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Stress and Substance Abuse at Work

Workers who turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve stress not only endanger their own health and safety, but they also endanger the safety of their co-workers and the overall work environment. Users may not think they have a problem or may think they can stop using at any time. But research shows long-term use actually alters brain function and fuels addictive impulses for which corrective counseling or medical treatment may be needed. Employers who set up Drug-Free Workplace Programs can help minimize work-related accidents and associated costs and encourage users to get help. Additional benefits may include:

  • Reduced employee turnover and absenteeism
  • Reduced workplace violence and theft
  • Improved employee morale and productivity
  • Improved customer satisfaction and business success

Drug-Free Workplace: Getting Started

Step 1: Draft your company policy

  • Communicate your stance clearly prohibiting the use of substances in your workplace.
  • Specify which tests will be required and what consequences will follow a positive result or refusal to be tested.
  • Consider asking employees and management for their input and buy-in.

Step 2: Implement

  • Once you’ve drafted your policy, provide it to all employees in writing and post the policy in plain view on the job site. Also, post notices on all job openings for which testing will be required.
  • Take the time to educate all employees about the benefits of the program.
  • Employees have 60 days after the effective start date of the program to be on notice, during which time they should be encouraged to ask for help if they need it.
  • Once the 60-day window has passed, begin conducting tests on new job applicants, during annual physical exams or in cases of reasonable suspicion, and conduct follow-up testing on previously sanctioned employees.
Step 3: Enforce
  • Apply sanctions equally to all employees and job applicants who test positive or refuse to be tested.  You may consider ordering a drug assistance program before terminating.
  • By law, a refusal to test is presumed to be a positive test. Employees who refuse to be tested forfeit workers’ compensation and other benefits specifically outlined in your policy.
  • Testing results must be kept confidential unless written consent is given by the employee.

Once your program is established, notify your state division of workers’ compensation to apply for a 5 percent insurance premium credit. Finally, as with any business plan, conduct a periodic review to evaluate how the plan is working and make adjustments where needed.