5 Elements of Every Effective Drug-Free Workplace Program

HR manager informing employees about drug-free workplace policy

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
May 23, 2024 at 5:58AM UTC
According to US Drug Test Centers, drug abuse in the workplace costs employers and employees combined $81 billion dollars per year due to the need for healthcare, absenteeism and loss of productivity that result.

Because of the impact of substance abuse on the workplace — not to mention on employees themselves — many employers are developing a drug-free workplace policy and program. Some are required to by law, while others elect to create them voluntarily. If you want to implement a drug-free workplace policy in your organization, here’s what to know and how to do it effectively.

Why have a drug-free workplace policy?

We’ve discussed some of the effects of drug abuse in the workplace, including its monetary costs. Employees with substance-abuse problems impact their work environments in other ways, too. For example:

• They function less productively than their colleagues.

Workplace accidents and violence are more likely to occur.

• Their problems may affect their coworkers.

A drug-free workplace policy can contribute to a healthier and more productive environment for everyone. Moreover, it can mean a safer workplace, too. For instance, according to the study “Management Perspectives on Alcoholism: The Employer’s Stale in Alcoholism Treatment,” published in Occupational Medicine, alcoholism and alcohol use contributes to approximately 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of industrial injuries.

As discussed in greater detail below, some employers are legally required to develop a drug-free workplace policy, so it could also be a necessary step for ensuring compliance with the law.

What would an effective drug-free workplace program include?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests that organizations include the following components as part of an effective drug-free workplace program.

Drug-free workplace policy.

Policies will usually vary from employer to employer depending on the nature of the work, the needs of the organization and other factors. Still, every policy should outline what behaviors and specific substances are prohibited, why the policy exists, how employees can ensure that they follow the rules and the consequences of violating it. It should be distributed to employees in a handbook or another resource, and you might also require people to sign a statement saying they’ve read the policy and understand it.

Supervisor training.

As the people who are often working most closely with employees, supervisors and managers must be trained to recognize when employees are displaying behaviors that could be because of or related to substance abuse in the workplace. They must also be well-versed in the company’s drug-free workplace policy and understand what actions to take when the issue arises, as well as know what resources are available and be able to refer employees to these resources when necessary.

Keep in mind that supervisors should only take action as an employee’s condition relates to work performance and are not meant to diagnose substance-abuse conditions, nor should they be tasked with advising or counseling employees whom they believe are exhibiting behaviors consistent with drug abuse. 

Employee education.

Employees should be educated on substance abuse and how it affects work and personal life, as well as health issues that may result from it. Employers should also inform employees about their drug-free workplace policy and program and resources that are available to them. Employers can use different methods of educating employees, such as offering seminars, bringing in speakers and more.

Workplace assistance.

The OSHA recommends offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide resources and support to workers with substance abuse problems. This might be in the form of counseling, referrals to outside help and more. This, of course, should occur along with education and other aspects of the program and policy. There should also be procedures in place for addressing issues and hopefully avoiding outright firing employees for substance-abuse issues, unless the situation presents no alternative.

Drug testing. 

Some workplaces, especially those that require operating potentially dangerous equipment or otherwise could present hazardous conditions, such as chemical plants, elect to require drug testing of employees. Healthcare facilities and other institutions that work with prescription medications often require drug testing as well. This may be a condition of pre-employment, the result of the employer’s suspicion that an employee is using illegal substances, a periodic requirement or the subject of other circumstances. 

Some public and employers are required to drug test employees, especially in situations in which drug use may jeopardize people’s safety. Private employers are not required to drug test, although some choose to. Make sure to follow the guidelines as established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Drug-Free Workplace Act.

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires any organization that receives a federal contract of $100,000 or more or a federal grant of any size to institute a drug-free workplace policy. Should the organization fail to do so, they may be subject to different penalties, including have their contract terminated or grant revoked. 

Does the Drug-Free Workplace Act require drug testing?

While the Act requires organizations to put forth efforts to maintain a drug-free workplace, it does not require employers to administer drug testing. There are, however, other requirements concerning the reporting of employees being convicted of criminal drug violations, informing employees of their reporting duties and more.

Is the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 still in effect?

President Ronald Reagan passed the Act in 1988. The law is still in effect today.

Can you refuse to take a drug test at work?

Employees are allowed to refuse to take a drug test at work. However, there are only some circumstances under which you will be able to contest your employer firing you for your refusal. The laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking, if your employer can prove that they had reasonable suspicion of your substance abuse and that it interfered with your ability to perform your work or posed a safety hazard, then they are within their right to fire you for your refusal.

One exception is if your employer displays discrimination in drug testing, meaning they are only requiring it of people of certain races, religions, genders and other protected classes. Drug testing policies must have the same rules for everyone.

Again, remember that the rules vary from state to state. For example, some states require an employer to have reasonable suspicion of drug use, while others don’t.

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