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Employers implement drug-free workplace programs to protect their businesses from the impact of drug and alcohol abuse. Because every business is unique, there is not one right way to establish a drug-free workplace program. Rather, each organization's program should match its specific needs. A careful a ssessment will determine which program elements are the most feasible and beneficial, as well as which may be unnecessary or unsuitable. Also, if an employer is in a Federally Regulated (DOT, DOD, etc.) business, there may well be specific requirements that must be incorporated into the program.

A drug-free workplace program generally includes five components:

  1. Drug-Free workplace Policy
  2. Supervisor Training
  3. Employee Education
  4. Employee Assistance
  5. Drug Testing

The following brief discussion of each of these components will describe the basic requirements of an effective Drug-Free Workplace Program and also provide you with some readily available resources.

A written drug-free workplace policy is the foundation of a drug-free workplace program. Every organization's policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs; however, all effective policies have certain aspects in common, including:

- Why the policy is being implemented. Rationale can be as simple as a company being committed to protecting the safety, health and well being of its employees and patrons and recognizing that abuse of alcohol and other drugs compromises this dedication.

- A clear description of prohibited behaviors. At a minimum, this should include the following statement: "The use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs by employees is prohibited."

- An explanation of the consequences for violating the policy. This may include discipline up to and including termination and/ or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws.

- Requirements specified by any regulator body. This area will include requirements spelled out in Department of Transportation (FMCSA, FAA, Coast Guard, FRA, FTA, Pipeline), Department of Defense, Federal Drug-Free Workplace, etc. Sharing all policies with all employees is essential for success; therefore, employers should be certain that all employees are aware of the policy and drug-free workplace program.

After developing a drug-free workplace policy, an organization should train those individuals closest to its workforce, its supervisors, to ensure they understand:

- The drug-free workplace policy

- Ways to recognize and deal with employees who have performance problems that may be related to alcohol and other drugs

- How to refer employees to available assistance

- If supervisors are responsible for making referrals for drug testing based on reasonable suspicion, they must be trained on how to make that determination Supervisors' responsibilities should include monitoring employees' performance, staying alert to and documenting performance problems, and enforcing the policy. Supervisors should not, however, be expected to diagnose alcohol and drug related problems or provide counseling to employees who may have them.

A drug and alcohol education program provides employees with the information they need to fully understand, cooperate with and benefit from their company's drug-free workplace program. Effective employee education programs provide company-specific information, such as the details of the drug-free workplace policy, as well as generalized information about the nature of alcohol and drug addiction; its impact on work performance, health and personal life; and types of help available for individuals with related problems. All employees should participate, and the message should be ongoing. A great deal of information can be disseminated at new employee orientation sessions; however, written information in the form of copies of the company policy and in handbooks is critical. All employees should receive, at a minimum, a copy of the company policy, information on the use/abuse of drugs and alcohol, and any necessary regulatory information.

Employee Assistance is a work organization's resource designed to enhance employee and workplace effectiveness through prevention, identification and resolution of personal and productivity issues including those that may stem from substance abuse. Employee Assistance Programs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families and clearly demonstrate employers' respect for their staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and minimize an employer's legal vulnerability by demonstrating efforts to support employees. At a minimum, businesses should maintain a resource file from which employees can access information about community-based resources, treatment programs and help lines.

The vast majority of employers decide to drug test employees for a variety of reasons, such as deterring and detecting drug use, as well as providing concrete evidence for intervention, referral to treatment and/or disciplinary action. The following factors are considerations:

- Who will be tested? Options may include all staff, job applicants and/or employees in safety-sensitive positions.

- When will tests be conducted? Possibilities including pre-employment, upon reasonable suspicion or for cause, post-accident, randomly, periodically and post-rehabilitation.

- Which drugs will be tested for? Options including testing applicants and employees for illegal drugs and testing employees for a broader range of substance, including alcohol and certain prescription drugs.

- How will tests be conducted? Different testing modes are available, and many states have laws that dictate which may and may not be used. Employers also must be familiar with any local, state and Federal laws or any collective bargaining agreements that may impact when where and how testing is performed. It is strongly recommended that legal counsel be sought before starting any testing program.

Gary L. Glisan
Superior Training Solutions, Inc.

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