Small Businesses are Most Vulnerable to Workplace Substance Abuse

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have major disadvantages. They are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Employees who are unable to adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment with organizations that either do not perform pre-employment drug testing or do not have policies in place. The cost of one error caused by an impaired and/or under-the-influence employee could seriously devastate a small-sized organization.

workplace substance abuseStatistics for Full-Time Employed Current Illicit Drug Users:

  • 44% work for small establishments with 1 – 24 employees
  • 43% work for medium establishments with 25 – 499 employees
  • 13% work for large establishments with 500 or more employees

Symptoms of Workplace Substance Abuse

  • Operational problems on Mondays and Fridays
  • Employees complaining about “missing” lunches
  • Truth to the rumors and anonymous information
  • Employee turnover becoming a challenge
  • Positive drug tests occurring more frequently
  • Unexplained shrinkage of inventory

No organizations, regardless of their size or location, are immune to the countless problems that substance abuse can cause. Most individuals who abuse alcohol, prescription medication, and illicit drugs are employed. When they arrive for work, they do not leave their problems at the doorstep of their employer’s business. The longer these issues go uncorrected, the more costly and time-consuming it is to get one’s workplace in order. Your organization cannot afford to ignore this liability.

Bearing the Brunt of the Problem
Everyone involved in owning and operating a business pays for workplace alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs are obvious, such as increased insurance premiums, absences, accidents, and errors. Other costs, such as low morale and high illness rates, are less apparent; however, the effects are equally harmful economically and to the reputation of the organization.

  • One in five employees report that they have had to work harder, redo work, cover for a coworker, or have been put in danger or injured as a result of a fellow employees drinking.
  • Up to 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and/or alcoholism.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses roughly 81 billion dollars in lost productivity in just one year—37 billion due to premature death and 44 billion due to illness. Of these combined costs, 86% are attributed to drinking.
  • Of callers to the National Cocaine Helpline, 75% admit to workplace substance abuse, 64% report that drugs have adversely affected their job performance, 44% say they have sold drugs to fellow employees, and 18% say they have stolen from coworkers to support their drug habit.

Substance Abuse and Drug-Testing Policies
Drug-testing policies protect both employees and employers. It is important for employers to note that drug testing without a drug-testing policy—even if an employee is suspected of having substance abuse problem—exposes them to a number of significant liability and legal vulnerabilities.

A written substance abuse (drug-free workplace) policy is the foundation of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program. Every employer’s written policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs; however, all effective policies have a few aspects in common.

  1. Policy should clearly state why a policy is being implemented. The rationale can be as simple as an organization’s commitment to protecting the safety, health, and well being of its employees and patrons; and the recognition that the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs compromises this dedication.
  2. Effective policy should clearly outline behaviors that are prohibited. At a minimum, this should include a statement that the “use, possession, transfer, sale, or offer to sell illegal drugs/controlled substances by employees is prohibited while on company time and/or property.
  3. Thorough explanation of the consequences for violating the policy may include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with other existing personnel policies, procedures, and any applicable state laws.

Employers should also note that sharing their policy with all employees is essential, and many businesses find it helpful to ask for feedback from employees during the initial policy development stage.

Workplace Drug Testing
Under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, some federal contractors and all federal grantees must agree to provide drug-free workplaces as a condition of receiving a contract or grant. Under most circumstances, employers have the right to test prospective and current employees for a wide variety of substances; however, it is important that employers familiarize themselves with the various state and federal laws that may apply to their type of business before designing and implementing substance abuse and drug-testing policies.

The majority of employers across the U.S. are not required by law to drug test, and some state and county governments have statutes that limit or prohibit workplace drug testing. Employers should make appropriate use of drug testing, and make sure that their policies and procedures are in compliance with state and federal laws. The best way to ensure this is to retain a qualified and competent background screening and drug test provider.