Developing a Drug-Free Workplace

Things Employers Must Consider When Developing a Drug-Free Workplace

Confident female coworkers discussing their drug-free workplace policy in a factory setting.
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In a drug-free workplace, the employer has taken steps and initiated policies to ensure that employees, vendors, and customers are not:

  • taking or using alcohol or drugs,
  • selling drugs, or
  • affected by the after-effects of indulging in alcohol or drugs outside of the workplace during non-work time.

Additionally, the goal of a drug-free workplace program, as they have traditionally been developed, is to encourage an employee with a substance abuse problem to seek treatment, recover, and return to work.

Drug-Free Workplace History

Sobriety programs were initiated as early as 1914 by the Ford Motor Company and have taken many shapes and forms over the years. The concept of a drug-free workplace began when Ronald Reagan signed into law Executive Order 12564 that banned the use of drugs both on and off duty for federal employees. It resulted in the Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Drug-Free Workplace Programs, "Today, the concept of a 'Drug-Free Workplace' has become the norm with large and medium-size employers. Efforts are continually made by Federal, State, and civic and community organizations to bring the Drug-Free Workplace experience to a greater percentage of smaller employers."

Interested in the impact of alcohol and drug use in your workplace? These statistics about alcohol and drug use should catch your attention.

As you consider whether a drug-free workplace program is appropriate and needed in your workplace, these are the reasons for having a drug-free workplace program. I have also included the main reason why employees object to a drug-free workplace program. Finally, I have listed the components of a successful drug-free workplace program.

Why Establish a Drug-Free Workplace Program?

You will want to consider setting up a drug-free workplace program for these reasons.

  • You value the health and safety of all of your employees. You are concerned that any employee who may be working under the influence of alcohol or drugs could injure himself or another employee.
  • You are concerned about the impact of unhealthy lifestyle choices on medical and insurance costs for your business.
  • You believe that alcohol or drug impairment impacts all aspects of an employee’s life negatively. These negative impacts, such as broken families, cannot help but flow over into the workplace and manifest as absenteeism, lower productivity, and damaged relationships.
  • You believe that the productivity of any worker who is impaired at work is negatively impacted.
  • For some industries and jobs, drug-free workplace programs are mandated.
  • In some industries, especially when products are easily stolen and sold, substance abusers may account for a large portion of product loss.
  • Finally, you want to send a powerful message to all employees about behavior that is and is not supported at work. Your non-abusing employees deserve this support.

What Constitutes a Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program?

An effective drug-free workplace program shares the characteristics that most effective workplace initiatives share. Workplace efforts that yield results provide:

  • Active, visible leadership and support by the managers and other company leaders;
  • Clearly written policies and procedures that are publicized, trained, and uniformly applied to all employees; with well-trained managers, supervisors, union representatives, and Human Resources staff who understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities;
  • Involvement from a cross-section of employees from across the company and union involvement, in a represented workplace, in the development of the policy and program;
  • Additional training for employees in the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse;
  • Methods of assistance for employees who voluntarily admit they have a substance abuse problem;
  • Access to substance abuse treatment and follow-up for employees who have been identified as having problems;
  • Clearly stated policies about the disciplinary action that will be taken if an employee, with a problem that is impacting the workplace or whose actions are in violation of the workplace policies, fails to obtain help; and
  • Ways to identify people with alcohol, drug, or other substance abuse problems, including drug testing. The goal of a drug-free workplace program is to provide the opportunity for the employee to obtain treatment, overcome their substance abuse issues, and return to work.

With some attention to these measures, you can establish and promote a healthy, drug-free workplace for all of your employees.

The Downside to a Drug-free Workplace Program

The major downside to a drug-free workplace program is that employees object to the random drug testing component that is present in most programs. Employers who choose to execute the drug testing component need to be sensitive to the fact that most employees consider drug testing as intrusive and evidence of a lack of employer trust.

  • Opponents of drug testing believe that non-substance abusers are subjected to ill-treatment because of the actions of a few employees.
  • Employees may feel their privacy is being invaded and that what they do outside of work is not their employer’s business.
  • Failing a drug test does not mean that the employee was impaired at work, just that they used a substance within the time parameters that the test checked. Again, the use could have had no impact on their work performance whatsoever.
  • Employees fear that the off-work use of drugs or alcohol may bring the same consequences to an employee as would be applied to an employee who abused substances on the job.
  • Opponents of drug testing believe that while there are Federal regulations for drug testing, there are hundreds of state and local jurisdictions that do not regulate or oversee the methods employers use for drug testing.

The Importance of Dignity and Respect

Consequently, if you do make random drug testing a part of your drug-free workplace program, make sure you treat your employees with dignity and respect and honor their privacy. Consult with legal experts to ensure your compliance with state, Federal, and international workplace laws.

Heed the fact that medical marijuana usage is increasing and becoming legal in many jurisdictions.

The drug testing policy should specify the type of drug testing used, the frequency of the drug testing, and the names of the substances for which the employee will be tested. The drug testing policy should provide fair and consistent methods for employee selection for drug testing.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.