December 3, 2013

Can You Use Drugs, Alcohol, Reasonable and Employer in One Sentence?

By Paul Bieber

Of course you can. ‘An employer may have a reasonable cause drug and alcohol testing program.’  Sure, was easy.  So easy, in fact, that you think you can start a reasonable cause drug testing program in your company tomorrow.  In fact, let’s do it by noon and have it in force after lunch. Let’s catch a couple of  guys coming back to work after drinking a couple of beers.  We’ll have all the problem people out of the company by 3 p.m. and improve everything.

And a very chubby Santa Claus will slide down your very small chimney with your new Corvette in his sack.

In our company I instituted a reasonable cause drug testing program; it took a couple of months to do, but was well worth the effort.  Here is what we did.  We had 200+ employees in three locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Three different sets of laws to read and understand.  And federal regulations as well.  We could have used our lawyer to do this, but that wasn’t our style.  We liked to understand what we were doing and having the training in simple, understandable language, not legalese.  We did have our lawyer review everything before we implemented and he gave us a green light.

You can’t just start a program by noon.  Here are the main steps.  They may be different in your state, so read up and do consult your lawyer for local guidelines.

First is the commitment by you, your partners, or the owners of the company.  There will be confrontations in the program and you have to be sure that you will follow through on the program.  The next step, and by far the most important, is what will you do when someone tests positive after the testing.  Do you give him a suspension and how long or do you terminate him?  This is the toughest decision you will have to make because the person who tests positive will be very important to your company, or will be your nephew, or will be the foreman on the biggest job your company landed in two years.

We terminated someone who tested positive on a reasonable cause test.  There were no exceptions.  None.  And we lost a couple of good people.  In setting up our program we did say that people would be eligible for rehire after one year provided they attended a drug or alcohol rehab program and received a clean report from the program.  Also, they were subject to random testing for two years.  Random testing is another whole topic which I’ll get into in the near future.

So, why would you test your nephew or a key employee anyway?  Because you will set up the rules on when reasonable cause testing will take place.  They will include some basic tenants of drug and alcohol testing:

  • Direct observation of using drugs or alcohol at work.  Seeing someone smoking marijuana or drinking a beer while on duty are examples.
  • Observation of erratic behavior by two supervisors who are trained to your state or federal standards. (This training will be the topic of next week’s blog!)
  • Being part of an accident at work that requires more than local first aid.
  • Having any sort of an automobile or truck accident, including in-house vehicles such as forklifts.

Your nephew has a fender bender, which doesn’t result in getting a ticket, but you have to drug test.  And he turns up positive for an illegal substance.  So do you upset your sister-in-law or appear to have favoritism at work?  Sure, you can cover up your nephew’s report, but believe me, these things have a way of getting out and you will look bad if it ever does.

Enough for today; there is a lot more to cover and we’ll continue next week.