Substance Abuse

Why Substance Abuse Policies in the Workplace Work

Employers cannot ignore substance abuse issues in the workplace. Here are the facts: According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 10% full time employees have had a substance abuse disorder incident in the past year, and almost 9% have used illegal drugs or have heavily abused alcohol in the past month.

What is a Substance Abuse Disorder?

A Substance abuse disorder is a complex brain disease including alcohol and drug addiction. It occurs when a person has dependence on the substance to the point of intense and uncontrollable cravings and compulsive behaviors to obtain the substance.

The Outcome

Substance abusers are more likely to have:

  • poor attendance,
  • cause work-related accidents,
  • work while impaired, and
  • cause an increase in employer medical and workers’ compensation costs.

Employers must have substance abuse policies in place so that these situations can be handled fairly and efficiently.

Set Up a Testing Policy

The core component for an effective substance abuse policy is a legally compliant written testing policy for all employees. First, the senior management must buy into and support the idea of the policy to make sure that it fits in the organizational structure and culture; otherwise it wouldn’t be enforced.

When to perform the test depends on risk and nature of the business. Pre-employment testing makes the most sense because the employer has no prior knowledge of the person or their behavior. It is also is the most free from legal challenge. Reasonable suspicion is the next most defensible because employers cannot tolerate substance abuse at work. Post-accident testing can be acceptable, but can be legally challenged in some instances because it lacks suspicion. If post-accident testing is utilized across the board for all employees then the legal challenges are significantly reduced. Random testing can be used for industries with higher risk (safety concerns) attached to them, but randomly testing “white collar” jobs is hard to defend, unless the same process of applying the testing across the board to all employees is utilized.

Drug testing has developed into an important tool for maintaining a safe culture and it can not be emphasized enough the importance of a well written testing policy and applying all aspects of testing across the board to all employees.

Creating the Policy

When creating the policy, the employers have to decide their overall approach to the situation: will they have a “zero-tolerance” policy or allow for a rehabilitation opportunity after the first positive test? They then have to clearly illustrate prohibited conduct and the consequences for failing to comply. At minimum, prohibit the use of substances at work and state that if there is a failed test it could result in discipline up to termination.

Search and inspection would be a useful tool to have in the policy to collect evidence of on-duty alcohol or drugs and drug paraphernalia. There should also be exceptions for alcohol use in place, like if it is part of of the employee’s job or for social activities (holiday parties, awards ceremonies, etc.).


Make sure to have an allowance for self-admission so that the employer can manage delicate reasonable accommodation and employee leave issues if the time arises. Also, some states require the allowance an employee or applicant to explain a positive test result and have a confirmatory re-test. Always check with the state’s substance abuse laws and regulations so the policies in compliance.

SACS Consulting Can Help With Create Your Substance Abuse Policy

SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc. can help! We have workplace trainings that can help you with drug free safety and how to handle issues in your company. Give us a call at 330-255-1101 to speak to one of our highly qualified investigators today!

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