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Substance Abuse in the Workplace

September 3, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The majority of drug and alcohol abusers are employed, 3 out of 4, in fact; and when they arrive for work, they don’t leave their problems at the door. Research indicates that between 10 and 20 percent of the nation’s workers who die on the job test positive for alcohol or other drugs. In fact, industries with the highest rates of drug use are the same as those at a high risk for occupational injuries.

American industry pays a high price for alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs—increased absences, accidents and errors—are obvious. Others, such as low employee morale and high illness rates, are less so, but the effects are equally harmful.

Drug-Free Workplace Programs

Although not required by OSHA, drug-free workplace programs are natural complements to other initiatives that help ensure safe and healthy workplaces. Employers with successful drug-free workplace programs have experienced important benefits. For example:

  • Improvements in morale and productivity, and decreases in absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft
  • Better health status among employees and family members and decreased use of medical benefits by these same groups
  • Qualifying for incentives, such as decreased costs for workers’ compensation and other kinds of insurance

What Are Your Options?

Unless you are covered by certain regulations (such as DOT’s alcohol and drug testing rules for employees in safety-sensitive positions), you generally have a variety of options for dealing with employees who have alcohol or drug problems.

1. Start by consulting your workplace substance abuse policy. It should spell out options for dealing with substance abusers. Make sure your policy is communicated to all employees and clearly outlines expectations regarding alcohol and drug use or impairment in the workplace. Don’t have a policy? Develop one soon.

2. If your organization has an employee assistance program, substance abusers should be referred to it by a supervisor or manager in an position to do so based on observed and documented performance problems.

3. You may also be able to deal with substance abuse issues under the Family and Medical Leave Act and offer abusers leave time for treatment.

4. You can take disciplinary action (up to and including termination) based on job performance problems that may be the result of an employee’s alcohol or drug abuse. Be sure to carefully document performance problems and any disciplinary action taken.

5. In lieu of termination, you can require an employee to participate in a treatment program and draw up a return-to-work agreement that requires the employee to complete the treatment program in order to be reinstated.

6. Finally, you can turn to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Working Partners program for information about maintaining a drug- and alcohol-free workplace. Working Partners also provides information about helping substance abusers recover and return to work as functioning, productive employees.

Tomorrow, we’ll focus on another common, but often overlooked, workplace substance abuse and safety problem—the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which can sometimes cause impairments that put employees at risk just as alcohol and illegal drugs do.

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Categories: Safety, Security

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