Alcohol and Drug Abuse

– Establishing a Drug-Free Workplace Program

In today’s hectic society, the workplace becomes a dominant force in many lives. With the advent of economically trying times, downsizing, a smaller workforce which is expected “to do more with less,” it comes as no surprise that our work place dominates more and more of our daily lives.

This is all the more reason why the workplace, like an extension of our family life, needs to be healthy, drug free…a safe environment in which to be able to rely upon our talents and to work towards our individual potential!

Because employers realize that safe and healthy workforce is imperative to corporate health, they are increasingly interested in creating drug-free environments but may not be altogether sure how to begin the task. The following information, developed by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), offers clear, concise information as to how to begin:

Needs Assessment

As with any other organizational change, an assessment is the first step. One way to begin is to analyze the cost of alcohol and other drug abuse, such as health care utilization costs and losses due to theft, absenteeism, and accidents. Monitoring these same costs over time can help you assess the impact and success of your drug-free workplace program.

The risks, costs, and benefits will differ with every organization. A careful assessment can show which program options offer clear advantages and are affordable and which ones are not needed at this time.

Even the smallest organization with minimal resources can support a drug-free-workplace. For example, even if you cannot offer insurance coverage for treatment, you can help your employees and save rehiring and retraining costs by:

  • assuring employees continued employment if they successfully seek treatment on their own for an alcohol or other drug abuse problem;
  • offering sick or unpaid leave while they are recovering;
  • helping employees find the best local treatment for the cost; and/or
  • offering to share the cost of treatment.

Policy Development

A written policy tells everyone the organization’s position on alcohol and other drug abuse and explains what will happen if the policy is violated. That is the central component of most programs.

Employers often ask if they can “borrow” another employer’s policy and tailor it to their workplace, While this is certainly possible, it is best to draft a policy that meets your own organization’s specific needs. Many employers find it helpful to involve supervisors and employees and union representatives in drafting a policy….In general, employees who contribute to a policy are more likely to willingly comply with it…

Employee Education

A plan for introducing the drug-free-workplace program to employees and for informing them about alcohol- and other drug-related issues will be important to the program’s overall success. For example:

A positive approach is needed to let employees know the program is intended to improve the work environment for everyone. The message is: “This is OUR problem, and here’s how WE can solve it.”

The positive approach supports employees, letting them know “If you have a problem, we want to give you a chance to get help.”

A negative approach takes a more punitive, judgmental attitude. The message is: “You’d better watch out or you might be in trouble. We have our eye on you.”

Supervisor Training

If your organization has managers or supervisors, they can provide valuable support in introducing and carrying out a drug-free workplace program. They cannot do it alone, however; they will need guidance, direction, and support.

Supervisors can play a central role in an effective drug-free workplace program. More than anyone else in the organization, they are in a position to recognize changes in an employee’s job performance.

However, supervisors are not expected to provide substance abuse counseling. Neither should they try to diagnose alcohol or other drug problems. If a supervisor suspects an alcohol, drug-related, or other problem, particularly as evidenced by poor job performance or conduct, the employee should be referred for professional evaluation assistance.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An EAP is one way for an organization to offer help to employees with personal problems, including problems with alcohol and other drugs. This component can be a sign of employer support and a source of improved productivity. Although not every employer will want or be able to afford an EAP, it is worth considering. Low-cost options for offering an EAP are available, making the component within reach even for companies with limited resources.

Drug Testing

Some employers believe that a drug-free-workplace program and drug testing are the same. In fact, drug testing is only one possible component of a drug-free-workplace program.

Drug testing has its place and can be helpful. It can also be a source of controversy, anxiety, and concern among employers and employees. Therefore, it is a big decision. A successful drug testing program requires careful planning, consistently applied procedures, strict confidentiality, and provisions for appeal.

Additional Information

The above-mentioned information is a series of excerpts from a publication of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), entitled Making Your Workplace Drug Free: A Kit for Employers

To obtain this kit and to obtain further information on this topic call:

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s Workplace Helpline 1-800-843-4971

 Hawaii Department of Health
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division
601 Kamokila Blvd. Room 360
Kapolei, Hawai’i, 96707
(808) 692-7506