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Creating a drug-free workplace policy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Creating a drug-free workplace policy

A written drug-free workplace policy is one of the essentials of an effective program. Nevertheless, employers interested in creating a policy for the first time share some common concerns.

Why put the policy on paper?

A written policy helps both the employer and employees to focus on important details. Other reasons for putting the policy in writing include:

  • It may be required -- for example, by the Drug-Free Workplace Act or by an insurance carrier.
  • It makes legal review possible.
  • It provides a record of the employer's effort and a reference if the policy is challenged.
  • It may protect the employer from certain kinds of claims by employees.
  • A written policy is easier to explain to employees, supervisors, and others.

Can a policy be borrowed from someone else?

If policies for similar organizations or work settings are available, it may not be necessary to develop one from scratch. Sample policies are likely to be found through a variety of sources:

  • From other employers
  • Through community alcohol and other drug organizations
  • From CSAP's Workplace Helpline at 1-800-WORKPLACE, which can provide copies of sample policies

Before you adopt an existing policy, however, make sure it fits your organization and your priorities. Also, consider contacting the employer who wrote the policy to ask a few questions:

  • Is the policy still in place?
  • Has it been changed in any way? How? Why?
  • What aspects of the policy have been most successful?
  • Least successful?
  • Have there been any implementation problems? How were they solved?

A borrowed policy may not contain everything you need. When modifying or adopting an existing policy, consider these questions before you start to cut and paste:

  • Are there federal, state, or local laws/regulations that apply to my workplace?
  • Are any of my employees covered by the terms of a collectively bargained agreement?
  • What philosophy and goals should the policy emphasize? Prevention? Punishment? Treatment?
  • Who will be covered by the policy? All employees? Employees in certain jobs? Consultants? Contractors?
  • What substances and behaviors will be prohibited?
  • Will the policy include any form of drug or alcohol testing?
  • When will the policy apply? During work hours? At events after hours?
  • Where will the policy apply? In the workplace? Outside the workplace while on duty? Off duty?
  • Who will implement and enforce the policy?

Where to go for help

Drug-free workplace groups and coalitions in your community may have model policies or be able to connect you with other employers who already have a policy or program in place. Since the Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed, many local and national programs have been set up to help employers create effective policies. Many of these programs were created by and for employers in your community. Finding these resources may take more than one telephone call or letter, since there may not be a centralized list in your state or local area:

  • Look in the phone book under your city or town's name and look for entries like "Drug-Free Business Initiative" or "Coalition for Drug-Free Workplaces."
  • Call or write your state's office for alcohol and drug abuse services and ask if they have a list of groups in or near your community.
  • Call or write your local mayor's office, police department community relations office, office of economic development, or business relations office and ask if they have a list of coalitions.
  • Call or write your state or local Small Business Administration and ask if they know of resources or consortia in your area.
  • Call or write your chamber of commerce or business, trade, or professional association and ask if they have services to help employers start a drug-free workplace program.
  • Call CSAP's Workplace Helpline at 1-800-WORKPLACE.

What belongs in a policy?

Whether you create your own policy or decide to adopt all or part of someone else's, a successful policy will include the following:

A rationale

  • The reason for the policy
  • What it is designed to do
  • How it was developed

Expectations and prohibitions

  • The employee behaviors that are expected
  • Exactly what substances and behaviors are prohibited

Consequences and appeals

  • Precisely what will happen if an employee violates the policy
  • Procedures for determining if an employee has violated the policy
  • How appeals will be handled

Benefits and assurances

  • Efforts to help employees comply with the policy
  • How requests for help will be handled
  • How employee confidentiality will be protected
  • How fairness and consistency will be maintained

Should you invite others to help?

It pays to involve employees and others in developing the policy. Employers continually find that when employees have been consulted about a new policy and believe their voices have been heard, they are more likely to cooperate. Some employers set up a task force or employee group to help develop their policy. Others solicit broad review and comment before adopting a policy. When employees are represented by a union, the policy may be an issue for collective bargaining. Union representatives can offer ideas and programs that will make the policy operate more smoothly.

Before you put a policy in place

It's always advisable to have a draft of a new drug-free workplace policy reviewed by an attorney experienced in labor and employment matters. Implementing the policy will have implications for the job security of employees with alcohol or other drug problems. Given the potential consequences of violating the policy, legal review is critical. Legal review is also important because of the growing and ever-changing body of laws and regulations about drugs in the workplace.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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