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Establish a Drug- and Alcohol-Abuse Prevention Policy

Whether the substance abuse occurs at home or at work, employees who abuse alcohol and drugs (including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter drugs) can create significant issues for both employers and other employees. Employees who abuse drugs have been shown to have lower job performance, reduced productivity, and greater absenteeism, not to mention higher medical and workers’ compensation costs.

In large part to address these issues, drug testing has become the norm at many companies. However, drug testing can be problematic – if done incorrectly or in a manner inconsistent with your company’s culture. Moreover, there are legal restrictions on drug-testing procedures and the types of testing employers may conduct in many states.

Step one is to have a policy against drug and alcohol abuse.
Drug testing is not for all employers; a formal, written policy against employee substance abuse is. Every employer in the United States can and should have a policy.

Although it is advisable for most employers to tailor their policies to fit their particular circumstances, an appropriate model policy often can serve the purpose effectively and/or provide a starting point and some common principles and language.

Three of these common principles relate to what should be included in in every employer’s drug- and alcohol-abuse-prevention policy:

1) Why the company established the policy;

2) What precisely is expected of employees; and
3) What the consequences are for policy violations.

Sample Company Policy

An effective company substance-abuse prevention policy − especially suitable for small businesses − can be as simple as five sentences:

1) [Company] is committed to protecting the safety, health, and well-being of its employees and all people who come into contact with its workplace(s) and property, and/or use its products and services.

2) Recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse pose a direct and significant threat to this goal, [Company] is committed to ensuring a substance-free working environment for all of its employees.

3) [Company] therefore strictly prohibits the illicit use, possession, sale, conveyance, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs, intoxicants, or controlled substances in any amount or in any manner.

4) In addition, [Company] strictly prohibits the abuse of alcohol or prescription drugs.

5) Any violation of this policy will result in adverse employment action up to and including dismissal and referral for criminal prosecution.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

A model corporate substance-abuse-prevention policy, significantly longer and more complex than the sample company policy provided in the previous section, can include such additional provisions as drug testing, employee assistance, searches, and Drug-Free Workplace Act requirements. Our pamphlet Policy on Drug & Alcohol Abuse Prevention: An Employer’s Development and Implementation Guide offers step-by-step guidance in developing that type of policy.

Who to Drug Test
You may wish to specify, as part of your corporate policy, precisely under what conditions, if any, your company intends to drug test:

      1. Pre-employment;
      2. Safety- or security-sensitive;
      3. Post-incident;
      4. During rehabilitation;
      5. Post-rehabilitation or as part of the
          return-to-work process;
      6. “For cause”;
      7. Government-required;
      8. Periodic-announced or periodic- unannounced; or,
      9. Pre-promotion;
      10. Site-specific;
      11. Universal random; and/or
    12. Client-required.

What to Drug Test For
Employers who decide to drug test job applicants and/or employees must also decide which drugs they will test for.

The basic six-panel drug test consists of six drugs consistent with, for example, the U.S. Department of Transportation requirements. These six substances include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, PCP (phencyclidine), and Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine).

Many employers today go beyond testing for these six drugs, expanding the panel of drugs for which job applicants’ and employees’ specimens are tested. The panel sometimes is expanded to include as many drugs as the employer sees fit, and may include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, methaqualone, propoxyphene, and methamphetamines. Many employers also test for what is still the most common drug of abuse in America – albeit a legal one – alcohol. For example, DoT requires random drug and alcohol testing for more than nine million private sector workers in safety-sensitive, transportation related positions.


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