Drugs in the Workplace

Substance abuse can create a wide array of common workplace problems such as tardiness, absenteeism, theft, impaired judgment, lost productivity, turnover, difficulty interacting with co-workers, injury to self or others, and performance issues.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) 73% of drug users are employed, costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and health care costs. With substance abuse on the rise and higher employment rates, the chances that your organization employs one of these 8.1 million workers is greater today than it has been in past years. Studies show that employees who abuse drugs or alcohol place undue hardship on their employer and have a detrimental affect in the workplace. Substance abusers are more likely to have extended absences from work, arrive late, be involved in workplace accidents, and file more Workers’ Compensation claims. In fact, studies conducted for the Drug Free Workplace Act show that substance abusers account for 66% of absenteeism; 300% higher utilization of health benefits; 47% of job related accidents; and are subject to 90% more disciplinary action than non-users.

What can you do as an employer? You certainly can’t afford to ignore this issue. It is recommended that organizations establish substance abuse programs to respond to the problems created by drugs and alcohol in the workplace. These programs do cost money to implement but can also save employers more money in the long run, and may even save lives. Ensuring a safe and secure work environment is every employer’s responsibility. Thus, employers must be proactive in the way they approach this issue. Understandably, it is not feasible for every employer to create in-house programs. However, there are many community outreach agencies that employers can access for assistance. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has outlined seven basic steps every employer can take to identify and handle substance abuse-related performance issues:

  1. Be attentive to any and all problems related to job performance
  2. Look for negative changes in employee work patterns or performance
  3. Document job performance problems and other work-related issues
  4. Address job performance issues in a non-judgmental manner
  5. Use equal treatment with all employees
  6. Maintain confidentiality at all times
  7. Follow up on all job performance issues

Note: Always consult your legal counsel prior to and during implementation of a drug and alcohol policy.

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