Guide to Workplace Drug Policies
By The Recovery Village Ridgefield
Last Updated: May 26, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
There are no regulatory rules requiring anti-drug policies in the workplace, but there are several reasons companies might consider a policy on drugs in the workplace.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported that drugs in the workplace cost employers in terms of lost productivity, workplace accidents, absenteeism, medical costs and staff turnover. Last year, a study in EHS Today stated that the presence of drugs in the workplace is not only common but also increasing in frequency.
What is an employer to do? Creating a policy to handle drugs in the workplace could improve productivity but also potentially lessen workers’ comp insurance, saving employers thousands of dollars.
What are the federal laws and regulations regarding workplace drug policies? What are the factors employers should know before crafting their policies? What should employees know about workplace drug policies?
What Employers Should Know About Workplace Drug Policies
The federal government has crafted some rules related to workplace addiction policies. Employers should pay close attention to remain compliant with these guidelines. You should also look at how state laws govern these practices, as they can vary widely from state to state.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when crafting your rules on drugs in the workplace:
- Employers may prohibit the use of drugs or alcohol at work.
- Employers may conduct drug testing in the workplace. This testing must follow state guidelines, but it will not violate federal law.
- Many states require pre-employment drug testing to only be conducted on employees that have been offered a job.
- Employers may also fire employees who are using drugs or alcohol in the workplace.
The laws governing workplace drug policies include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Some states have implemented various laws governing workplace drug policies. Perhaps one of the trickiest of all the regulatory rules lies at the state level and is related to random drug testing.
Most states suggest what The Balance calls “reasonable suspicion” be established before random drug testing occurs. The employer must be careful to have a verifiable cause for testing someone for substance misuse. While some states do not have these rules, they are important to ensure that workers do not feel singled out or harassed. To avoid confusion, a supervisor should directly witness:
- The employee directly using the drug or alcohol
- Erratic or unsafe behaviors on the part of the employee
- Excessive absenteeism or tardiness
- Poor workplace performance
- Causing or contributing to a workplace accident
- Witnessing physical signs of drug use, such as a strong odor, dilated pupils, staggering or other signs
Employers should have specific rules for employees to follow, including how to report suspected drugs in the workplace. HR administrator Paycom suggests that a random-selection policy is a highly recommended way of enforcing the workplace drug policy. Having random drug testing means that there will be no bias in the selection process. Many employers enact random drug testing policies in addition to pre-employment screening as part of their drug-free workplace policies. Some insurance carriers will allow a discount for employers that take these additional steps.
Workplace safety is a real issue, costing employers billions each year. The Balance suggests, “The ADA does not protect casual drug users. However, those with a record of addiction…are covered by the Act.”
What Should Employees Know About Drug-Free Workplace Policies?
Employees should understand that they have rights in the workplace. For example, employers cannot discriminate against people living with a substance use disorder but who are not actively using the substance at work. Recovery is a journey, and reasonable accommodations must be made to help people living with a substance use disorder get the help they need. Allowing time off for medical treatment is particularly important.
It should be noted that, under the ADA, a person with an alcohol use disorder may be designated as having a disability. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
Creating a Workplace Drug Policy
When crafting a drug-free workplace policy, set the rules for why, when and how — why the policy is enacted, and when and how random drug screens are conducted. For example, Pinnacol Assurance offers this language for a drug-free workplace policy:
“(Organization name) is committed to protecting the safety, health, and well-being of all employees and other individuals in our workplace. We recognize that alcohol abuse and drug use may pose significant threats to our goals. We have established a drug-free workplace program that balances our respect for individuals with the need to maintain an alcohol- and drug-free environment. This organization encourages employees to voluntarily seek help with drug and alcohol problems.”
Workplace drug policies should not be overly complicated. However, they should be shared with every current and future employee. They should be posted at the office or the job site. When adding workplace drug policies to HR manuals, they should include:
- Who is covered by the policies
- When these rules are applied
- What behaviors are prohibited
- What illegal/legal substances are covered by these rules
- Policies on drug testing (Are applicants tested? Are employees tested is they have a workplace accident? What are the policies for “reasonable suspicion” and/or random drug testing?)
- What substances the employee will be tested for
- Policies defining the consequences if the rules are broken
Employers have a clear-cut responsibility to educate employees on their workplace drug policies. They should offer training on the risks associated with illegal drug use as well as offer compassionate programs such as EAPs to help people struggling with substance use disorders.
Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to discuss how to get help for a substance use disorder in Washington or Oregon.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.