There is no question that employees who use alcohol and drugs can cause serious problems in the workplace. Among those problems are reduced productivity, absenteeism, tardiness, increased medical and workers’ compensation bills, and diminished overall job performance. In some cases, employees under the influence of alcohol and drug use may behave unpredictably and make the workplace more dangerous, not only to themselves, but also to everyone who work there. No one is spared from the effects of alcohol and drug use of employees. Colleagues, managers, and employers themselves are affected in one way or another.
Dealing with alcohol and drug use of employees is primarily the responsibility of the employer. To manage this problem, an employer should have a clearly written alcohol and drug abuse policy in place.
Alcohol use on the job
It should be explicitly stated in the alcohol policy that drinking alcohol on the job is strictly prohibited, and that corresponding disciplinary measures are to be meted against those caught breaching this rule. The punishment can be a simple oral reprimand or summary dismissal, depending on the circumstances and gravity of the breach. Employees who have endangered the health and safety of co-workers by drinking, particularly those who operate heavy machinery, should be penalised more severely than one who drank alcohol on the job but did not put anyone in danger.
Alcohol use during off-hours and outside the workplace
Policies regarding employees’ use of alcohol during their off-hours and outside the workplace can get tricky. After all, the drinking was done during the employees’ personal time. Besides, there are laws that protect alcoholics from getting fired from their jobs simply for having an alcohol problem. If an employer sacks an employee for being an alcoholic despite not violating its no-alcohol policies at work, that employer could be at the receiving end of a lawsuit that could prove to be costly.
What employers should keep in mind is that while employees’ drinking during their personal time is none of their business, it is totally their concern when those employees’ performance at work is already affected by all that drinking. They will have a legitimate reason to take action because of the inability of these employees to perform according to the standards they have set for everyone in the workplace. When there is undeniable proof that the work performance and productivity of an employee with an alcohol problem have taken a dive, the employer can impose disciplinary measures ranging from suspension to outright dismissal.
Use of legal drugs or medications
People have varying medical conditions, and are usually prescribed legal drugs for relief. It is not uncommon for employees to regularly take painkillers, sleeping aids, or any kind of legal medication. Technically speaking, whatever an employee takes as prescribed by a doctor is none of the employer’s business. However, it becomes the employer’s business if those drugs or medications impair the employee’s ability to perform his or her job. Some medications, for example, cause drowsiness. If the employees taking them drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery, they could be putting themselves and their co-workers in danger. There are also prescription drugs that impair one’s judgment, and this could also lead to all kinds of disastrous results.
Since there are laws that protect employees’ rights to take medications as needed, an employer will have little choice but to accommodate the use of those drugs. One option, however, is to transfer the employee to a post where impairment will not endanger anyone in the workplace. To protect themselves from possible discrimination complaints, employers must make sure there is clearly documented evidence of impairment on the part of the employee.
Use and possession of illicit drugs
As far as use and possession of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ice, and other illegal drugs in the workplace is concerned, the employer has the option to impose a policy of zero tolerance. That means anyone violating the rule can be immediately suspended and later terminated, especially if there is evidence that the employee has created a safety threat in the workplace because of illegal drug use. However, there are many employers who follow a more considerate route, like helping the drug-abusing worker get professional help through Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs.
Drug testing in the workplace
Many employers have already put in place on-site drug testing programs for their workforce, but this can get a bit tricky legally. Companies do drug tests with the prevention of accidents and safety issues in mind, but with numerous privacy laws that vary from state to state regarding drug testing in the workplace, it’s wise to get legal advice regarding this matter. A lawsuit, no matter which way it goes, will always be a costly and bothersome affair. That’s why employers have to get sensible legal advice before proceeding with any workplace drug testing program.