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Drug Free Workplaces

I believe that you have the right to do whatever you want on your own time and within the confines of your own personal space. Once you come into my workplace, however, then I get to make some suggested restrictions on these freedoms that you can either agree to, or choose not to, work for me.

Brian W. Pascal
As an employer I can choose for example to have a tobacco free policy and limit employment to non-smokers. The Canadian Cancer Society and other health-related organizations have such a policy because they believe that smoking is bad for you and they don't want to encourage such behaviours. Nobody seems to mind if I want to put such a policy into effect in my workplace.

Why then does everybody get so upset if I want to have a drug free workplace and I want to test my employees on a regular basis to make sure my policy is being upheld? Every civil libertarian in the country would be down my back in a second. Don't I have the right to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all of my employees?

It's a known fact that alcohol and drug abusers claim up to three times as many sickness benefits as other employees and file five times as many claims.
Studies also show that 20 to 25 percent of workplace accidents and up to 30 percent of work-related deaths are linked to drugs and alcohol.
I don't believe that drug testing alone is the answer to creating a drug free workplace. But it is a great deterrent to anybody who wants to work for me if they know that I have the ability to order a drug test at any time if there are suspicions of illegal drug use.

There are many other pieces to that puzzle. One of course is education about illegal drug use and studies have shown that there is a clear relationship exists between the diligence a company shows in combating workplace drug abuse and the level of abuse the company experiences.

Another study quoted by the Northern British Columbia Council on Substance Abuse found that the industries with the highest level of reported drug use usually had correspondingly low instances of providing information and having written policies regarding drug abuse. Conversely, industries with high rates of providing such information and policies had lower instances of abuse at the workplace.

I also recognize that I need to support any of my employees who develop addictions or patterns of abuse, particularly if they are good, long-standing employees. To do that I have to educate myself on the signs of drug abuse that may appear in the workplace, and I have to monitor and evaluate the performance of my direct reports.

Some such signs include additional time away from work for short periods of time, more than usual bouts of the "flu", irrational or irregular behaviour in the workplace, or a sharp decline in productivity.

When I notice these behaviours or they are reported to me it is incumbent on me to arrange a meeting with the employee or their supervisor to simply ask the question. "Is there something wrong?" That at least opens up the debate with the employee and if they want help you can try and refer them to the appropriate agency. If they don't, then deal with as a disciplinary matter.

Either way you can't lose. If you have an employee who is willing to get help for their problem then you should provide that assistance. If not, then they should be let go.

So I believe that you should provide education on drug abuse to your employees, you should educate yourself, and you should try and help when a person tries to get out of an abuse or addiction situation. But at the end of the day you need the hammer of a drug test to enforce your policy of a drug free workplace.

There's a reason why drug testing is in place in all major sports, not just for performance enhancing drugs but for heroin, marijuana, and cocaine as well. That's because it works. As a deterrent to those who try and use illegal drugs and play ball, but also to weed out those who have a substance abuse problem and don't want to deal with it. I want that ability in my workplace too.


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