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Seminar certifies managers to act against drug, alcohol abuse

November 24, 2010

Civil libertarians argue that use of drugs-even illicit drugs-is a private matter, not a workplace issue. But studies show certain drugs continue to affect the user 24 hours after use. Consequently, an employee can report to work still under the influence of drugs, even if the worker is not "using" on company time. That, the counter-argument goes, makes it a workplace issue.

Statistics indicate 70 percent of illegal drug users hold full- or parttime jobs. Supervisors should not assume only unskilled workers are impacted. Experts said employers should presume a certain percentage of their workers suffer any affliction, from high blood pressure to diabetes to an addiction. Employe drug use presents acompany with measurable costs- worker's compensation and disability/ pension payments-that are great. But they are dwarfed by other, hidden costs: damaged equipment, lost parts and theft; poor customer relations that damage a company's public image; supervisory and management time diverted by friction among the workforce and a deteriorated staff morale; and expenses from turnover.

It can be difficult for supervisors and co-workers to help an abuser overcome an addiction to drugs, but their recognition of the problem can motivate the abuser to get needed help, a representative of L.I.F.E. Training Programs told an audience at a CATA seminar on May 22. The seminar trained and certified supervisors in the detection of drug and alcohol abuse. A stipulation of the CATA's collective union bargaining agreement with the various unions organized at member dealerships is that a supervisor must be certified in detecting drug and alcohol abuse in order to act against a union employee suspected of the same. Timothy Goergen, an off-duty Bloomingdale policeman and training consultant for L.I.F.E., led the seminar.

Drug use touches employees at every level, Goergen warned, so employers must not turn a blind eye to a problem. Potential legal problems, for one thing, can be monumental if an employee with a known problem is not treated and later becomes involved in an accident. The consultant recommended a workplace substance abuse program with the following elements:

• Written substance abuse policy 
• Supervisory training program 
• Employee education and awareness Program 
• Access to an employee assistance Program 
• Drug testing, when appropriate David Radelet and Sally Scott, attorneys for the CATA labor relations law firm, Franczek Sullivan, reviewed procedural aspects of treating unionized employees suspected of drug or alcohol abuse.

First, the suspect should be handed a copy of the company policy against such abuse. A copy should also have been given at hiring. If the employee is unionized, notify the union that he is to be tested. Documentation is essential at this phase. Within 24 hours, the supervisor must write any observations that resulted in the charge.

The employee is to be removed from the workplace until test results are completed. The employee is entitled to back pay if the test is negative, but not if the test is positive. Treatment or rehabilitation must be offered to the employee before he is dismissed. After the employee completes treatement, the union contracts allow for supervisors to obtain three random tests from the worker during the next 18 months.

An employee can be terminated if he (1) refuses to undergo treatment, (2) fails to successfully complete a treatment program, or (3) commits an offense after undergoing treatment. The company would pay for the initial test. If the test is positive, the employee can request a second test. If the second test also is positive, the employee is responsible for paying for the second test. Goergen said laboratory reports carry a 97 percent accuracy rate.

The few inaccuracies concern samples with drug traces that register as devoid of drugs; there never are false positives. Goergen said workplace managers have a responsibilty to know their employees, so that they can recognize any irregular behavior. An employee who displays a different behavior upon returning from lunch may be abusing drugs or alcohol. Other signs: accidents, materials waste, missed deadlines, erratic productivity, complaints from clients and colleagues, and absence coupled with improbable excuses.

Workers who make frequent trips to the restroom or to their vehicles might create suspicions. Goergen said: "Tell the employee, 'I am concerned. I don't know if you have a drug problem, but I see these things.' " As with any personnel problem, documentation is key. "If it isn't written down, it never happened," said Goergen. "And it's your word against his. "Don't even dream of bringing it up later if it isn't written down."

 

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