Drugs and alcohol: what can employers do?

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is a problem. Not only do employers face lost productivity, increased absenteeism – and therefore loss of profit – but employees are putting themselves and others at risk of an accident or injury at work. The problem of substance abuse in the workplace can be combated by having a clear policy in place, exercising consistency, communicating with employees, and providing effective and practical support for those loyal colleagues that do ask for help.

The employee handbook

Drug abuse is becoming more prevalent as pharmaceuticals become more available, so it is more important than ever that employers have a policy on substance abuse in their employee handbook. This should detail what substance abuse is (both drugs and alcohol, and including selling, possessing or using controlled substances), and the guidelines and expectations in the event of substance abuse. However, employers should bear in mind that the employee handbook is often relegated to the back of a drawer, so they should consider ways of reminding their employees of the rules. It should be made clear from the outset that misuse of a controlled substance is a violation that can result in immediate termination of employment.

Testing employees

Employers should consider pre-employment screening or testing. Many companies already test those involved after an accident, or when a manager feels there is cause for suspicion. Some conduct weekly random testing with existing employees. If it is made absolutely clear that random testing of existing employees will result in instant dismissal for those that test positive, it will act as a powerful deterrent. All managers will need training on what to look out for when monitoring employees for substance misuse, and managers must be consistent with all employees for the policy to be fair and prove effective.

Employee support

Testing is a sensitive issue, however, and employers should consider having an amnesty period for any employee to seek help before testing is introduced. Employer support should be available for those that come forward voluntarily. Testing can include an oral fluid lab test, or similar, depending on the needs of the business. Employers could consider assistance programs for any employees who are using controlled substances, offer occupational therapy, referrals to contacts that can help with addiction, and maybe even time off to attend appointments.

The company’s policy statement

Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem that often goes undiagnosed. However, with drugs becoming more prevalent, it is essential that a company’s stance on drug and alcohol abuse is made clear. Companies must have a policy statement that outlines where the boundaries lie, and it should be about education, awareness and support. If they have a clear policy and the employee signs it, they have the right to terminate the employee’s contract in the event that they abuse it. Employers do need to look at the bigger picture and consider all of their employees’ livelihoods as well as their own. Substance abuse is unacceptable and can be a hazard to the user as well as to those around them – and there are ways to control it and be fair to everyone.

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