December 16, 2013

Peter Pill-Popper Partied at Pedro’s Pasta

By Paul Bieber

You saw Peter take some pills during the lunch break, just as you were walking by.  An hour later, Peter was walking around in a daze, not following his supervisor’s instructions.  A second supervisor observed his behavior and you sent Peter for drug testing.  He tested positive for an illegal substance.  Holy cow … now you really have to do something about this.  Peter has been with you for five years, is a good employee, and has worked well in every job you have given him.  You don’t want to lose him, but … he tested positive.

Let’s go back in time and see how you wrote your guidelines.  You talked with a very smart consultant who helped form your policy.  He told you that it must be specific and complete.  You can’t decide who will get punished and for how long based on who the person is; you must be consistent in these decisions or you leave yourself open to discrimination lawsuits.  There can’t be a middle ground either.  Someone testing positive is in violation of your policy.  So, what is your policy?

Option 1.  If someone tests positive for an illegal substance after a reasonable-cause observation, the person is terminated from employment as of the day of the test. 

Option 2.  The person is suspended for 90 days and is eligible to come back to work after completing an appropriate drug rehab program and agrees to random drug testing six times in the next twelve months.

Option 3.  There is no Option 3.  If you don’t terminate Peter or suspend him and test him on return, you might as well not have a program.  You can vary some things.  He can be eligible to be rehired under Option 1 after one year, but doesn’t retain seniority.  Or he does, but has random drug testing for a year, at his own expense.  Or Option 2 can be 180 days and he can undergo random testing for two years. 

Pedro wanted to give people second chances, but also show how serious his Pasta Company was on safety in the plant.  He chose to terminate anyone found positive after a reasonable cause test or after an accident of any sort.  The person would be eligible for drug counseling for 30 days under the company’s medical plan, since Pedro would continue the policy for 30 days after termination.  He would be eligible for rehire after one year, but would apply as any other person and would not be guaranteed a position or a rate of pay.  Additionally, the person would be on probation for one year, rather than Pedro’s normal 90 days.

There cannot be any exceptions once the plan is in place.  It doesn’t matter who the person is.  It doesn’t matter the situation.  You will only get in deep trouble if you try to change the plan when an employee whom you feel is vital tests positive.  Remember, someone who has taken a pill at work, and is a little loopy later, may have taken a prescription medicine and therefore will not test positve for an illegal substance.  But he is guilty of being stupid and possible endangering himself or others.  This may be cause for a one-week suspension, but not termination.

There is so much more to discuss in this area, and I’ll pick it up after New Year’s.  I would like to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Kwanza or a happy anything in your life.   I’ll catch you after New Year’s, and we’ll continue this series on drugs and alcohol.