It can never be stated enough how important crafting a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace is. While alcoholism and drug abuse may seem like purely personal issues, it stops being that when their effects become apparent and felt in the workplace. And with almost 70 per cent of drug users being fully employed according to a United Nations report on worldwide drug use, the development and implementation of a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace becomes even more imperative for many employers.
If you’re an employer and you haven’t crafted a drug and alcohol policy yet, it’s about time you get it done.
The need for a workplace drug and alcohol policy
Whenever the subject of workplace drug and alcohol policies come up, the most commonly cited reason for its establishment is to ensure work health and safety. That is absolutely true, but workplace health and safety, important as it may be, is just one of the primary reasons why an employer must craft and implement a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace.
Many lawyers attest that when their services are called upon to help draft a workplace drug and alcohol policy, companies also put an emphasis on how alcohol and drug abuse affects productivity. These substances, after all, cause employees to miss work. When impaired by drugs and alcohol, an employee not only endangers himself and his colleagues, but his ability to perform the job well is impeded as well.
Circumstances that warrant drug testing
Most workplace drug and alcohol policies have a whole section on drug and alcohol tests for employees. However, drug and alcohol testing remains a pretty tricky issue. Many people question its implementation, and that’s why your policy should clearly list the four basic workplace circumstances that would warrant the use of drug testing, and your entire workforce be educated about it through a drug safety program.
Requiring job applicants to undergo drug screening is essential, as no company would want to invite a known drug user into its ranks. To save the company the effort and the expense of drug testing, we recommend that you wait until you have chosen a candidate for hiring before administering a drug test.
Workplace accidents happen, and if you suspect it’s drug-related, then it’s only proper that all parties involved undergo post-accident tests. Aside from being able to find out if someone actually caused the accident, conducting those tests could also get you and your company cleared of legal responsibility.
An employer reserves the right to conduct random employee testing, and this should also be explicitly stated in the drug and alcohol policy. It’s important, however, to make sure that the testing is indeed random to lessen the chances of being accused of discrimination. A good move is to hire a third, independent party to draw names at random.
Reasonable suspicion testing is often called for when an employee manifests signs and symptoms that he or she is actually abusing drugs or using alcohol on a regular basis. For this, managers and supervisors should have professional training in making such evaluations. While they are not expected to make a diagnosis, they should at least know what drug or alcohol abuse looks like. Keep in mind, however, that not all symptoms one might observe of an employee is caused by drug abuse, so the people tasked with making those assessments should know how to make a distinction.
Establishing a protocol for approaching and reporting employees
When an employee is suspected of violating the company drug and alcohol policy, you don’t just walk straight up to him and ask him if he is on drugs. The least you could do is have your managers and supervisors sit him down for an open dialogue, and discuss certain characteristics and behaviours that he has been exhibiting lately.
It is also wise to encourage the entire workforce to report any suspicious activity among their co-workers. If they want to do it anonymously, you can set up a “tip line”. A suggestion box in strategic places in the workplace will also do.
As for disciplinary action against employees who fail a drug or sobriety test, immediate termination is often preferred by most employers, especially when the employee has become a liability at work while impaired by drugs or alcohol. From a purely business standpoint, letting an employee go because of drugs is the smartest and ultimately safest thing to do.
Some employers, however, opt for helping the employee by giving them an option to sign up for rehabilitation or counseling, and have them get back to work once the treatment is completed. While this is a very compassionate move, it can present mixed results. Relapses are common among drug abusers, and you might end up doing the same thing over and over again with your employee.
Prescription medications are legal, but they are not any less dangerous than illicit ones, especially when they are being abused. As a matter of fact, prescription drug abuse has caused more deaths than cocaine, heroin, and other illicit substances.
When drafting your drug and alcohol policy, make sure to point out that employees who are taking prescription medication are required to notify employers of the fact. This way, employers will be able to make the necessary adjustments and even reassignments so the employee won’t pose any danger to co-workers in case side effects of these drugs begin to manifest.
Take company culture into consideration
Company culture should always be taken into consideration when crafting a drug and alcohol policy. If your company has a total ban on alcohol on all office functions—including Christmas parties—then there shouldn’t be any problem. Make alcohol drinking during office parties a punishable offense, and make that crystal clear in your policy.
However, if alcohol regularly flows during Christmas and other office parties, then setting up some guidelines would be the wisest thing to do. Those guidelines could include things like setting a limit for the number of drinks, penalising those who behave badly while inebriated and setting up a taxi or car service for employees to make sure they don’t drink and drive and get involved in a road mishap.
These tips are not by any means comprehensive, but they should give you ideas when crafting a drug and alcohol policy. As always, have your attorney check every word to make sure your drug and alcohol policy passes legal muster.