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Risk Management Bulletin


By June 1, 2008No Comments

$100,000,000, 000 a year.

That’s how much the federal government estimates that drug and alcohol abuse costs American businesses. If you think your organization is immune, bear in mind that nearly three in four of adult abusers are employed — some of them perhaps by you. You might know these people by their absentee records: they’re likely to be gone at 2.5 times the rate of the average employee. Or perhaps by their Workers Comp claims: Three to five times those of non-abusers.

If nothing else, you’ll know them by how much they cost your health plan: 300% higher than no-abusers (not to mention the far greater human costs to co-workers, families — and the abusers themselves).

Despite its highly publicized war on drugs, there’s no overall federal drug-free workplace law for the private sector. Although a few states require drug-free workplaces, others take the voluntary approach. For example, some 13 states reduce Workers Comp premiums for businesses with a drug-free workplace program.

If you do create such a program, observe these guidelines:

  • Create a policy. Be sure to expressly ban illegal drugs and abuse of alcohol; to specifically state which drugs and related acts are banned; to explain the steps you will take to back these edicts; and to detail the consequences for their violation.
  • Develop a testing program. Decide whom to test, when to test (e.g. pre-employment, random, regular, reasonable suspicion, incident-related), who will do the test (a certified independent lab is preferred, with at least two tests showing positive), and what will happen after a positive finding.
  • Decide what to with abusers. While some organizations simply discipline or terminate, others see abusers as valued employees with a problem, who are well worth saving. For this reason, many set up Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to deal with drug and alcohol issues off site. Establishing an EAP shows respect for your employees and offers an alternative to dismissal.
  • Define the role of your supervisors. As the management level closest to employees, supervisors will probably be the first to notice the signs of abuse. They need to be tutored on what to look for, and how to document and deal with it. Most important is what supervisors should NOT do — attempt to diagnose what are essentially medical issues, or to counsel abusers. Their role is to report behavior and support what abuse experts decide are appropriate responses to individual situations.
  • Communicate to employees the details of your program, the effects of abuse, and the importance of understanding the problem and reacting in a supportive way.