According to statistics from the United States Department of Labor, 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of individual injuries received on the job are due to intoxication from alcohol. This combined with the fact that businesses suffer related losses of five hundred million workdays and over eight billion dollars each year underscores the fact that alcoholic and drug-dependent employees are very dangerous for businesses. These unfortunate laborers drain the economy of much-needed growth and productivity.
Today, the troublesome situations created by employees suffering from addictions do not just apply to the usage of heavy machinery. Employees also have access to sensitive information about the company. This information when improperly handled leads to gaping liabilities that can exact a high toll on businesses.
The prevailing wisdom about alcoholic or drug-dependent employees is that they can be found in businesses of every size and more importantly every kind. Research actually reveals a different picture: employees with alcohol- or drug-related problems tend to seek out smaller businesses with no formal written policy prohibiting drug or alcohol consumption. This research would seem to explain a seeming disparity. The total population of illicit drug users is estimated to be just under fifteen million. Of those, 77% are employed. However, of heavy drinkers who are employed, just 17% work for companies that have employee rosters of five hundred or more.
Therefore, the best way to protect the workplace from alcoholic and drug-addicted employees is to instill a strict company policy against substance abuse combined with a drug- and alcohol-free program. Obviously each company must implement this program and policy in their own way due to their idiosyncratic circumstances, but there are five components that any program must have in order to succeed: drug and alcohol testing, employee education, employee assistance, the policy itself, and supervisor and manager training.
As each company takes the first steps towards setting up this program, the key element needs to be the formal written policy. In addition, the written policy should be displayed in as many areas as possible to remind employees of their responsibilities. Businesses must make it clear to their employees that the reasoning behind their adoption of this policy and program is for their employees’ benefit, in addition to preventing profit loss or liability resulting from employee injury. The written policy must include a description of prohibited behaviors and the consequences for engaging in those behaviors, set down in clear, understandable English.
Supervisor and manager training is necessary due to the influence and direct interaction supervisors have with their workforce. It is important to make a distinction between roles: supervisors are not meant to diagnose substance abuse problems, but their training should emphasize how to recognize poor employee performance and the possible symptoms of substance abuse, as well as where to refer employees for help. As for employee education, employees must be made aware of the personal and professional consequences of addiction as well as the specifics of the company’s policy and program efforts.
When starting a drug testing program, due to the multiple legalities involved, the Department of Labor recommends getting legal counseling before implementing a drug testing program. Finally, through the Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workforce, the DOL has set up many resources in order to help American businesses achieve the goals of helping employees end their substance abuse. These resources may be found at www.dol.gov/workingpartners.