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How to Create a Substance Abuse Policy for Your Workplace

Creating a substance abuse policy does not have to be an overwhelming task to be outsourced. While it’s always wise to consult legal counsel before implementing company policies, including a short provision in the employee handbook often will suffice, such as:

Employees are prohibited from unlawfully consuming, possessing or using controlled substances while on duty. In addition, employees may not be under the influence of any controlled substance, such as drugs or alcohol, while at work, on company premises or engaged in company business. Prescription or over-the-counter medications, taken as prescribed, are an exception. Anyone violating this policy may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

This language sets clear restrictions on the acceptable use or nonuse of certain substances in the workplace and provides consequences for violations. Policies should be in writing and clearly communicated to all employees.

 In other cases, such as reasonable suspicion or random testing, business necessities require more advanced policies. If a company decides to institute a more detailed policy, it must abide state laws and regulations related to drug and alcohol testing. Some states restrict an employer’s ability to test employees for substance use, while others allow a wider latitude.

Reasonable suspicion testing

This type of procedure is performed only when supervisors have evidence to reasonably suspect an employee is under the influence of a policy-banned substance. A supervisor must directly observe the evidence; it is not enough to hear about it by word-of-mouth.

The evidence can include:

  • observing the employee consume the prohibited substance
  • erratic behavior, absenteeism, tardiness or poor performance
  • contributing to a workplace accident
  • observing physical indicators, such as dilated pupils, a staggered walk or an odor

If relying on physical or behavioral indicators, such as poor work performance or dilated pupils, it’s preferable to observe and document multiple indicators, rather than relying on one. Any reasonable-suspicion policy should promulgate, in detail, the steps supervisors should take to properly document reasonable-suspicion testing. Because this type of testing is discretionary, individuals responsible for implementing the test must be carefully trained to ensure the policy is applied consistently.

Random testing

Conducted without notice, this type of procedure can be an effective deterrent to substance abuse in the workplace. The employer would create a random-selection process and test only those individuals selected. Random testing must ensure no bias in selection, meaning each employee has an equal chance of being selected, regardless of a recent selection. Random testing works well in conjunction with a pre-employment testing policy.

Many benefits exist to having an effective substance abuse policy, including a reduced number of workplace injuries, the creation of a safe work environment, and enhanced productivity and cost savings. Furthermore, many of them can be realized without outsourcing a complex, 20-page policy. A simple policy can be built with clear and concise communication on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior.  

For more on this topic, check out What Substance Abuse in the Workplace Costs Employers and The Value of Promoting and Prioritizing Employee Mental Health.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.