Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace
Drugs and alcohol misuse pose several challenges in the workplace. It can lead to a decline in productivity, absenteeism, increases in vices like theft, loss of reputation and poor working environment. For that reason, most employers implement programs to control or eliminate substance abuse in workplaces. However, it’s still vital for all parties to understand their rights and responsibilities.
Learn more about drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies, the laws regulating such programs and the impacts of substance abuse on jobs.
What Does a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace Mean?
A drug-free workplace is an employment setting where all employees must comply with programs, policies and activities designed to discourage alcohol and drug misuse. The drug- and alcohol-free program also offers opportunities for affected employees to get assistance from professionals and other co-workers. Ultimately, the employer is able to maintain a healthy, efficient and conducive working environment, free from drug and alcohol abuse.
An effective drug- and alcohol-free workplace program should have some essential features, including the following:
- Written policy: A good alcohol- and drug-free workplace policy should be in writing and translated into different languages so employees and supervisors understand the requirements. Again, the statement should be legible and written in simple, direct and clear language to communicate the objectives, processes and requirements without confusion.
- Accessibility: Ensure each employee can access the policy and appreciate its content. Thus, besides printing out the document, you may convert it into different formats so employees can easily retrieve it across different devices.
- Awareness and education: Engage all employees in continuous learning or training designed to create awareness and direct them on how and where to get support. Also, establish confidential and open communication channels to enable employees to express themselves without concern.
- Binding contract: First, ensure the policy is reasonable, fair and helpful. Second, make acceptance of the terms a condition of employment. Third, the relevant and enforceable parts of the policy should meet the requirements of a valid contract.
- Clear actions: Workplace drug and alcohol programs should provide clear procedures for receiving and addressing complaints, conducting investigations and providing avenues for support. The policy should indicate precise enforcement mechanisms and sanctions.
Three critical circumstances may trigger organizational response to alcohol and drug use at the workplace:
- When poor performance and absenteeism affect productivity, the employer may have some right to take appropriate action.
- When the safety of other persons is put at risk, the employer has a right and duty to ensure a safe workplace.
- Vices such as theft and harassment give an employer the right to intervene.
Substance Abuse in the Workplace Statistics
Here are ten workplace substance abuse statistics you should know:
- Nine percent of full-time employees in the United States engage in heavy drinking.
- Nine percent of illicit drug users are under 18, working full-time or part-time.
- Persons who abuse substances are more likely to be absent from work — four to eight times more than non-abusing employees.
- Seventy-nine percent of binge drinkers are full- and part-time employees.
- Workplaces with more heavy drinkers are more likely to encounter on-the-job injuries.
- On-the-job drinking increases the risk of gender and sexual harassment in the workplace.
- About 22% of employees admit to using alcohol or drugs during working hours.
- Alcohol is the most used substance in the workplace, followed by recreational marijuana.
- According to a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), most dangerous occupations, such as construction and mining, have the highest rate of drug use by employees.
- Between 10%-20% of persons who die at work test positive for alcohol or drugs.
Laws on Drug Use in the Workplace
Various laws address the use of drugs and alcohol at workplaces in the U.S. Here are some examples:
1. Federal Laws
Here are five federal laws relating to the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace:
- Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988: The law requires federal agencies and certain organizations receiving federal grants and contracts to prepare and distribute a formal drug-free workplace policy statement, which prohibits alcohol and drug use at workplaces and specifies the consequences for violation. The organization must also establish an awareness program and ensure all employees understand their personal reporting obligations. Covered organizations that fail to comply with the policy may face sanctions, such as suspension or termination of grants or contracts.
- Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits private employers with more than 14 employees from discriminating against their employees based on race, religion, sex, gender, religion or nationality. Any drug-free workplace policy that contradicts this law may be declared unlawful. Employees who believe their employees have violated their civil rights may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990: The ADA forbids employers with 16 or more workers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of physical disabilities. In relation to alcohol- and drug-free workplace policies, employers can implement the program but must accommodate recovering alcoholics and drug users seeking treatment for their addiction. Employers who use alcohol or drug policies as a guise to treat employees with past substance abuse records unfairly may face legal consequences.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993: The law requires qualified employers to allow employees to take job-protected unpaid leave for specified medical conditions. Eligible employees may use their medical leave to deal with substance abuse and related challenges like addiction, physical illnesses or to care for a close family member receiving treatment for any of these conditions. Employers who unjustifiably sanction such employees may face legal consequences.
- National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) of 1935: The law applies to employers implementing alcohol- and drug-free workplace programs in unionized employment settings. It requires the union, through a formal collective bargaining process, to negotiate and agree on drug-testing programs that affect unionized workers.
2. State Laws
Some states have laws regulating alcohol and drug policies in workplaces. A classic example is Louisana, which allows drug testing in most private and public organizations and businesses. Others, like Maine, limit who employers may test and how they should conduct the procedure. State law can also restrict the kind of disciplinary action employers can take against employees who test positive on alcohol or drug tests.
3. Other Laws
Laws such as the general principles of contract also affect drug-free workplace programs. Typically, employment agreements and workplace policies are only enforceable when they meet the requirements of a valid contract. Also, the policy terms must be fair and reasonable and comply with existing local, state or federal laws.
What Are Some of the Negative Effects of Addiction in the Workplace?
Here are ten ways drugs and alcohol can affect your job:
- Reduced productivity
- Increase in vices like theft and sexual harassment
- Poor decision-making and judgment
- Discomfort among other employees
- Low employee morale
- Failing health
- Poor reputation
- High turnover rates
- Workplace accidents and injuries
Can You Be Watched While Taking a Drug Test?
Employers may require a trained person to monitor employees while they take samples for drug or alcohol tests. The essence is to prevent tampering or contamination of the specimen. Drug tests can interfere with a person’s privacy, so employers must be cautious when drafting their policies. Whenever in doubt, it’s essential to engage the services of an expert like an attorney. Training programs also help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under the law.
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