Drug testing progams protect businesses and employees

PHOTO/Ed Bennett/AJOC
Hughes.jpg A program for the substance abuse testing of employees is becoming a more commonly observed component of an employer’s human resources policies and procedures. Although not legally mandated for most employees, transportation employees in safety-sensitive positions being the exception, testing is being considered and evaluated by employers for a variety of reasons.

The development and implementation of such programs require careful thought and attention but can produce business benefits well worth the investment of time and resources.

Justifying a drug testing program

An initial and obvious reason for a testing program is compliance with legal requirements. Federal law, for example, mandates the drug testing of transportation workers. Other safety sensitive jobs are certainly susceptible to the review of public policy makers. Some state legislatures, as well, have enacted drug testing legislation applicable to private employers.

A second and related reason concerns public health and safety. Alcohol and illegal as well as legal drug use imposes a substantial economic burden on the state and the nation as a whole. Our local, state and federal governments annually spend billions of dollars to combat drug and alcohol misuse and additional billions to treat the health effects of the misuse.

The noneconomic social and emotional costs are immeasurable. An employer’s attentiveness to the health and safety of employees, including a well thought-out drug testing program, can assist in reducing such economic and social costs.

Such employer attentiveness, third, can also promote individual employee well-being. Drug abuse is frequently symptomatic of deeper problems and issues. A positive test result can lead to a constructive course of professional counseling and rehabilitation for an employee who otherwise might never receive such services.

A fourth and basic business consideration is the legal liability to which an employer may be subject because of employee substance abuse. An employer in many situations may be legally responsible for an employee’s job-related activities.

Like anyone else, employers are held generally to standards of reasonableness for their own actions and those of their agents within the scope of their employment.

A properly conceived and properly implemented drug testing policy can forestall events giving rise to liability and can, as well, provide evidence of due and reasonable conduct on the part of the employer where such events nonetheless occur.

Fifth, an appropriate testing program can enhance profitability by enhancing workforce productivity. Individual employee productivity frequently declines with substance abuse. Moreover, the abuse of one individual can adversely affect the performance of a business unit.

Other employees, though not substance abusers themselves, may have to cope directly and daily with the fallout of abuse by a co-worker. The negative effect on efficiency and morale can prove debilitating to business operations and directly impact the bottom line.

Finally, public expectations, particularly where that "public" includes clients and customers, may necessitate rules of business conduct that include a drug testing policy.

Consumers are increasingly sophisticated in all commodity sectors. They are quick to perceive the direct and indirect manifestations of substance abuse, whether through personal interaction or business performance. Inattention to detail, missed commitments and poor attitude will drive customers and their buying power to other suppliers in a hurry.

Appropriate drug testing policies can thus serve multiple business, employee and customer interests on a positive cost-benefit basis.

Developing a drug testing program

While careful analysis and planning are required, the development of a functionally and legally sound drug testing program is not an overly complex undertaking. An all-inclusive testing policy typically requires substance abuse testing under the following circumstances:

Upon employee hire, promotion, transfer or demotion, as the final step in the selection process; Testing when an employee is involved in a motor vehicle accident while performing job duties if the accident results in a moving violation, serious injury, or property damage; Upon reasonable suspicion; and Periodic, unannounced, random testing of employees.A policy may be tailored to fit an employer’s business, its needs and the resources available to implement the policy. Just like any other resource available to an employer, the promulgation of a substance abuse testing policy necessitates a review of the enterprise.That review could begin with a human resources audit in which employer and employee comments, including goals and objectives, are collected and analyzed. If a drug problem exists within the business, an audit would serve to ferret it out.An audit also provides a better understanding of the workplace and conditions therein. This less confrontational approach than the unilateral institution by the employer of a mandatory drug testing policy without defining its parameters. It also provides the employer with much needed insight as to how to effectuate a testing policy that not only benefits the enterprise but also the employees upon whom the employer relies.It is from such gathering of information that, if a problem exists, a solution often develops prior to the finalization of even the audit itself. Because the review is inclusive, rather than exclusive, the employer is seen as being part of a solution rather than being labeled autocratic or dictatorial by employees.Finally, program development should consistently reflect the considerations recited above that justify imposition of the program in the first place. Maximum business and personal benefit will occur only to the degree the drug testing program is structured to produce those benefits.By clearly articulating all of the goals up front, an employer can ensure that resulting policies will produce the greatest dividends for the business, its employees and customers.Former Anchorage Municipal Attorney Mary K. Hughes is affiliated with Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman. She can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).
Updated: 
06/02/2002 - 8:00pm

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