Dealing With Susbstance Abuse Issues in the Workplace

Dealing With Susbstance Abuse Issues in the Workplace

Substance abuse—whether it’s alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs—adversely affects employers and their businesses. Some research estimates the loss of productivity for U.S. employers has been as much as $200 billion annually!

General concerns for safety at work, injuries on the job, theft, loss of employee morale, and costs related to absenteeism, recruiting, training, turnover, and healthcare utilization illustrate why substance abuse in the workplace is problematic. But many employers don’t want to deal with substance abuse in the workplace, so they ignore it, thinking it won’t happen to them or a policy isn’t needed.

Don’t be that employer. Indeed, chronic abusers seek out employers that don’t have substance abuse policies for their workplace. Many employers also tend to ignore or enable the substance abusing employee in his behavior. If there are suspicions of abuse, rely on your workplace policy and your employee assistance program (EAP). Here are some tips

Establish a policy against substance abuse in the workplace.

This is often referred to as a drug-free workplace policy. However, the name can be misleading since it may convey to employees a lack of availability of counseling and assistance.

The policy should address the prohibition of alcohol use, illegal drug use, and impairment from prescription drug use on the job. It should inform employees about the availability of drug counseling, rehabilitation services, and EAPs, among other provisions, and encourage employees to use them.

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Address prescription drugs specifically.

Prescription drug use is legal as long as it doesn’t impair an employee’s work performance. The challenging part is when it’s suspected that the use of prescription drugs is impairing an employee’s work performance. Even more complicated is the suspicion of illegal drug use and then the revelation that the employee has a medical condition that requires prescription drugs.

It is recommended that you perform a thorough analysis, in conjunction with the advice of your legal team, of whether the prescription drug use is impairing the employee’s performance or whether the medical condition or the prescription drug is causing behavior that makes it appear the employee is impaired when in actuality she isn’t.

Consider postoffer preemployment drug screening.

Many employers, as part of their drug-free workplace policy, require a postoffer preemployment drug test. This is seen as a way to eliminate abuse problems in the workplace from the outset. Although such a test clearly has its benefits, you shouldn’t be under any misconception that it will eliminate substance abuse from the workplace.

Consider postaccident and reasonable suspicion drug testing.

Many employers also have found that their drug-free workplace policy provides more overall benefit if they also establish drug testing following an on-the-job accident and upon the reasonable suspicion of impairment at the workplace. Planning and education are key when establishing these forms of testing.

Planning for Unplanned Employee Absenses

You should establish a relationship with a reputable drug-testing facility close to your workplace to quickly and timely have a postaccident test conducted. Similarly, educating supervisors or managers about the signs of use, abuse, and impairment is essential for all personnel who will be determining on what grounds an employee will be sent to be tested based on the reasonable suspicion of impairment.

Some medical conditions that are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state disability laws cause individuals to exhibit conditions or behaviors that are similar to drug or alcohol use. Accordingly, educating people on the similarities and differences is important.

Don’t engage in random drug testing without the advice of your legal team

Although employers tend to like the thought of random drug testing as an effective way to detect and deter drug and/or alcohol use at the workplace, random drug testing in many states is extremely limited and should be implemented under the advice of employment counsel experienced in this very thorny area of the law.

Promote your EAP

You should establish and promote the use of your EAP. Many employees are unaware or forget about the benefits and services an EAP provides when they are in crisis or dealing with the very problems with which the program could assist. Therefore, you should provide periodic reminders that highlight the various benefits provided by the EAP. Think quarterly “we care about you” messages that would include substance abuse assistance.

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Make modifications to holiday and employee appreciation events.

What a way to end this list—on a bummer note. But it doesn’t have to be seen as such. In general, many employees view a “no alcohol” work event as punishment and not a reward and clearly don’t see the concern for liability the same way you do.

Therefore, perhaps a solution is to an Uber home (on the company) to everyone who attends and drinks alcohol at a work function. Another would be to encourage designated drivers by giving the drivers some prize, award, or special item. Another option is to encourage reasonable consumption by serving only wine and beer and/or having limited drink tickets.

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