March 27, 2014

From guest writer Karyn Rhodes, Vice President of HR Consulting with the business advisory firm Cornerstone Group.

Drugs and alcohol in the workplace can be challenging to handle. They have a significant impact on business and on your bottom line. According to the US Department of Labor, alcohol and drug use costs American businesses roughly $81 billion in lost productivity per year due to premature death and $44 billion due to illness. Approximately 86% of these cases are attributed to alcohol. Employers need to do what they can to keep drugs and alcohol use out of their workforce. Having a formal policy and following drug screening procedures are essential in protecting your workplace.

A few steps to follow when instituting a drug-free workplace policy:

• Your drug-free workplace policy should clearly stipulate what the penalties for policy violations will be. If your policy includes a drug testing program, spell out exactly who will be tested, when they will be tested, and what will happen to employees who test positive.
• Every one of your employees should receive and sign a written copy of your drug-free workplace policy. Verbal agreements and unsigned agreements have little legal standing.
• Make sure that you, and all your supervisors, receive proper training in how to detect and respond to workplace drug and alcohol abuse.
• Maintain detailed and objective records documenting the performance problems of all your employees. Such records often provide a basis for referring workers to employee assistance programs.
• Never take disciplinary action against a worker or accuse a worker of a policy violation simply because that employee is acting impaired. Instead, try to clarify the reasons for the employee’s impairment. If drug testing is a part of your workplace policy, obtain a confirmatory test result before taking any action.
• Never accuse or confront an employee in front of his or her coworkers. Instead, try to stage all discussions someplace private, with another manager present to serve as a witness.
• Never single out an individual employee or particular group of employees, for special treatment-whether it is rehabilitation or punishment. Any inconsistencies in the enforcement of your policy may lead to charges of discrimination.
• Try to get to know your employees as much as possible. This may help you more quickly identify workers who are in trouble or developing substance abuse problems.
• Most importantly, try to involve workers at all levels of your organization in developing and implementing your drug-free workplace policy. This will reduce misunderstandings about the reasons for having a drug-free workplace program and help ensure that your policies and procedures are fair to everyone.

Employers who follow these basic steps, and who strive to create programs that are fair, consistent, and supported by all should have no trouble staying on the right side of the law.

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