America’s businesses pay 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 to workplace safety. The good news is that employers have enormous power to protect their organizations from alcohol and drug abuse by educating employees and volunteers about its dangers and encouraging individuals with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.

The term “drug-free workplace” is used generally to describe employer-sponsored substance abuse prevention programs. A comprehensive drug-free workplace program generally includes five components:

  1. a drug-free workplace policy,
  2. supervisor training,
  3. employee education,
  4. employee assistance and
  5. drug testing.

Although employers may choose not to include all five components, it is recommended that all be explored and considered when developing a drug-free workplace program. Research does show a positive relationship between the number of components included and a program’s overall effectiveness. However, it should be noted that drug testing is only one part of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program and may not be necessary or appropriate for many work sites.

A drug-free policy with enforceable consequences for disregarding the policy contributes to a safe workplace, because others’ behavior affects the safety of fellow workers.

Online Help

U.S. Department of Labor initiative that raises awareness about the impact drugs and alcohol have on the workplace and provides information on how to establish drug-free workplace programs that protect worker safety and health.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s online Drug-Free Workplace Advisor includes a powerful feature — the Program Builder. This interactive tool guides employers through the components of a written drug-free workplace policy and generates a policy statement based on their selection of options offered by the Program Builder.

Other features include supervisor training and employee education resources on alcohol and drug abuse, including ready-to-use presentation and training materials that feature PowerPoint slides, overheads and handouts. In addition, the Advisor contains information about Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and drug testing services.

Program Planning and Philosophy

The Drug-Free Workplace Advisor provides some general advice to help structure the organization’s program. Since every organization is different and has unique issues, the policy and program your design should match your workforce and the needs of your organization.

The organization’s philosophy concerning alcohol and other drug problems sets the tone for the policy and defines the drug-free workplace program components. Some organizations focus on detection, apprehension and discharge and apply a strong law enforcement model that treats employees who use drugs as criminals. Other organizations focus on performance and emphasize deterrence and assistance, because they view alcohol and drug use as causing impairment of otherwise capable employees. The most effective drug-free workplace programs strike a balance between these two philosophies. They send a strong clear message and, at the same time, encourage employees to seek assistance if they are struggling with alcohol and other drug problems.

Your drug-free workplace program should:

  • balance the rights of employees and the rights of employers,
  • balance the need to know and rights to privacy,
  • balance detection and rehabilitation, and
  • Balance the respect for employees and the safety of all.

The organization’s drug-free workplace policy, which serves as the foundation for its program, should accomplish two things:

  1. Send a clear message that use of alcohol and drugs in the workplace is prohibited.
  2. Encourage employees to voluntarily seek help with alcohol and drug problems.

The organization should also pay close attention to the following legally sensitive areas:

  • safeguarding employees’ confidentiality,
  • communicating the policy to all employees,
  • establishing procedures to thoroughly investigate alleged violations,
  • providing due process and ample opportunity for employees to answer allegations,
  • ensuring quality control of testing process, including confirmation of positive tests if testing is selected,
  • conforming to union contracts, and
  • Conforming to applicable federal and state laws.

The policy should lay the groundwork for the organization’s program and should answer the following questions, which the Program Builder can lead you through:

  • What is the purpose/goal of your program?
  • Who will be covered by your policy?
  • When will your policy apply?
  • What behavior will be prohibited?
  • Will employees be required to notify you of drug-related convictions?
  • Will your policy include searches?
  • Will your program include drug testing?
  • What will the consequences be if your policy is violated?
  • Will there be Return-to-Work Agreements?
  • What type of assistance will be available?
  • How will employee confidentiality be protected?
  • Who will be responsible for enforcing your policy?
  • How will your policy be communicated to employees?

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