Substance Abuse In The Workplace and Dealing With It
It’s really not an arguable proposition: Based on plenty of research and statistical study, substance abuse (in both legal and illegal forms) is a serious problem for workplaces and business owners.
According to some estimates, substance abuse costs US employers roughly $200 billion every year.
Substance abuse can be tied to reduced workplace safety, serious injuries, theft, low morale, and elevated costs due to absenteeism, employee turnover, and higher healthcare utilization.
Take a look at this helpful list of 10 key points on workplace substance abuse:
1) Don’t Turn A Blind Eye
Substance abuse in the workplace is a very un-fun topic to consider, and too many employers ignore it in the hopes that they don’t have to deal with it. This is not a realistic or effective approach to take. Chronic abusers are actually on the lookout for workplaces that lack substance abuse policies.
According to Palm Beach detox centre, Detoxofsouthflorida.com, Employers that turn a blind eye to abuse enable the abusing employee in a way that’s harmful both to the individual and the organization.
You need to have firm policies on substance abuse and an employee assistance program (EAP) in place.
2) Set A Policy
Your organization should have a firm and formal policy on workplace substance abuse.
Many companies call this a “drug-free workplace” policy, but this name is sometimes misleading. If employees get the impression that the employer will not have sympathy or provide assistance for substance abuse problems, they may react adversely.
Your drug policy should make it clear that drug use, drinking, and prescription drug impairment on the job are prohibited. Employees should also be able to look to your policy to learn about rehabilitation services, EAPs, counseling, and any other forms of support that are available.
3) Call Out Prescription Drugs
It would be unethical and short-sighted to ban legal prescription drugs, but there is an exception: Prescription drug use which impairs employees’ performance on the job can’t be allowed. This is especially tricky to enforce, as performance impairment from prescription drugs is easy to overlook. Sometimes, it’s easy to mistake for use of illegal drugs, and the fact that an employee may be using prescription drugs according to medical advice makes the situation complex.
Before taking action in a prescription drug situation, you should analyze the facts carefully while working with an experienced legal adviser. You owe it to your employee to verify that he or she is actually, functionally impaired before taking any action. Note that certain prescription drugs may alter behavior in ways that suggest impairment without actually affecting an employee’s work performance.
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4) Consider Screening After Offers But Before Employment
This is an increasingly common tactic for attempting to minimize workplace substance abuse problems.
The theory is that by screening candidates for drug use prior to making a binding offer of employment, you can eliminate some substance issues before they even enter the workplace. Note that post-offer pre-employment screening is absolutely not a “catch-all” solution for substance abuse, and your drug policy needs to anticipate other problems and provide other solutions.
5) Use Drug Testing Where Appropriate
Many employers find it useful to make post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing part of their drug policy. These measures can help bring substance issue problems to light. It is vital to combine these sorts of tests with employee education and thorough planning.
Your organization needs to have an already-established relationship with a drug testing facility capable of processing post-accident test results in a timely manner. Your managers and supervisors also need to be educated in applying an effective, consistent standard when checking employees for suspected substance abuse. A reasonable suspicion of impairment requires rigorous and codified standards.
Note that there are medical conditions which may cause behavior similar to substance abuse, and many of these conditions have robust protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and local disability laws. This is another factor that makes consistent and thorough training important.
Employers that turn a blind eye to abuse enable the abusing employee in a way that’s harmful both to the individual and the organization.
~Palm Beach Detox Centre
6) Consult A Legal Expert Before Considering Random Testing
Random drug testing is a method of discouraging substance abuse in the workplace that is innately appealing to many employers. This practice can only be undertaken in strict compliance with complex legal regulations that vary from state to state. A random testing policy should only be considered after careful review by experienced employment counsel to ensure that the process solves problems instead of creating them.
7) Familiarize Yourself With Local Laws
To take San Francisco as a basic example, the city sets out strict ordinances on employer drug testing that occurs within the city limits. Note that the constraints discussed here apply to employees and specifically exclude job applicants. Employers who want to test their employees in San Francisco must satisfy the following conditions to perform a drug test:
- There must be reasonable grounds obliging the employer to test.
- The situation must present a clear and present danger to employees or members of the public.
- The tested employee must be allowed to have his or her sample retested in a different lab if he or she desires.
8) Promote The EAP
Your EAP needs to be thoroughly promoted after you establish it and regularly re-promoted afterward. Employees are all too likely to overlook or forget about the opportunities made available through the EAP, particularly when they reach a point of personal crisis in struggling with substance abuse. Set a fixed and regular schedule for reminding employees about the EAP and the benefits it provides. Adding the EAP to a quarterly review of employee benefits is a good idea.
9) Weigh Assistance As An Alternative To Firing
After you are sure that an employee has violated your workplace substance abuse policy, you face the difficult decision of what to do with him or her.
Providing assistance and treatment is a more involved option than firing the employee, but it may have better long-term results. Note that an addict who meets the legal definition of “disabled” but is still able to perform his or her essential functions is protected by the ADA from discrimination, including firing without cause.
10) Try Modifying Holidays And Employee Events
You may have very reasonable concerns about providing alcohol at a company event due to liability issues, but those concerns are unlikely to occur to your employees.
“No alcohol” events are likely to be seen as punishments rather than celebrations, particularly if they’re replacing events where drinks were formerly served.
You can take steps to minimize the possibility of alcohol abuse without banning drinks entirely. Offer taxi service for anyone drinking at a work function, offer prizes for designation drivers, or take other steps (limited bar offerings, limited drink tickets) to moderate alcohol consumption.
You should know that a recent case in California held that employers may be liable when employees harm others after an alcoholic work function. As long as the function was sanctioned by the employer or could be considered a customary incident of employment, the company was liable. This explicitly includes a holiday party with an open bar.
Substance abuse in the workplace is a real problem that affects many people beyond the abusers themselves.
Use the information provided above to shape a useful and rational policy on workplace substance abuse.
Whenever possible, enlist the expertise of seasoned employment lawyers and HR professionals in drafting substance abuse policies that are both effective and fair.