Working under the influence
June 4, 2008
Substance abuse does not discriminate from one workplace to another. It transcends geography, industry and business size.
The U.S. Department of Labor has found that 73 percent of all drug users over age 18 are jobholders, one in every 12 workers uses illegal drugs, and one in ten has an alcohol problem.
In all, this includes more than 8.1 million wage earners. These figures are of particular significance for those in the manufacturing, construction and transportation industries, whose workers operate heavy machinery, use power tools or perform dangerous tasks at great heights.
Work in many industries poses enough hazards to challenge even those who are alert and in good physical condition. To minimize the likelihood that substance abuse will compound the dangers already inherent in industrial work, you should adopt an up-front and well-advertised policy that emphasizes basic precaution and prompt response.
Keep offenders out
Screening employees for drugs and alcohol after they are on the payroll and causing problems is like swatting at flies day after day but forgetting to close the window. Once the flies are in, it’s hit or miss. Similarly, delay in dealing with an employee’s substance-abuse problem increases the economic and human costs of remedial action.
An effective workplace substance-abuse policy embraces these elements:
- Provide a written policy statement to the job applicant at the time his or her application is received.
- Test for substance abuse before hiring and conduct random testing after hiring.
- Train your supervisors to make certain they recognize performance problems and other possible signs of substance abuse.
- Offer counseling to determine an addicted employee’s attitude toward treatment and future relationship with the company.
- Offer an employee assistance program to help workers cope with personal problems, including substance abuse, and offer assistance or treatment to help transition employees back into productive workers.
Your policy can be short and to the point, but it should make clear what the company expects from employees and the consequences for violating the policy.
Align your legal ducks
Before its adoption and promulgation, legal counsel should review your policy to make certain it complies with state and federal laws. To reduce the possibility of later complications, require employees to sign a statement acknowledging they understand the policy and agree to abide by it. These precautions help protect employers covered by the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, which applies to firms holding government contracts worth $100,000 or more. Other requirements for employers covered under this law include:
- Notification to employees that the unlawful manufacturing, distribution or possession of a controlled substance is prohibited in the workplace.
- A requirement that any employee who is directly involved in the government contract and has evidence of a drug-law violation in the workplace must notify their employer.
- Imposition of sanctions or other remedial measures for an employee convicted of substance abuse in the workplace.
Employers and employees alike benefit from a drug-free work environment in ways that can be measured financially and otherwise. Benefits include: increased worker safety, insurance cost-savings, increased productivity, higher morale and a positive public image.
In addition to hard-dollar costs, hidden costs, like decreased worker productivity, can further drive up the bill for employers. For example, friendly coworkers may “cover up” for employees working under the influence by assuming a greater share of the workload.
In a Department of Labor study, one in five workers reported having to work harder, redo work or cover for a coworker under the influence. More important, these workers were subject to injury as a result of a fellow employee’s substance abuse.
Pay now, save later
Drug tests cost relatively little compared to potential savings from the prevention of accidents caused by workers under the influence. Precautions can include on-site testing or lab testing for specific substances, including marijuana and cocaine.
More information on drug screening is available from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (1-800-729-6686) and CAPS labs (1-800-522-5678).