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Wednesday
Mar172004

Drug Policy Works - Case History

You may be able to gain from the experiences of other business people just like you. In this issue, we are going to experiment with a "case history" of a problem faced by a local business just a few weeks ago.

The owner of an Oregon manufacturing business was ready to confront drug use by workers on his production floor. He did not know if he employed workers with drug problems but there had been warning signs.

A couple of years ago, he had received an unsubstantiated report of drug use and considered taking action then. Given the demands of his business, however, he did not want to risk losing production capacity and decided not to take action.

Fast forward to today, an employee was injured on the production floor. On his way to a post-accident drug test, the employee came forward and said that he would fail the test. He claimed that he smoked marijuana at a recent party but did not otherwise do drugs. Evidently the incident had been several weeks prior because the drug test came back negative. It also came to light that there had recently been two minor accidents involving other employees where the employees involved were not given post-accident drug tests contrary to the employer's policy.

The owner decided it was time to do something, even if it meant losing a couple of employees at a time when they were swamped with orders. At a Wednesday morning meeting, it was announced that the employer's Drug & Alcohol Policy was changed. Disclosing drug use before a test but after a test had been announced or after an accident would no longer shield employees from corrective action for violation of the Drug & Alcohol Policy.

Employees with problems were encouraged to step forward but were told they needed to do so before a test was announced and before they were involved in an accident. They were also told that the employer now had the option to conduct periodic drug and alcohol tests and gave the employees 24 hours' notice that the first test could occur at any time after the 24 hour period. The employees were then encouraged to come forward with any drug or alcohol problems during that 24 hour period.

A week later, the business owner and I met for lunch. I asked how things were going. He told me that he calls the Friday after the Wednesday meeting "Black Friday." Much to his surprise, 5 employees, including one supervisor, quit that day. When I apologized for the effect that this must have had on his production, he looked at me and asked "what effect on production?" Despite the loss of 5 employees from their production floor, they are producing at or near the same level of production!

The business owner went on to tell me that the following Monday was one of his best days in his business in a long time. The problems that these 5 employees brought with them to work each day, were now gone. Working in his business is now more enjoyable.

Lesson 1
What lessons can you learn from this case history? First, postponing employment actions can have greater consequences than the actions themselves. Problem employees can have a greater impact on your workplace than you realize. If you have a problem, get help if you need it but deal with the problem now.

Lesson 2
Another lesson is that you can have the best policies in the world but if those policies are not implemented, you have problems. You need to be vigilant to make sure that your policies are followed.

Lesson 3
Next, you should review your policies once a year to update the policies as needed and to adopt new policies based upon the experiences of other employers. Your drug and alcohol policy is just one example of a policy that may be out of date.

Was this case history helpful? If so, please let me know so we can decide whether to include other case histories in future issues of LegalBriefs.

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