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New Year, New Policy: Crafting an Effective Drug and Alcohol Policy in 2017

A new year always brings a fresh perspective and the opportunity to revisit, reset, and re-evaluate. For some employers, the New Year might mean revisiting out-of-date policies that have been collecting dust on the shelf. If you are revitalizing some old policies this year, you should make sure your drug and alcohol policy makes the list: 2017 will be a busy year for changes in drug-related technologies and legislation, and it’s essential to make sure your policy reflects the most up-to-date changes.

Every company – large or small, safety-sensitive or otherwise – should have a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy in place. Although we like to think our employees make wise and safe decisions all the time, the reality is that impairment at work is not uncommon, and that this can often result in injury, damaged property, or even loss of life. Everyone is entitled to a safe, drug-free workplace, which is why having an effective policy is essential.

It’s clear to most people that drugs and alcohol do not belong in the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply state somewhere in your company rulebook that impairment at work is not tolerated. For a policy to be effective, it needs to be thorough, clear, enforceable, and carefully considered.

What should a drug and alcohol policy accomplish?

A properly created drug and alcohol policy

  • Respects the mutual interests of clients, contractors, unions, and workers in achieving a safe and substance-free workplace.
  • Provides consistent, fair, and manageable procedures for detecting, eliminating, and treating substance use which stands to impair work performance.
  • Protects the safety, dignity, and welfare of the workers and their families.
  • Demonstrates sensitivity to worker privacy.

It is important to reinforce, both in your policy and outside of it, that the overall purpose is to keep everyone safe.

Drug & Alcohol Testing and Ensuring Compliance

Even if you explicitly forbid working while impaired in your policy, it can be difficult to tell by observation alone whether the rules are being followed. The only foolproof way to ensure compliance with a drug and alcohol policy is to implement a testing program. Testing for drugs and alcohol can be put to use in a few different circumstances, including

  • Pre-employment: Before you hire someone into a safety-sensitive position, you may wish for the candidate to undergo a drug screening as a condition of employment. You might also require testing for current employees who are under consideration for a promotion or a transfer to a new position.
  • Reasonable cause: If you have reason to believe that your employee is impaired at work, you may choose to have him or her undergo reasonable cause testing. Reasonable cause can be anything from noticing that an employee is exhibiting unusual or erratic behaviour, smells of alcohol, or is in possession of drug paraphernalia on the worksite.
  • Post-incident: Testing may be performed as part of an investigation after an incident or near miss has occurred. Drug and alcohol use tends to be a primary suspect in the aftermath of workplace accidents.
  • Random: Some policies call for the testing of employees on a random basis. Best practices calls for the use of a random number generator or an unbiased third party to select employees for testing; this reduces your chances of being accused of discrimination or intentionally targeting specific individuals.
  • Return-to-work: After an employee has violated the policy or undergone a drug/alcohol rehabilitation program, some policies will call for the continued regular monitoring of the employee to ensure ongoing compliance.

Tips for success

  • Outline concrete consequences for violation of the policy. Disciplinary action can include anything up to and including termination (recommended by most experts).
  • Include a provision for prescription drug use. Around 40% of Canadians in a StatCan survey reported having used a prescription in the past two days, and many of these medications have the potential to cause unsafe situations at work. It is important to require employees using these types of medications to report them to a supervisor.
  • Consider adding provisions for consequences if employees are caught attempting to cheat or tamper with a drug or alcohol test. Many policies call for consequences consistent with an employee who has tested positive for drugs or alcohol.

A substance-free workplace is in everyone’s best interest. Protect your workers in 2017 with an effective, enforceable drug and alcohol policy. Click here for more information.

Photo credit: Cannabis Culture via Foter.com / CC BY

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