The HR Specialist

Drugs in the Workplace

White Paper published by The HR Specialist


When drugs don't seem to present a problem within a company, it's easy to develop a cavalier attitude about them. That's not smart. Drug abuse often begins with a single offender and then spreads, sometimes with frightening speed. Experts say that your best defense is to detect drug abuse when it first appears and to root it out immediately. That's easier said than done. But by staying in touch with your staff, you'll know what is normal behavior for them and be able to notice when something is off-center.

Signs to look for

  • Accident proneness. Some drugs interfere with eye-hand coordination, causing employees to stumble or fumble with equipment.
  • Inattention or forgetfulness. Sometimes a supervisor's request or instructions may fail to register with an employee who is high.
  • Absenteeism. Be suspicious of an increase in sick days. Drug users miss work about twice as often as other employees.
  • Personality change. Irritability or depression often follows a cocaine high. The high itself may be signaled by euphoria.
  • Sudden increase in productivity. In the early stages of cocaine use, some individuals perform better because the drug accelerates their heart rate, increases blood pressure and stimulates their nervous system.
  • Falling productivity. Marijuana makes some people inattentive to deadlines or unable to gauge quality. Over time, cocaine interferes with the heart and nervous system, causing mental and physical dysfunction.

How to respond

If you have noticed signs of possible drug abuse, take one or more of the following steps:

React to performance problems. If an employee suddenly becomes clumsy around a dangerous machine, reassign him. If output has slipped, counsel the individual to- improve. Ask the employee to tell you what he thinks is wrong. But make no
accusation about drug use.

Collect evidence of in-company drug selling. If you are sure there's a dealer in your company, notify the police. Don't confront the culprit yourself.

Developing a drug policy

Drug abuse policies vary depending on the particular nature of the work site. The key: know what your goal is. Here are some points to consider when writing a policy:

The policy should be clearly written, posted, frequently communicated and uniformly enforced regardless of rank or position. It should set rules on the use and abuse of drugs, control procedures and disciplinary action to be taken.

If you have a pre-employment drug-detection test, it should be written in the job application form, and the employment contract should clearly state that testing will be a routine part of a person's employment.

Employee handbooks should be reviewed regularly for consistency with other company policies and compliance with existing federal, state and local regulations. Add a statement in the handbook asserting that management may revise its drug policy.

Starting a drug-testing program

It's not necessary to set up the program on-site. You may prefer to use outside local laboratories that handle these tests. Make a special point to ask labs about their quality-control procedures. What documentation do they keep in handling specimens to prevent any mix-up? How long do they keep such records? The answers to these questions may prove vital if test results are ever used as evidence in court.

Blood and urine analyses are the most common types of drug tests used, but they are not foolproof. To prevent lawsuits, follow the manufacturer's testing and sampling instructions, and advise employees of what to expect if a test is found positive.

What legal issues could you face? Based on court and arbitration rulings, companies appear to be safe in administering drug tests in three situations:

  • During pre-employment, provided your state law doesn't prohibit this.
  • During a fitness-for-duty test of an employee who has performance problems.
  • After the occurrence of a preventable accident.

Note: About a third of the states have laws regulating drug testing of employees. Be sure to check your state law before beginning a testing program.

Handling employees in rehab

You should give employees time to discuss the problem with the company's employee counselor before imposing any discipline. When you have to fire anyone, be sure you have follow-up or confirmatory tests on file, with bulletproof documentation. You must not base your action on the result of only one positive test. Failure to confirm tests properly can subject private-sector employers to employee lawsuits on various common-law grounds: defamation, discrimination, wrongful discharge, intentional
infliction of emotional distress or negligence.

Avoid intrusive monitoring, such as the use of closed-circuit cameras, because some state courts tend to be liberal in their interpretation of invasion of privacy. Some drug-screening programs are not punitive in nature, but are used more as a prevention or rehabilitation tool to get an employee into early treatment before the problem gets worse.


Sample Policy

"The Company prohibits the use, transfer, distribution, manufacture or possession of alcohol, controlled substances, unauthorized drugs, intoxicants, drug paraphernalia, or combination thereof on any company premises or work sites, including Company vehicles and private vehicles parked on Company premises or work sites.

"Use or possession of prescription drugs consistent with a physician's directions is not considered a violation of this policy.

"Employees who fail to conform to these rules will be subject to removal from the facility and appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. This policy applies to all employees.

"Self-identification: Employees who volunteer information of their chemical dependency problems may receive the support and
aid of the Company for rehabilitation. However, any support or aid offered to an employee is a discretionary management decision and will be based partly on the circumstances of the employee, the manner the Company obtained the information and the seriousness and frequency of other Company violations.

"The decision to request a diagnosis and accept treatment for a chemical dependency is the personal responsibility of the
individual. An individual's refusal to accept referral for diagnosis or to follow prescribed treatment will be considered insubordination and a violation of this policy.

"Fitness for Duty: As a condition of employment, employees must report to their jobs in a condition that will allow them to be mentally and physically alert.

"When a manager has reason to believe fitness for duty of an employee is impaired, because the employee is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances, the employee's fitness should be witnessed by another supervisor (if possible). If they concur that the employee's fitness for duty is impaired, the Company will administer appropriate disciplinary action, including discharge.

"Testing: All alcohol and drug testing procedures will conform to all local, state and federal regulations. No testing procedures will be implemented that will not meet the Company's professional and certifiable standards.

"All laboratories, hospitals and their professional staff must meet the standards of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.... The
Company will require, but not limit, alcohol and drug testing for:

  • After accidents
  • Annual physicals
  • Reasonable suspicion
  • Return-to-duty testing
  • Random
  • Pre-employment (where permitted by law)
  • Follow-up testing

"Employees testing positive for alcohol and/or drugs may be required to enroll in at least one of the following: Employee Assistance Program, Education and/or training program or Rehabilitation program.

"The selection of an appropriate program and/or appropriate disciplinary action for the employee violating the alcohol and drug abuse policy is completely a discretionary decision of management, and the Company reserves the right to take disciplinary action up to and including discharge.

"If an employee is required to enroll in a rehabilitation, education or assistance program, continued employment is conditioned upon the following requirements:

1. The employee must present written certification that he/she has successfully completed the appropriate rehabilitation program.

2. The employee must satisfactorily complete an alcohol and drug test.

"Confidentiality: The Company will maintain the highest standards for confidentiality for all records and information concerning alcohol and drug dependencies. No employee is authorized without the express consent of the Company president to release, communicate or leave unsecured information on alcohol or drug abuse problems. Any employee violating this policy will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination of employment. Non-employees, contractors, vendors and agencies that disclose unauthorized information will be subject to legal recourse.

"Nothing in this statement of policy is to be interpreted as constituting a waiver of management's responsibility to maintain discipline, or the right to take disciplinary measures in the case of poor performance or misconduct."

-- Adapted from The Book of Company Policies, published by the National Institute of Business Management 

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