Employers and workers ranked alcohol and drug use
as the top problems affecting the workplace, according to a workplace
survey. The results were based on a nationwide poll of 508 human
resource professionals and 502 workers by Roper Starch Worldwide
Inc. for Managed Health Network Inc. (MHN) in Los Angeles. The sampling
looked at the relationship between worker productivity and personal
Workers believe employee drug abuse problems are
the biggest problem at work. Of the employees surveyed, 92 percent
said drug abuse was the most harmful worker issue; 87 percent of
employers said it was the top issue. Employers ranked alcoholism
equally with drugs as a work-site problem at 87 percent, compared
to 90 percent of the workers. After substance abuse, workers and
employers ranked personal problems such as depression, stress and
family problems among the most harmful to job performance.
Additional national surveys on drug abuse estimated
that 10 million employed Americans used drugs and the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said 10 percent of the nation's
workers have an alcohol problem. Of the workers questioned, 14 percent
said they experienced problems with alcohol, 7 percent with drugs.
"As employers, we would like to think that
the workplace is exempt from outside pressures, but the truth is
that our home and professional lives often overlap," said Ronald
Moreland, chairman of MHN. "Addressing personal problems through
employee assistance, wellness, and behavioral health care programs
not only results in improved employee functioning and directly effects
the bottom line, but it also helps deter an escalation of the problem
that can manifest disease within an untreated employee."
Although the majority of the workers and employerssurveyed
recognized that drug and alcohol use had the greatest impact at
the workplace, they did not agree on how to solve the problems.
The majority of the employers (71 percent) offer substance abuse
services and other assistance programs at the companies.
Promotes Loyal Workers
Most employees believed that employees, overall,
felt a greater loyalty to - and work harder for - companies that
are willing to help them. The survey showed 7 percent of employers
offer some type of employee service. Sixty-four percent offer employee
assistance programs, and 51 percent offer extended behavioral health
care services. Behavioral health care includes substance abuse counseling
and support, psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. The program covers
alcoholism, drug addiction, and other conditions that affect workers.
The majority of the employers in the survey believe
that the assistance programs maintain worker confidentiality. Most
said they approved and implemented employee programs, with 70 percent
noting that companies had a responsibility to help workers through
problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Eighty-one percent said
they would consider offering comprehensive behavioral health care
benefits to employees if it would help the company's bottom line.
Programs Save Money
According to the Employee Assistance Professionals
Association in Arlington, Va., it is less expensive for companies
to treat and provide assistance to employees than to hire and train
The most-offered services among the employers'
companies were substance abuse services (71 percent); career enhancement
or training programs (66 percent); and employee assistance programs
Drug testing is quickly becoming common practice
at companies across the country, but in an attempt to get testing
on the books, many employers and managers have not taken the time
to consider how the policy fits their company.
Employers should tailor their drug testing policy
to suit their company's needs, according to Kevin McCloskey, a labor
attorney and toxicologist who has spent 20 years in the drug testing
He currently works as a consultant for companies
in the Salt Lake City, Utah area, and is the author of the book,
Workplace Drug Testing, A Handbook for Managers and In-House Counsel.
In an interview, McCloskey offers some practical
tips and advice to employers on drug testing policies and practice.
Q.: Does drug testing work?
Kevin McCloskey: I don't think there is
any argument about that. A study nearly 10 years ago by researchers
in Triangle Park, N.C., found that the prevalence of drugs had a
definable effect on the businessman. Drug usage in the workplace
had and still has an effect on intangibles such as productivity,
reputation, workers' compensation claims. Drug use over the years
has leveled off, but hasn't gone away. Studies show 23 to 35 million
people are users of illegal drugs and most of those at one point
or another have to work - so it does have an effect on the workplace.
Q.: What should employers consider in a policy
to curtail employee drug use?
KM: Something I would make clear is, the
response to abusive drugs should be a policy response, not a drug
testing response. What I mean is, that managers should treat it
like they would any other workplace policy - just like others that
say you have to show up for work on time or no fighting, that sort
of thing. This should not be any different than any regular policy.
Now, in many cases, the policy would also contain
drug testing provisions. Now, I want to stress that the response
by the employer should not be willy-nilly testing, but setting up
a policy to perform testing. So when you look at the problem, think
policy and then decide how you're going to tailor the policy to
your particular organization.
Q.: How does an employer decide what the policy
KM: The policy response has a number of
considerations, but they need to be tailored to the organization
that you're working for. In all cases you would select whether you
are going to do testing and if so, what kind of testing. Administrators
and business leaders have to make their policies legal, cost effective
Drug abuse and misuse are not going away in the
foreseeable future. Whether we like it or not, it's part of our
society. And certain considerations of fairness should be in the
minds of the administrators. I don't mean in terms of tolerance,
but if you ever find yourself in court, your policy better look
fair to the judge or the arbitrator because even a good policy runs
the risk of getting you in trouble. If you don't administrate in
a uniform manner and it looks like you're discriminating against
an employee, boy, you're looking at a lawsuit right there.
Q.: How do you decide what type of testing
is for you?
KM: I think because it's a policy response,
the decision should rest with the managers and not security personnel.
This is not a law enforcement question when you're talking about
drugs in the workplace.
One thing that should be on the minds of any good
personnel administrator is morale, but if you take what may look
like a fascist approach, that may affect productivity and you've
created problems in your company where you probably didn't need
to. Make it cost effective - make it legal.
There are four elements to consider.
1) Look at the state and federal laws that may
affect you. Also consider federal policies such as the Drug-Free
Workplace Act of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In
addition, 30 states have their own drug statutes.
2) Look at the elements of a policy. What is the
prohibited activity? Sales or use of drugs on the job? Managers
also have to decide about the use of drugs during company time and
the use of company vehicles on and off the clock. What does a company
do about a salesman who drives drunk using the company car on the
Also, consider the types of drugs to be prohibited
and the scope of testing. When would employees be subjected to the
tests? Include discipline options. Many companies offer rehabilitation
because it's cheaper to cure somebody of their use of drugs rather
than to fire and train someone else.
3) Setting up an administrative structure. Who
in the company will enforce the policy? The personnel department?
4) Implementation of a policy. Fully notify employees
of policy and actions the company will take for violations of the
Q.: Any parting word of advise on policies?
KM: Tailor it! Tailor it! The most important
things to consider are productivity, the reputation of your company
and fairness - fairness to the company and fairness to the employees.
Source: The National Report on Substance
Abuse, Volume 9, Number 20; September 28, 1995.