Tips for a successful drug-free workplace program

Workplace drug use can create safety hazards, expose your company to liability, and decrease productivity. But when it comes to a drug-free workplace program, one size does not fit all. Keep reading for important considerations in developing an effective drug and alcohol policy at your company.

The type of program you choose for your workplace should be appropriate to your company’s size, industry, and substance abuse–related risk factors. There are three basic types of programs, which employers typically tailor to meet the needs and characteristics of their workforce.

Type 1. Small organizations with low safety/security risk and employees with few risk factors for substance abuse. A basic program would include a policy and an employee assistance program, but it might not offer drug testing.

Type 2. Small or medium-sized organizations with moderate to high safety/security risk or numerous workplace substance abuse risk factors. A program could include some form of drug testing and perhaps an external employee assistance program (EAP) in addition to policy and employee awareness.

Type 3. Medium-to-large organizations with moderate-to-high safety/security risk and moderate-to-high employee risk factors. This type of program would also include some form of drug testing, an EAP, and a fairly comprehensive health promotion or wellness program as well as a strong policy.

Assess needs and address key issues

Developing a drug-free workplace initiative starts by assessing the need. Does your site have safety-sensitive positions, or are you in a sector (such as transportation) with mandated drug-testing requirements? Do you work on federally funded projects? Does your workforce have high rates of use or abuse? These are the types of questions that must be answered.

Policy development is an essential program element. A written policy sets the tone for your drug-free workplace program and should reflect your organization’s philosophy about alcohol and drugs. Some workplaces focus on detection, apprehension, and discharge with a strong law enforcement model. Other organizations focus on performance, emphasizing deterrence and assistance.

According to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Drug-Free Workplace Advisor, “the most effective drug-free workplace programs strike a balance between these two philosophies.” Successful programs should also address:

  • The rights of employees and the rights of employers;
  • The need to know and rights to privacy;
  • Detection and rehabilitation; and
  • Respect for employees and the safety of all.

Certain philosophies and practices can undermine the effectiveness of a program.

  • Focusing only on illicit drug use and failing to include alcohol,
  • Accepting drug use and alcohol abuse as part of modern life and a cost of doing business,
  • Over-reliance on drug testing,
  • Focusing on termination rather than on rehabilitation,
  • Reluctance of supervisors to confront employees on the basis of poor performance,
  • Reinforcing an employee’s denial about the impact of alcohol and drug use,
  • Restricting benefits and/or access to treatment, and
  • Allowing insurers to restrict access to treatment.

Model policy

The Minnesota Safety Council has developed a sample corporate policy that suggests the following language:

  1. [Organization] will not tolerate or condone substance abuse. It is our policy to maintain a workplace free from alcohol and other drug abuse and its effects.
    2. It is the policy of [Organization] that employees who engage in the sale, use, possession, or transfer of illegal drugs or controlled substances, or who offer to buy or sell such substances; the use of alcohol during work hours; or the abuse of prescribed drugs will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.
    3. It is the policy of [Organization] to commit the resources necessary to achieve and maintain a drug-free and alcohol-free environment.
    [Organization] expects the full support of this policy by all employees and all persons doing business with the company.

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