Substance Abuse at the Workplace | DCR Workforce Blog

Substance Abuse at the Workplace

As a green-behind-the-ears manager, I used to find one of my office staff particularly insubordinate and annoying in the quality of his work. Inevitably, I had to go rushing to his workspace to get something I needed urgently and caught him imbibing an alcoholic beverage out of a bottle! Then, and only then, I understood why his work was always such a mess and why he made the lives of every one of us in that office a misery; as he was responsible for all the filing and no one could ever trace a single paper they wanted in that place! Once habits turn addictive, it is impossible for people to adhere to the discipline in the workplace and they tend to forget or ignore the fact that their organization has a no-tolerance policy to on-the-job substance abuse.

To curb such activities at the workplace, many organizations perform tests to verify substance use before employing a person. But, it is possible to escape detection by staying clean beyond the specified detection window period (depending on what substance they abuse) and getting the employment, and then getting back on the habit. So, for companies which are concerned about enforcing their no-tolerance policy, there is a need to conduct tests on employees who are on their rolls, using a randomized unpredictable schedule. These tests need to be administered without any lag in time after their announcement and the records need to be maintained in-house or with the help of third-party administrators. The unpredictability of the tests helps to negate the option of staying clean temporarily to beat the system and avoid detection and improves the chances of success with identifying the abusers. These random tests need to be conducted every quarter for all employees and are especially mandated for employees performing safety-sensitive duties. Many organizations split the sample in two and use instant tests to isolate negative results so that employees can quickly get back to work after the test.

If introducing the tests for the first time, forming focus groups of employees for interaction with HR could help to ascertain the extent of the problem in the organization and prepare the employees for the drug-tests. The supervisors need to be trained to effectively communicate the various aspects of the issue like: the need for a drug-free policy and the testing program and what the procedures for testing are and the consequences. Any and all of the employee concerns and questions will need to get answered. Even though there is absolutely no scope for a debate about the need for the testing and a choice about having or not having it – keeping the lines of communication open and allowing the employees to discuss the matter will go a long way to assuage concerns and get the employees to accept the whole issue better.

On the flip side, drug testing is considered irrelevant by quite a few companies which have failed to find a return on the expenditure incurred on testing. Some of the strict enforcers have also found that the majority of people who tested positive have casually used marijuana (with a detection window of 3 -4 days) over the previous weekend.  Companies like Sun Microsystems and Cisco have never considered such testing of their self-motivated and highly skilled employees. The same can be said for the employees of Google and Facebook – but then it may help employers to also remember that Roger Smith, Chairman of General Motors from 1981-1990, went on record to say that drug abuse used to cost GM $ 1 billion in a year!

Ultimately, the onus of choosing a no tolerance policy (unless mandated) and effectively curbing drug abuse issues effectively lies with the employer, in the interest of the organization’s work culture and required standards.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.