6 Steps To A Drug-Free Workplace - Management
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6 Steps To A Drug-Free Workplace

Construction Equipment Distribution, January 2006.

Article Date: 01-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Are drug and alcohol abuse among your employees putting your company at risk?

Substance abuse in the workplace can negatively impact your bottom line. From missed workdays and reduced productivity, to accidents and workers compensation claims, substance abuse annually costs companies $40 billion.

Think your company is immune to the problem? According to a recent survey of 1,190 employed individuals conducted by Hazelden, an organization dedicated to substance abuse treatment, research and education, nearly 23 million Americans suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. And while 75 percent of them are employed, only 20 percent get help for their addictions.

In addition, small businesses are at a substantial disadvantage. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports employees in companies with fewer than 25 employees are twice as likely to use illicit drugs as employees in large companies. This is mainly because small companies are less likely to have drug policies in effect, and the last place an addict wants to work is in a drug-free workplace.

Do you have a policy or program in place to address employee drug and alcohol addiction? If not, consider implementing a drug-free workplace policy. Here's how:

Step 1: Recognize the Signs
More than half the companies Hazelden surveyed in its January 2005 study, "Making Recovery America's Business," lacked expertise in identifying addiction in the workplace. The study found "a stunning disconnect in corporate America," says William C. Moyers, vice president of External Affairs for Hazelden.

"Human resource professionals recognize that addiction treatment works and know that recovering employees come back after treatment as productive members of their companies," he says. "Yet at many companies, these enlightened beliefs aren't translated into the practice of directing employees into treatment, thanks to the stigma of addiction and a lack of knowledge about it."

Although not everyone has the same outward signs, emotional signs of addiction include aggression, anxiety, burnout, denial, depression and paranoia. Behavioral changes include excessive talking, impaired coordination, inability to sit still, irritability, lack of energy, limited attention span, poor motivation, slow reaction time, and slowed or slurred speech. Physical symptoms include chills, the smell of alcohol or marijuana, sweating and weight loss.

In the workplace, symptoms can also include:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Injuries on the job
  • Unexplained disappearances from work
  • Theft
  • Mood swings
  • Continual missed appointments
  • Repeated mistakes
Some conditions are specific to particular drugs. For more information on drug-specific symptoms, visit the American Council For Drug Education, at www.acde.org.

Step 2: Create A Policy
While you may not be able to prevent addiction from entering your company, you can reduce the problem and create awareness by creating a company policy. A cost analysis study by the Chevron Corp. in the mid-1990s found the company's drug-free workplace program, one that encouraged access to addiction treatment, saved $10 for every $1 spent on treatment. This savings was realized in reduced health care claims for employees, increased productivity, and retention of valued employees.

A company policy on a drug-free workplace should include a clear description of prohibited behaviors,
an explanation of why it's being implemented, and a clear explanation of the consequences of violating the policy.
The National Drugs Don't Work Partnership suggests the following be included in a company drug-free workplace policy: "Violations of this policy are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination." Of course, all policies should follow local, state and federal laws.

There are a number of valuable resources to assist you in creating a policy:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor provides guidelines for employers looking to establish policies and programs.
  • The Drug Free Workplace Hotline, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will counsel you over the phone and provide leads to agencies and resources in your state. 
  • The American Council for Drug Education offers a series of low cost educational materials.
  • Speakers are available through the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • The National Drugs Don't Work partnership offers free ads for in-house newsletters and posters, and a sample drug abuse policy statement that can be used as a template.
Step 3: Train Your Managers
Your managers are most likely to be the ones to recognize and refer your employees for drug testing and addictions counseling. Educate them on what to look for and on the details of your drug-free workplace policy.

Managers should be able to handle employees with performance difficulties related to alcohol and substance abuse. They should be familiar with the process of referring employees to available assistance.

When an employee is found to have an addiction, most experts favor a policy of progressive discipline. This gives you the flexibility to deal with individuals on a case-by-case basis. Requiring immediate dismissal of anyone failing a drug test can result in unexpected consequences.

In addition, studies have shown that employees who successfully complete treatment return to work and remain valuable, productive employees.

Companies using progressive discipline can require an employee that is abusing drugs or alcohol to consult with an Employee Assistance Program or other outside counseling agencies on a regular basis until the problem is solved. A qualified human resources employee should monitor the employee's rehabilitation.

Step 4: Educate Your Employees
"Just say no" is not enough education for your employees about drug and alcohol abuse. Employees need to know what causes problems that lead to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol so they are better equipped to resist the temptation.

In addition, you should provide employees with specific information on the company's drug-free workplace policy. All employees should participate, and the policy should be communicated through a variety of means.

Step 5: Enroll In An EAP
Consider joining an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs provide trained counselors who will work with employees troubled by an addiction, or any other problem. And participation is confidential, so employees need not worry about embarrassment or about losing their jobs if they admit to having a problem.

In Hazelden's study, Dr. James Quayle, vice president of medical affairs for Kimberly-Clark Corp. says addressing addiction problems early is the most cost-effective thing to do.

"I don't know why a company would be resistant to treating the illness and getting an employee into recovery," says Quayle. "Recovering employees come back to us better than ever. They are rejuvenated productive employees and are grateful for the chance to turn their lives around."

The Hazelden study found that nearly half of employees would use a company EAP to get help if they were struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Nearly 75 percent of employees said employers should offer counseling for family members of addicted individuals and 67 percent said employers should provide health insurance coverage that would pay more for treatment of drug addiction among family members.

EAPs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families, and clearly demonstrate an employer's respect for the staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and strengthen your legal position.

Cost per employee per year can be as low as $25 to $35. Although EAPs often require that a company's employees number at least 100, if your company is smaller you can form a group with other small firms by contacting your local chamber of commerce. More information is available through The Employee Assistance Professionals Association.

One key to the effective use of an EAP is to refer an employee early.

"Don't wait until it's time to terminate the employee before taking action," says Tom Matlas, a certified alcohol and drug counselor in Detroit. Refer the employee to an EAP or other outside general counseling agency as soon as you see a continuing drop in performance.

Matlas cautions against accusing an employee of being a drug addict or alcoholic.

"The person will be extremely defensive and deny there is a problem," he says. "Denial is part of the nature of the illness."

Furthermore, if word gets around that you charged someone with being an addict, your business could be sued for defamation. It's much smarter to simply advise the employee that you have become concerned about a decline in job performance. Then ask the employee to contact the EAP to speak with a counselor about the issue. The counselor is trained to ask questions that will elicit any information about a drug or alcohol addiction in a non-threatening manner.

If you are not connected to an EAP, refer employees to an outside agency that is general in nature. Avoid telling an employee to see an agency specifically devoted to drug or alcohol counseling. Again, the idea is to keep from putting the employee on the defensive, and also to avoid a defamation lawsuit.

Step 6: Institute Drug Testing
Consider workplace drug testing. Employers decide to drug-test employees for a variety of reasons, including deterring and detecting drug use and providing concrete evidence for intervention, referral to treatment and/or disciplinary action. Before deciding to conduct testing, consider these:

  • Who will be tested? Options may include all staff, job applicants and/or employees in safety-sensitive positions.
  • When will tests be conducted? Possibilities include pre-employment, upon reasonable suspicion or for-cause, post-accident, random, periodic and post-rehabilitation.
  • Which drugs will be tested for? Options include testing applicants and employees for illegal drugs and testing employees for a broader range of substances, including alcohol and certain prescription drugs.
  • How will tests be conducted? Different testing modes are available, and many states have laws that dictate which ones can and cannot be used.
"Positive rates are high to start with, once a company begins such testing," says William F. Current, executive director for the American Council for Drug Education. "After a year or two, they stay fairly constant at a lower level. People in the community get the word pretty quickly that a company does pre-employment drug screening."


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