The Need for a Clear Drug and Alcohol Policy

With so much changing in the way we view, regulate, and legislate alcohol and drug use, employers need to clearly define their policies on drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Not that you have to become more permissive in your drug policies, but it’s important to tell employees what is and isn’t permitted.

According to the National Business Group on Health, while two-thirds of human resource professionals “believe that substance abuse/addiction is one of the most serious issues they face in their company,” only 22 percent “say their companies openly and proactively deal with employee substance abuse and addiction issues.” For this reason, it is important to have a well thought out drug and alcohol policy for your business. 

Why You Need a Drug and Alcohol Policy

A drug and alcohol policy not only spells out what unacceptable substance abuse behavior is, but how to recognize it.

Few businesses choose to employ only people who avoid alcohol and drugs, but few have drug policies that welcome drunks or obvious drug addicts either. Substance abusers have:

  • Worse health problems.
  • Lower productivity
  • More Attendance problems.
  • More workplace accidents.
  • More workplace violence.

You don’t want your drug and alcohol policy to intrude on your employees’ privacy any more than is necessary, but the signs might not be as obvious as staggering into work, slurred speech, or track marks on their arms. If their work or work ethic declines, suddenly or steadily, look for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence’s signs of substance abuse:

  • Forgetfulness.
  • Mood swings or combativeness.
  • Frequent headaches, nausea, or anxiety.
  • Flushed skin and broken capillaries on the face.
  • Increased absenteeism.
  • Deterioration in physical appearance or hygiene.

Establishing a Drug and Alcohol Policy

Substance abuse exists. In Managing Human Resources (2011), Wayne F. Cascio reported, “Experts estimate that 5 to 10 percent of all employees have a substance abuse problem (alcohol or drugs) serious enough to merit treatment.” Cascio added that a specific firm’s secret testing revealed that “about 30 percent of all applicants and 20 percent of employees tested positive for illegal drug use.”

If the purpose of a drug and alcohol policy is to protect the employer and employee, what should the policy include?

  • Information about what substance abuse is, how to recognize it, why it’s not allowed, and what penalties employees might face if they do it.
  • Explanations of drink limits if the workplace serves alcohol at company events.
  • Notices about the company’s drug testing procedures, such as the frequency of such tests – once a year, random – or the circumstances of such tests – new hires, promotions, annual reviews, for suspicion, or for cause.
  • Instructions for employees about how to report co-workers they suspect of substance abuse.
  • Offers of amnesty to employees who admit they have a problem and want to go into rehab before they are detected. These offers could encourage self-reporting.
  • Requirements to conduct follow-up drug or alcohol testing, because relapse is common.

A Drug and Alcohol Policy Protects Everyone

There are some important reasons for a business to establish a clear policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace: to protect its employees, and to protect both the employer and the business. Consistency is important to avoid charges of discrimination.

Protecting Employees with Drug Policies

Employees need to know what behaviors might get them fired. A clear policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace can help define matters. After all, no one should ever use illegal drugs or misuse legal prescription drugs, but there are gray areas.

Marijuana is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. One in five Americans now lives in an area where recreational marijuana is legal, and around half of U.S. states permit medical marijuana. That doesn’t mean an employer’s drug and alcohol policy can’t prohibit its employees from using cannabis – it’s still illegal under federal law – but employees might think that’s the case unless someone expressly tells them otherwise.

In addition, there is an opioid epidemic because of the widespread use of heroin and the over-prescription of legal painkillers, but opioids are still legally prescribed drugs. A company’s drug and alcohol policy should take this into account, perhaps by requesting employees with a valid prescription to share that information with HR.

Protecting Employers with Drug Policies

An alcohol and drugs policy protects employers from charges of discrimination. A thoroughly vetted policy also makes sure you are in compliance with the relevant local and federal laws. Some federal and state laws require employers to have workplace policies on substance abuse. And sometimes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects addicted employees.

Drug and Alcohol Policy: Alternatives to Dismissal

Some drug policies require dismissal, but unless employees have changed from valued assets into threats to business and safety overnight, there should be opportunities for less drastic measures, such as:

  • Warnings. Tell them privately that their work is declining or their behavior is threatening their employment.
  • Demotions. If a warning didn’t work, but they might still be of value to the workplace, move employees to other jobs for which they are better suited.
  • Rehabilitation. If they admit to a substance abuse problem, help them get into a rehab program.

Why Should I Send my Employee To Rehab

The reasons for an alcohol and drugs policy that doesn’t fire any employee who uses illegal drugs or misuses legal drugs or drink include:

  • Expense. The cost of replacing a valuable and highly trained employee can range from one-half to twice the employee’s salary. The cost of rehab – which already may be covered by the employee’s health insurance – actually pays for itself by lowering health care costs.
  • Precedent. If other employees see that admitting to drug use is grounds for firing, they will be less likely to come forward voluntarily to correct their own substance abuse.
  • Compassion. It’s widely believed that people deserve a second or even a third chance to reform. If your alcohol and drugs policy does, too, it might be good for employee morale.

Salvaging an Addicted Employee

It costs too much time and money to train and replace expert employees. Don't lose them to substance abuse or addiction. Be part of the solution with a proactive drug and alcohol policy. HR Addiction Resources can help by providing HR professionals with information about substance abuse and recovery. Let us find treatment for your addicted employee today. For more information visit  email or call (888)553-6357

Create Your Own Policy by Using Our Free Drug and Alcohol Policy Template

We understand that creating your own drug and alcohol policy can be tricky because there are so many factors to consider. You’re a busy person who might not have the time to develop a drug and alcohol policy template from scratch.

We can help you. By clicking here you can complete a brief survey. After you finish the survey, you’ll be able to download our free drug and alcohol policy template to help you create your own workplace policy.