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Substance-abuse policies in the workplace

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
The Starke Reality

There are companies that are reporting financial losses due to the mistakes of abusing employees and there are companies that are reporting financial gains, increased job performance and decreased absenteeism due to the introduction and implementation of substance-abuse policies into their organisations. 

Clearly, it is to the mutual benefit of employee and employer to introduce and implement substance-abuse policies which can include drug-testing in every organisation, today. 

Many employees question the relevance of substance-abuse policies in the workplace. Many feel that these policies are introduced because employers want to spy on them or because employers do not trust them. 

On the contrary, drug policies are introduced because many employers want to protect their employees who are recognised by their companies as the most valuable resource in the organisation. A responsible employer will therefore strive to ensure that employees are healthy and that the working environment is safe for the protection of all employees and clients who are served. This means the introduction and implementation of policies that ensure a drug-free workplace. 

There are specific guidelines that should be followed when substance-abuse policies are introduced in the workplace. The purpose of the policy should be clearly stated and employees should be made to realise that even very small quantities of narcotics or minor drug and alcohol use could prove to be hazardous especially in cases where medical or other emergency services are offered to the public and in cases where employees must use, manage or be exposed to dangerous equipment. 

In addition to prohibiting drug use, most policies will also clearly state that employees cannot distribute, dispense or possess illegal substances while they are on company property or while performing company duties. 

Many companies will also prohibit the use of illegal substances when employees are not on duty because the employees’ misconduct could reflect negatively on his/her employer. Of course, when employees need to take drugs that have been prescribed by a physician, this is acceptable as long as possible side effects do not cause employees to be dysfunctional on the job. 

It is recommended that company policies should be general in scope with consequences that are clearly stated for the benefit of all employees. A good policy will also state the reasons why it is being implemented and will include what will occur when the policies are violated. Of course, how well the policy is written is so important. 

This should communicate the seriousness of the issue and should be clearly communicated to employees at all levels of the organisation. Creative and meaningful methods must be derived according to the culture of each organisation to send a message of seriousness for the substance abuse program. 

The research indicates that every company should establish a substance-abuse policy in order to effectively address a workplace issue which is currently rising and recommends the introduction of substance abuse policies as the best defence against litigation. These policies provide detailed information about disciplinary actions that may occur in case of substance abuse. 

When an employee is confronted with the serious matter of possible substance abuse in his/her workplace, the approach must be one that is firm but sensitive and one that is conducted out of deep concern and regard for an employee’s welfare and future well-being. 

The intervening person should be trained and capable of being non-judgmental and caring but he or she also needs to be straightforward and credible. The seriousness of the situation and the implications and consequences need to be considered if he/she does not take immediate action to eradicate the problem of substance abuse. An employee must be cautiously jolted into the reality that his/her job is on the line in accordance with company substance-abuse policies. 

The answer lies in the employer’s perception of each individual employee and the employee’s perception of his/her role in the organisation. In each case, when there is value coupled with mutual respect and regard for the challenges we all face today, employers will find ways to create awareness and provide education and training programmes. 

They will also provide formal and informal avenues to assist, and effective methods to identify at-risk employees. By embracing and practising this humane approach to managing this growing problem of substance abuse in the workplace, there is every opportunity for employers and employees to be able to fulfil their respective goals successfully. 

Dr Starke is a lifestyle coach/counselor and an OD (Organisational Development) consultant who provides workshops and seminars for employees and supervisors. Please contact her via e-mail at [email protected] or visit her Web site


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