Why You Should Care About Substance Abuse at Work (Part 3)

Employee Drug Testing

In Part 1, Why You Should Care About Substance Abuse at Work, we learned that someone else’s “personal problem” could impact an organization’s bottom line and everyone’s personal safety. In Part 2 we explored the telltale signs of abuse that managers should look out for when determining if someone is abusing.

Since it is the obligation of an employer to provide a safe work environment under the OSHA General Duty Clause, employers must be ready to appropriately deal with those abusing drugs. Failure to do so can result in litigation:

  • Against the company
  • Directly against supervisors deemed negligent

Identify and Confront

Approximately 10% – 15% of employees have drugs/alcohol in their systems. Knowing what to do about an employee who is suspected of abuse is an employer’s best defense. Make sure management is well trained and can:

  1. Know the signs of substance abuse in an employee
  2. Know how to document and confront the problem
  3. Utilize drug testing
  4. Know when and how to refer to outside support systems

Signs of Substance Abuse

There are overarching signs to look for in an employee’s behavior that can signal substance abuse. Some are specific physical signs relating to certain drugs as explained in part 2 of this blog series, but other signs are directly related to job performance and behavior towards coworkers. Be sure to watch for:

  • Changing work patterns; unattributed illnesses/personal problems, missed deadlines, difficulty handling demanding situations
  • Increased absenteeism; leaving work area more often, unexplained disappearance from job, unreported absences reported later as emergencies
  • Increased accidents; safety of others disregarded, needless risks taken
  • Changes in mood; violent, withdrawn or inappropriately talkative
  • Relationships with others on the job; over reactions to real or imagined criticism, borrows money from coworkers, persistent job transfer requests

Document and Confront

Make sure to have policies and procedures in place to properly document and confront an employee suspected of substance abuse. A good rule of thumb to remember is “if it is not documented, it did not happen”. Keep it professional and document job performance and/or safety issues ONLY.

Often employees who are abusing drugs at work will refuse to sign disciplinary paperwork. Have a backup. Follow the “Two on One Rule”. Make sure to have an additional manager/supervisor present in these types of cases to document that the employee was provided the paperwork and refused to sign it.

Drug Testing

As an employer, it is important to be clear on what is and is not covered by state drug programs.

  • Ohio’s Bureau of Workers Compensation Drug-Free Safety program (DFSP) tests do not test for the presence of drugs/alcohol
  • Ohio’s Bureau of Workers Compensation Drug-Free Workplace (DFWP) tests for the presence of unsafe or potential impairment levels of drugs/alcohol

Which is better, hair or urine testing? Hair testing is often used for pre-employment purposes because it can provide insight into a potential employee’s lifestyle since the results encompass a 30-60 day history. It would not be effective for post accident or reasonable suspicion of substance abuse.

Urine testing is great for knowing whether someone is on drugs currently. It can detect whether someone is abusing a controlled substance within a 3-5 day window (marijuana is the exception with a 30 day window). Urine testing is best used when conducting random drug tests or right after an accident to determine if an employee is under the influence.

Outside Support Systems

Once it is determined that an employee is abusing a controlled substance, be sure to follow established policies and procedures for next steps. Whether the policy is to allow the employee to get clean and return to work or if there is zero tolerance and immediate termination is the organization’s stance, make sure all managers/supervisors are properly trained to follow through. If the employee is displaying aggression or violence, take the necessary steps and involve appropriate law enforcement to ensure the safety of all personnel.

Timothy Dimoff Knows How to Address Substance Abuse

As a former narcotics law enforcement officer, Tim Dimoff applies his firsthand experience with the drug trade to business operations’ best practices. Contact Tim to schedule the Tim’s Talk What to do About Substance Abuse in the Workplace to protect your employees and the organization as a whole from this insidious problem plaguing America’s workplace.

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