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Drug Testing And Employee Assistance Programs


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by Bill Grieb

If you're in business, you must face some facts:

  • 70% of all illegal drug users are employed either full or part time, indicating that over 10 million people are current users of illicit drugs.
  • One in 12 full-time employees reports current use of illicit drugs.
  • One in every 10 people in this country has an alcohol problem.

What do those numbers mean to you? They mean that every day, across this country, in towns large and small, in small businesses and large corporations, substance abuse is hurting the workplace. And that means a major business problem for you.

Substance abuse affects the bottom line; it costs you money. Substance-abusing workers miss more workdays than drug-free workers. They are more likely to injure themselves or others and file Workers Compensation claims. They are less productive. They incur real dollar costs in absenteeism, overtime pay, tardiness, sick leave, and insurance claims (including Workers Compensation). Performance declines of 10% to 20% are common. Tardiness, absence, and sickness are three times normal. Employees with personal problems have four times as many accidents and are five times as likely to file Workers Comp claims.

Moreover, the hidden costs of substance abuse drive up your bill: diverted supervisory and managerial time, friction among workers, damage to equipment, poor decisions, damage to the company's public image, and personnel turnover.

How can you protect your company and workers from those who, by abusing drugs (illegal or prescription) or alcohol, endanger your workplace and your profits? Establish a workplace substance abuse program.

Five Steps To A Workplace Substance-Abuse Program

  • A written substance abuse policy
  • A supervisory training program
  • An employee education and awareness program
  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • A drug-testing program, where appropriate

Step One: Write a Clear and Comprehensive Policy

This all-important first step will outline where you stand, what you expect from employees, and what you will do if your policy is violated. But it does more than set down the ground rules. It lets everyone know that you are committed to a drug- and alcohol-free workplace. That in itself is an excellent starting point.

What exactly your policy should say depends on your individual situation. Businesses are not all the same. Nor are the employees who work for them. Your policy statement should reflect the needs and values of your workplace. To develop an individualized policy, consider everyone who will be affected. Involve employees from all levels. Working together will build support for the policy you develop. Use the following guidelines to focus discussions:

  • Let employees and applicants know that drug and alcohol use on the job is not permitted, nor is off-job use that affects job performance.
  • Explain why you are establishing the policy (workplace safety, worker health, product quality, productivity, public liability, and so on).
  • Tell employees what will happen if they violate the policy.

Additional Points You May Want to Consider

  • Outline your policy on the use of alcohol at company-sponsored activities.
  • State your position on drug testing and, if you test, the consequences of a positive test result.
  • Describe the responsibility of an employee with a drug or alcohol problem to seek and complete treatment.
  • Identify company or community resources where employees with problems can get help.
  • State your concern for family members whose substance abuse could adversely affect the well-being of the employee, the family, and the company.
  • Make clear that participation in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is confidential and will not jeopardize employment or advancement, but that participation will not protect employees from disciplinary action for continued unacceptable job performance or violations of the rules.

Once your policy is written, be sure to explain the policy thoroughly to your employees. It may be wise to have each employee acknowledge in writing that he or she has received the policy. Then, be fair and be consistent in applying the policy to all employees.

Step Two: Train Your Supervisors

Supervisors are the key to the success of your substance abuse policy. As the people in direct contact with workers, supervisors can detect performance problems that may indicate substance abuse. But their responsibilities should be limited, and this should be clearly explained to them. Supervisors are responsible for:

  • Observing and documenting unsatisfactory work performance or behavior
  • Talking to employees about work problems and what needs to be done about them

To do their jobs properly, supervisors must:

  • Understand the substance abuse policy
  • Be able to explain the policy to employees
  • Know when to take action.

Supervisors are NOT responsible for:

  • Diagnosing substance abuse problems
  • Treating substance-abuse problems

Supervisors need to know how to look for signs of substance abuse and what to do once they find them. The kinds of information needed by supervisors will vary from one workplace to another. Supervisors may be called upon to refer employees to employee assistance programs or local resources. Keeping your own company's needs in mind, consider some of the following as possible topics to include in your supervisory training program.

  • Information on specific drugs
  • Methods of detecting drug and alcohol use
  • Insurance coverage for substance-abuse treatment
  • Prevention and education strategies
  • Background on drug-testing issues and how the drug-testing program relates to the Employee Assistance Program

Step Three: Educate Your Employees

You've established your policy. You've trained your supervisors. Now you must be sure your employees understand and remain aware of your ongoing commitment to a drug-free workplace. That means this part of your program is not a one-time thing.

Whenever new workers are hired (or being considered for employment) they need to learn about your program. Current employees need to be reminded about your commitment to making your substance-abuse program work. How you go about this will depend on the needs of your workers and your workplace.

An employee education and awareness program explains your workplace substance-abuse policy to your employees and tells them about the consequences of using drugs and alcohol on and off the job. It tells your employees how to get help with their drug and alcohol problems; a representative of the EAP (if the company has one) or community resource describes services available to help employees. The program goes on to inform employees about how drugs and alcohol actually affect the company's productivity, product quality, absenteeism, health-care costs, and accident rates. This is followed by an explanation of testing procedures (if drug testing is part of the program), with special attention to the consequences of testing positive and procedures for ensuring accuracy and confidentiality.

Consider the circumstances of your workplace and the needs of your employees. Education and awareness programs can vary widely. In addition to covering the topics just listed, you may want to personalize the program for your employees by offering information on the following topics through various means:

  • Videos or printed material on the health effects of alcohol and drugs, both illegal and prescription.
  • Local guest speakers to provide information on how drugs are affecting the community
  • A presentation on illegal drugs: what they look like, how they are used, their effects, and the symptoms or overdose and withdrawal
  • Brown-bag lunch meetings in which parents can learn how their own abuse of alcohol or drugs can influence their children's behavior, how to help other children avoid involvement in substance abuse, and how to recognize signs of substance abuse
  • An address by company managers to employees on the specifics of the company policy and why it is needed.

Use the resource list for contacting organizations that can help you design your program. Check resources for information on films, videotapes, and publications you can use in your program. Check your local community resources for possible presentations that are specifically geared to the needs of your locality.

Step Four: Provide Employee Assistance

Employees are valuable resources. They are also human beings. And that means they have problems that can affect their performance on the job. The problems may come from many sources: substance abuse, family difficulties, financial troubles, emotional upsets. To help employees cope with their problems, many companies set up an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

EAPs offer a variety of resources to help employees deal with problems that affect their productivity and usefulness. EAPs can maintain materials, provide referrals, and educate employees and supervisors. They can provide programs on stress management, communication, coping, and balancing work and home. They may also facilitate support groups, workshops, and so forth.

There are about 10,000 EAPs in the United States. This number is increasing because at any given time, three or four in every 20 employees may be dealing with personal problems that can affect work performance.

The first step in developing an EAP is to identify problem areas and specific employee needs. The program should help supervisors and managers use the system in a cost-effective manner. After the needs and problems have been identified, the next step is to locate the available counseling, treatment, and other resources. With needs and resources in hand, the program must develop mechanisms to provide specific help such as substance-abuse recovery programs. Finally, effective EAPs must continuously evaluate and improve themselves.

Why set up an EAP? Consider the following: Employees are a vital part of your business. It is better to offer them assistance with personal problems than to discipline or fire them. Recovering employees become productive and effective members of your workforce. Indeed, many companies have found EAPs to be cost-effective because they reduce accidents, reduce absenteeism, and raise productivity.

EAPs help employees identify problems and help resolve problems through confidential, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. They might also offer programs in supervisory training, education and prevention programs, and health promotion activities.

As just mentioned, the first step to setting up an EAP is to determine the kind of program you need. You might want to talk with companies in your region or industry that already have an EAP. Remember, EAPs take time set up and to become effective. An EAP does not offer a quick-fix solution. But companies that have spent the time and effort feel that the results have been worth it.

Almost any employer, large and small, can offer EAP services. There are many ways to set one up:

  • Your company or union may establish a program at or near the worksite.
  • You may buy services from an outside EAP provider.
  • You may join together in a consortium to offer EAP services.
  • You may work with a trade or local business association to start an EAP.

Effective programs emphasize access and confidentiality. They maintain employee awareness of the program with articles in company newsletters, posters, and other approaches.

Step Five: Start A Drug-Testing Program

Starting a good-drug testing program is not simple process, but it can be done. Each year, many companies, including small ones, decide to start some kind of program. Some companies must set up a drug-testing program because of the kind of work they do and federal regulations require that one be in place. Others choose to test because it is the right business decision for them.

The American Management Association says that 85% of major companies test workers and job applicants for drugs, as opposed to 22% in 1987. Much of the rise is due to new federal regulations for transportation and defense workers, new drug-free policies, and attempts to reduce Liability insurance costs.

But a drug-testing initiative is the LAST step of a comprehensive program. You should have a program in place that includes all the previous steps we have described: a written policy statement, a supervisor training program, an employee education and awareness program, and an EAP. You will need to make sure that your program meets several requirements including:

  • Statutory or regulatory requirements
  • Disability discrimination provisions
  • Collective bargaining agreements
  • Any other requirements in effect

You need to make a number of decisions about how your program will be set up and operated. The following list of questions will help you get started:

  • Who will you test? Only applicants? All employees? Only employees in safety-sensitive positions?
  • When will you test? After all accidents? Only after some accidents? When performance becomes unacceptable? When an employee behaves abnormally? On a random basis? As part of a physical examination?
  • For what drugs will you test? Only for a marijuana and cocaine because they are the most commonly used illegal drugs? For all illegal drugs? For alcohol? For prescription drugs, which may affect work performance?
  • How frequently will you test? Weekly? Monthly? Once a year?
  • What will you do if an applicant tests positive? Refuse to hire? Tell the applicant why you are not hiring him or her? Allow the applicant to be retested? Allow the applicant to reapply after six months?
  • What will you do if an employee tests positive? Fire all employees who test positive? Refer employees to counseling and treatment after the first positive but fire after the second? Allow employees more than one chance to become drug-free before firing?
  • What tests will you use and what procedures will you follow? Who will collect the specimens? Will you use a confirmation test? What laboratory will you use? Will you use a medical review officer?
  • How will you protect employees' privacy and confidentiality?
  • How will you be sure your drug-testing program is fair, accurate, and legally defensible?

Remember, drug testing should be undertaken only as part of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program.

Federal Regulations

If your company performs certain types of work or if it has certain types of contracts with the federal government, you may have to comply with federal regulations. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is a federal statute requiring certain federal contractors and grantees to maintain a drug-free workplace. You are not covered by the Act unless you have a single contract with the federal government of $25,000 or more or you receive a grant from the federal government. Subcontractors and subgrantees are not covered by the Act.

If you are covered by the Act, you are required to:

  • Certify that you will provide a drug-free workplace. This certification is part of the final requirements for receiving a contract or grant.
  • Publish a statement notifying your employees that the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of a controlled substance is prohibited in the workplace and what actions will be taken against your employees for violations.
  • Establish an ongoing, drug-free awareness program to inform your employees of the dangers of drug abuse, your drug-free workplace policy, the availability of any drug-counseling programs, and the possible penalties for drug-abuse violations occurring in the workplace.
  • Require each employee directly involved in the work of the contract or grant to notify you of any criminal drug statute conviction for a violation occurring in the workplace.
  • Notify the federal government of such a violation.
  • Require the imposition of sanctions or remedial measures for an employee convicted of a drug-abuse violation in the workplace.
  • Continue in good faith to comply with the requirements just listed.

The Drug-Free Workplace does NOT require you to establish an EAP or implement a drug-testing program.

In addition to the Drug-Free Workplace Act, some federal agencies have other specific requirements regarding substance abuse programs and policies. The best source of information about any of these regulations is the office at the federal department or agency from which you received your contract or grant. This department or agency will also answer questions from prospective contractors or grantees.

The Department of Transportation requires alcohol breath tests and urine drug tests in the following cases: before being hired, after an accident, when there's reasonable suspicion, and upon return to duty. Random tests of 25% of drivers are also required every year.

Reprinted with permission from Safety Information Currents, Volume V Number 3.

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