If an on-duty employee is suspected to be under the influence, don't send the employee to the doctor to be tested. In the absence of a formal drug testing program, you may be breaking the law. Remove the employee from the workplace. Suspension allows you time to think clearly before making a hasty decision. Suspension protects the employee from a work-related injury... it protects other employees, and it protects the company from a workers' compensation claim.

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