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29Apr. 2014

5 Myths About Workplace Drug Testing

Workers compensation costs can drain your business if you don’t manage them well. Last September we walked through the experience mod calculation and saw that even small claims can have an expensive impact on your business. Today I’d like to talk to you about a way that many businesses are keeping the workers compensation costs down: Drug-Free Workplace Programs.

If the mention of those programs makes you cringe, you are not alone. Many business owners shy away from discussing this option for fear of insulting their workers or vastly reducing the pool of eligible candidates for employment.

But business owners and human resource directors from companies that have taken the plunge will tell you those fears are unfounded. In fact, a well-designed Drug-Free Workplace Program can boost morale, reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and increase productivity in addition to lowering your workers comp costs.

Here are five myths about workplace drug testing and the truth behind them:

1. Drug testing programs expose my company to greater liability. In fact, just the opposite is true as long as you develop a program that complies with federal and state regulations and apply the program consistently. Without a drug-free workplace program in place, your supervisors risk a discrimination suit if they single someone out for suspicion of drug or alcohol use or fire them for it.

With a policy in place, your supervisors have a tool to use if they have a reasonable suspicion of drug use or if an accident has occurred. “It’s important to think about implementing a drug testing program before you react to a specific situation,” says Lisa Murray, President of The Transportation Advisor, Inc. and a 20-year veteran of drug-free workplace program implementations.

2. I’ll offend or lose many of my employees. Not if you communicate your goals for the program and implement it thoughtfully. Talk to employees and supervisors about your desire for a safe work environment. Offer employee assistance programs for those who would like help and come forward on their own.

Phase the program in and communicate your policies in writing. Apply the policies consistently. One client told me the program was actually a boost to morale because employees knew that everyone hired had passed the drug screen and supervisors had a tool to address suspicions and concerns that otherwise distracted their workers.

3. Few candidates will apply to my company. This isn’t the case. My client said they are still seeing plenty of applications. Ms. Murray explains, “A drug-free workplace policy weeds out the people who don’t want to work for a company that tests.”

4. You have to fire an employee who tests positive. You don’t have to fire someone who tests positive. You do need a policy about what the protocol is if someone tests positive that will protect you from a discrimination suit, however.

5. Random drug testing is illegal. Massachusetts law permits random drug testing for safety-sensitive positions within certain guidelines. Safety-sensitive positions include not only truck drivers but also warehouse operators, sales people on the road and jobs that involve exposure to confidential information, for example.

Given all of the regulations, it makes sense to consult a lawyer or company that specializes in this area when developing a policy. But it is worth the effort. And you can customize your Drug-Free Workplace Program to what will work best for you. Employers often start by incorporating a drug test in their hiring process, which only affects new hires. Companies that implement a policy for their current workforce can opt for mandatory post-accident drug testing and testing upon reasonable suspicion as well as random drug testing among those in safety-sensitive positions.

Done well, a Drug-Free Workplace Program can not only keep your workers’ compensation costs down, it can improve safety, productivity and morale. Please call me if you would like to know more about these programs.


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