Workplace drug and alcohol testing can be fraught with complexity. While testing regimes themselves are easy to implement, setting and maintaining policies around testing requires careful attention to detail.
Although companies are not legally required to have a workplace policy on drugs and alcohol, not having a policy or only having an ineffective one often leaves organisations in a lose-lose situation.
Financial pressures and excessive workloads contribute to – and are often the cause of – substance abuse by employees, with more and more high-performing, fully functioning employees harbouring secret addictions.
Most organisations would agree that their employees are their greatest asset. It follows that they should demonstrate a duty of care by offering a clearly defined policy to deal with the issue of substance abuse among them.
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The benefits cut both ways. Alcohol misuse costs businesses around £6.4 billion each year, and drugs around £800 million. Substance abuse disrupts productivity, contributes to staff turnover and creates a negative work environment for staff. Implementing a structured drugs policy allows companies to mitigate for drug misuse, establish proactive measures and enforce legal action on their staff.
So how do you ensure your policy is fit-for-purpose?
Here are five common mistakes in policy-setting, and how to avoid them.
1. You don’t have a policy
Without a policy, employees have no guideline for what is and isn’t permissible when it comes to substance use.
Individuals can use drugs in and around your workplace with no fear of reprisals from you, their employer. Absenteeism, staff turnover and struggling profits are likely to affect your organisation. Staff will lack direction when a problem involving drugs or alcohol does arise.
Policies provide a consistent, fair and structured protocol which benefits both employers and employees.
They also act as a deterrent. The existence of rules encourages employees to follow them, and is likely to discourage drug users from applying for a position at your company, reducing further your potential for revenue loss and legal problems.
Your policy details are incorrect
What is the objective of your policy? Who does it apply to? Do variations apply to different staff? Which substances does your policy cover? What will happen if employees contravene the conditions of the policy?
Your policy document should be comprehensive, specific and unambiguous. If it’s three pages long, chances are it contains grey areas that need clarification. If it’s twenty pages long, the chances of anybody ever reading the whole thing are slim and the policy will therefore be difficult to enforce.
Ensure all salient points are covered in detail, but keep your document as clear and succinct as possible.
You’ve settled for an off-the-shelf solution
When it comes to workplace drugs policies, one size does not fit all. Organisational needs vary hugely depending on factors including health and safety, data sensitivity and working with minors. Opting for a generalist policy might be a quick-fix answer, but it’s likely to leave your company exposed to risk.
Safety-sensitive companies, for example, where employees operate heavy machinery or climb ladders and scaffolding, are likely to benefit from tailor-made random and post-accident drug testing programmes. This is unlikely to be included in a policy downloaded from the internet or otherwise.
To ensure your policy is appropriate and comprehensive, steer clear of off-the-shelf solutions and invest in a bespoke policy which reflects the needs of your specific industry and business.
Your policy is out of date
Nothing lasts forever, including your workplace drugs policy. Auditing your policy on a regular basis – at least every six months – will ensure details and practices are kept up-to-date and legally sound.
An unchecked policy could end up being useless if it doesn’t comply with new legislation or procedural changes.
Your policy lacks a programme
Having a comprehensive workplace drug and alcohol policy doesn’t mean your work is done.
The next step is getting everyone on board by establishing an effective programme of implementation. If the policy is the rule book, the programme is how you put those rules into practice.
Without these rules, testing for drugs and alcohol is likely to be less consistent and effective across your organisation. Communicate your policy and test details with all members of staff and be transparent about the repercussions of failing a test.
Training managers on all aspects of the policy will create a trickle-down effect and a culture of openness around your test policy. All employees and union representatives should be made fully aware of the company policy and what’s expected from day one.
Many companies overlook the practicalities of implementing a policy, like providing consent forms for testing. If these are missing, the process can grind to a halt and test results can be rendered invalid.
While consent has always been necessary for workplace testing, the new GDPR legislation means that the implications for not getting full, specific and unambiguous consent can be serious and far-reaching. The penalty for breaching new data protection laws can be up to £500,000, so it’s vital to ensure your organisation’s consent process is fit for purpose.
Without the protection of a watertight, industry-specific drugs and alcohol policy, companies put themselves and their employees at serious risk of losing money through unforeseen absenteeism, reduced productivity and damage to their brand reputation.
When an employee tests positive, legal loopholes can make it harder for action to be upheld against them. In the worst-case scenario, your organisation could even find itself at risk of litigation.
A structured, bespoke drugs policy is the only way to prevent this happening, and keep your workplace productive, positive and less prone to unnecessary pressures.
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