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A Collaborative Approach to Substance Abuse Policies

Dec. 19, 2023
HOP principles can help safety leaders manage substance abuse policies in the workplace.

Human organization performance (HOP) safety principles play a pivotal role in the development and implementation of effective substance abuse policies within workplaces. These principles emphasize the significance of a proactive safety culture, open communication channels and employee well-being. When applied to substance abuse policies, they encourage companies to prioritize prevention, education and support rather than punitive measures. By fostering an environment where employees feel safe to discuss their issues and seek help without fear of repercussions, these principles align with a more collaborative and employee-centric approach to substance abuse management, ultimately contributing to a safer and more productive workplace.

With the shifting landscape of drug legalization, particularly in the case of marijuana, companies find themselves navigating a complex terrain of compliance, employee behavior and safety concerns. This article explores the nuances of substance abuse policies in the modern workplace, emphasizing the importance of a balanced and employee-centric approach.

The Legal Conundrum

The legal landscape surrounding marijuana legalization has added a layer of complexity to substance abuse policies for businesses. While some states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, companies operating within these jurisdictions are still subject to federal regulations that classify cannabis as illegal.

This creates a dilemma for businesses, particularly those in sectors like transportation (DOT drivers), where strict federal standards apply. Moreover, substance abuse policies must also address issues related to workers’ compensation claims and general conduct on the workplace floor.

Draconian Policies vs. Employee Partnership

In the face of these challenges, some companies resort to draconian policies that employ threats and invasive monitoring of employees’ personal lives. These measures can include random drug testing, scrutiny of employees’ social media accounts, and even physical inspections and searches. However, it is essential to strike a balance between maintaining a safe work environment and respecting employees’ privacy.

One notable observation is that many companies tend to focus on the regulation of illegal substances while overlooking the use of legal drugs, such as opiates and alcohol, in the workplace. Typically, such substances only come under scrutiny when they manifest as an apparent problem, such as an employee showing up under the influence or exhibiting problematic behavior. I argue we can use the same approach for legal drugs as for illegal drugs.

A Collaborative Approach

Instead of an authoritarian stance that aims to control employees through exhaustive and expensive monitoring, a more constructive approach is to establish a partnership with employees. Few employees wish to work alongside someone under the influence of a substance that could potentially compromise workplace safety or their livelihood. Therefore, companies should prioritize a policy of sober work environment during working hours.

You may wonder, what precisely constitutes a policy of sober work environment? In essence, it entails a fundamental principle wherein no employee should find themselves under the influence of any mind- or behavioral-altering substance or grappling with withdrawal symptoms during working hours. This policy serves as a cornerstone for fostering a secure and productive work environment while simultaneously upholding the rights and personal lives of employees beyond the confines of their work-related responsibilities.

Furthermore, it is imperative for employees to understand that if they choose to engage in the consumption of potentially illegal substances, they bear the responsibility for any consequences that may arise, including testing positive in Department of Transportation (DOT) drug tests or being involved in workplace incidents necessitating the submission of workers’ compensation claims. Employees must take some of the burden for their personal lives and their personal choices.

Within the framework of a policy promoting a sober work environment, companies assume specific responsibilities aimed at fostering a healthy and supportive atmosphere for their employees. These responsibilities encompass the provision of addiction support services through the company’s health insurance plan and employee wellness program. Additionally, it is imperative for companies to equip their management and front-line supervisors with the necessary training to identify employees who may be displaying signs of substance influence, thereby facilitating appropriate procedures when deemed necessary. By actively fulfilling these obligations, companies can contribute to the overall well-being and safety of their workforce.

Finally, it is important to stress that companies are not championing employees to go out and use substances, but that employees must take personal responsibility for their actions.

Substance abuse policies in the modern workplace must evolve to adapt to changing legal landscapes and societal norms. Striking a balance between maintaining safety and respecting employees’ privacy is crucial. A collaborative approach, focusing on sobriety while at work rather than invasive monitoring, can create a more harmonious and effective working environment. Ultimately, a well-crafted substance abuse policy should be a testament to a company’s commitment to both employee welfare and operational excellence.

Thomas Clark is corporate safety director with Stier Supply, a provider of construction materials.

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