Research data shows that employee drug abuse in the workplace costs U.S. employers an estimated $140 billion in losses every year. Between lost productivity, accidents, absenteeism, thefts and other related negative behaviors, drug abuse takes quite a chunk out of the national economy.
In the construction industry, having a drug free workplace is particularly important. An Insurance Risk Management Institute report revealed that workers with chronic substance abuse problems can have a 3.6 times higher accident rate. They also are five times more likely to claim workers compensation and use their sick leave three times more frequently than average. All of these issues mean added costs and risks for construction employers.
Creating a Drug Free Workplace Policy
To mitigate these risks, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) advocates forming a drug free workplace program. These programs consist of five main components. Fulfilling all five components can greatly reduce your risk of drug-related incidents, lower operating costs and also help guide individuals towards the help they need to break free of their drug dependence.
Part 1: Writing a Policy
While all elements of a drug free workplace program are important, creating a policy is critical since it gets everything down in writing. Without a policy, punitive actions or other enforcement measures may potentially violate labor laws. Individuals could allege discriminatory enforcement among other causes of action. Without a written policy, they could find it much easier to prove their case.
Drafting a viable drug free workplace policy is more difficult than it sounds. The DOL provides guidelines for creating the policy, but the most important factors to include are how employees are tested, when drug testing may be carried out, how violations will be handled and other issues. Keep in mind that some workplaces may wish to be lenient in-the-moment. You may wish to include flexibilities at the discretion of the management or based on the severity of the violation.
Craft your policy so that it will be enforced equally at all times, and have an attorney review it for legality as well as sound overall structure.
Part 2: Supervisor Training
Supervisors should be trained on how to enforce the drug free workplace policy. They must also be educated on the dangers and impact drug abuse can have on the job. Furthermore, supervisors must be taught how to recognize subtle or overt behaviors that reveal possible drug abuse, including how to handle incidents on a case-by-case basis.
Part 3: Employee Education
Current employees should be briefed on the new drug free policy, and new employees should receive the details as part of their onboarding process. Employees must also be taught about the dangers that drug use could introduce to hazardous environments like construction sites and how they can assess their own habits in light of the potential dangers.
Part 4: Employee Assistance
Employees should be able to confide in their employers as a resource to get help should they have a drug problem. These programs emphasize that the aim of the drug free workplace goes beyond merely punishing people and extends to support and a more positive work environment.
Part 5: Drug Testing
Drug testing protocols should be clearly outlined in the written policy. Potential moments individuals can be tested include:
- After incidents occur
- Prior to workers compensation claims
- When an employee is under suspicion
- When a new employee is hired
- On a set schedule
Drug testing can violate the rights of employees if conducted improperly or in a discriminatory fashion. Have your testing policy reviewed by a labor or business attorney, and follow your policy to the letter to avoid illegal practices.