7 Reasons Why Having a Clear Drug and Alcohol Policy is Important
Written by Lucas Kibby, CleanFleet
Well written company policies are designed to help protect the company from liability by incorporating established safe and ethical procedures into its daily operations. To be considered well written, the drug and alcohol policy should be fair and reasonable, clearly stated, fully explained and understood across the company, and compliant with local, state, and federal law in the areas the company has employees. Failure to do so may lead to monetary damages and statutory penalties.
There is a lot to unpack in that statement for a well written policy, so let’s just focus on a clearly stated drug and alcohol policy and why this is so important.
A Company’s Drug and Alcohol Policy Should Be:
Clear on Who will be Tested
Potential New Employees: Employers have the right to learn more about the candidates. They also have the right to ensure that a potential new hire does not have anything worrisome in their past that could potentially harm the business or employees, like drug-addiction.
Safety Sensitive Positions: Workplace safety is the chief concern for responsible companies. It’s easy to see how people operating machinery under the influence of alcohol or drugs could cause problems. Substance abusers are about 3.5 times more likely to be involved in accidents on the job and 5 times more likely to hurt themselves at work, according to ACDE. A company should clearly state which positions are safety-sensitive in their drug testing policy.
Industry with Known Abuse: Some industries happen to create the perfect environment for addiction to take hold. The industries most affected by substance and alcohol abuse, and where you may want a random testing program, are:
- Accommodation (hotel) & Food service: This industry includes all those who work in companies that provide lodging and/or prepare meals, snacks and beverages for immediate consumption. “Hazardous drinking patterns” were identified in as many as 80% of male restaurant workers and 64% of females in the restaurant industry, according to a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
- Construction: This includes those companies engaged in building or engineering projects, such as highways and homes. It also includes employees involved in preparing construction sites for new construction and subdivision of property for future development, as well as contractors and subcontractors. Construction workers have the 2nd highest incidence of past-month heavy alcohol use at 16.5%.
- Mining: This includes those who work in obtaining oil, coal, solid and liquid minerals, and gases from the earth through the use of wells, tunnels, digging or drilling into the ground and more. Mining industry workers have the highest incidence of past-month heavy alcohol use at a staggering 17.5%
- Utilities: The utilities sector is made up of companies that provide electric and natural gas services, steam and water services, as well as sewage removal. 11.5% rate of substance abuse
- Health Care Professionals: Between 10 and 15 percent of all medical professionals will abuse or misuse drugs at one point or another during their career.
Clear on What Reasons that Require Testing
Clearly stating when testing is needed may mean describing a threshold before testing occurs. For example, requiring post-accident testing if there was $5,000+ in damage to company property. A company’s policy could include one or all of these reasons for testing:
- Pre-employment testing
- Random testing programs
- Reasonable suspicion
- Post-accident testing
- Return-to-work and follow-up testing
Clear on Consequences for Refusal to test
Do you have a comprehensive definition of “Refusal to Test”? Many workplace drug and alcohol testing policies are deficient because employers do not clearly define what constitutes a refusal to test. For example, employees selected for drug testing often attempt to delay the test. Does your policy make it clear that employees who do not report for testing when selected for testing will be terminated?
The following are some examples of conduct that can be considered a refusal to test:
- Failure to appear for any test after being directed to do so by your employer.
- Failure to remain at the testing site until the testing process is complete.
- Failure to provide a urine or breath sample for any test required by federal regulations.
- Failure to permit the observation or monitoring of you providing a urine sample.
- Failure to take a second test when directed to do so.
- Failure to cooperate with any part of the testing process
Clear on Consequences for a Positive Test
While it’s never an easy situation to face when a test result comes back positive (especially when the employee is a friend or a valued team member), employers who are prepared will be able to make the best decision for the employee and the company. Clearly stating the plan and consequences when a positive test comes back may include:
Removing the employee from the workplace. The employee should be relieved of all duties at work, particularly if she or he performs a safety-sensitive job. A company does not want to put the employee or the rest of the staff at risk if the company knows the results of the test is positive.
Offer the services of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Before considering termination, a company may consider granting the employee a second chance by participating in an employee assistance program for treatment or counseling. Upon completion of the EAP, the employer may then bring the employee back to the workplace. Some employers such as the federal government require an EAP for any positive drug test. Set a probation period. If an employee participates in the assistance program and returns to work, the focus should be on continued recovery and easing back into work duties.
Termination: For businesses with a zero-tolerance drug-free policy, this is the most appropriate action. Maintaining a drug free workplace is important for business growth, and consistent actions help enforce the company’s policy.
Clear on Procedures and Consequences for False Positive, False Negative, or Cheating
Have you ever had a drug test come back a false positive? It is interesting to point out that sometimes, though infrequently, an initial screening drugs tests may result in false positive results. Requiring certain employees, especially those in a safety-sensitive role, to provide an accurate history of all prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and herbal drug use prior to the time of the sample collection can help understand why a false positive may have occurred. Certain substances, OTC, or prescription drugs may result in false positives due to cross-reactivity with other substances, although many assays have been reformulated to avoid these possibilities (poppy seeds are being modified to not cause false positive tests, for example).
In other situations, you may receive a result of a false negative. This usually means that there was, or could have been, deliberate adulteration of the drug test sample. For example, the lab may find a low creatinine lab value. There are two reasons for this. Either the person providing the sample diluted their urine by consuming excessive water just prior to testing, or water was added to the urine sample.
A company’s policy should state clearly the consequences of cases has been cheating. Is this an automatic termination? What does your policy say regarding a refusal to test, since cheating is often considered a refusal?
Clear on Medical and Recreational Marijuana in the Workplace
The primary reason for prohibiting use of marijuana in the workplace is because smoking marijuana on the job has been linked to job accidents and injuries stemming from the short-term effects of being high such as impaired body movement, difficulty thinking, memory problems and altered senses, read about the effect here. In short, there is a link between illicit drug use and workplace accidents. While smoking pot may be reasonably safe in a controlled environment, the fact that workplace safety may be jeopardized raises concerns.
While marijuana still is illegal under federal law, the federal government is slowly backing away from that position and more and more states are enacting medical marijuana laws. Some of these state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against medical marijuana users. Employers should review all applicable medical marijuana laws carefully while considering the potential legal and safety risks.
If your business is not federally regulated, you can set-up a policy wherever you feel comfortable starting, just be sure you clearly state when testing is required and the consequences of a positive test. For example: testing only for pre-employment, only testing post-accident if causes $5,000 damage or more, or a full-fledged random testing program target safety-sensitive roles if you do not want a company-wide testing program.
Clear on Employees reporting Prescriptions or Over-the-Counter Medications
It is common practice to have “Safety-Sensitive” employees report the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications that could impact safety. Employees in dangerous jobs should not report for work while using prescription or over-the-counter medications that could affect their ability to perform their jobs safely. This report will trigger the employer’s obligation to have an “interactive dialogue” with the employee (under the Americans with Disabilities Act and comparable state laws) to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is possible or whether the employee poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of himself or others.
Want Your Drug and Alcohol Policy to be reviewed by Experts? CleanFleet Can Help
When was the last time you reviewed your policy? CleanFleet is a best-in-class testing service provider that can help companies with policy development or review from the ground up. Email or call us if you have questions at 503-479-6082.