The Real Difference Between Zero-Tolerance & Alcohol/Drug-Free Workplace Policies

Posted on 4/15/2019 by Lauren Scott

When it comes to drugs and alcohol in the workplace, it’s common sense that employers should do all that they can to prohibit the use, sale, and possession of these dangerous substances on company grounds. However, there is a fine line between a productive, positive workplace policy and one that goes too far.

Unfortunately, zero-tolerance policies often fall into the latter category. By definition, a zero-tolerance policy asserts that an employee may be terminated if he or she is found to have used drugs or alcohol during work hours and even before or after as well. This can often create a workplace culture fueled by fear, perpetuating detrimental stereotypes about addiction as a personal flaw rather than a treatable disease.

With the rise of opioid addiction rates and a low unemployment rate, it is more important than ever to support and retain workers who suffer from drug addiction to get them the help they need. That is why alcohol/drug-free workplace policies have grown in popularity.

Environmental and safety professionals face magnified risks when it comes to on-the-job drug use. Accidents involving employees who handle hazardous chemicals or hazardous materials, operate heavy equipment and machinery, or perform already dangerous job functions can have severe and lethal consequences. For this reason, it is critical to spot the warning signs early and have an effective drug-free workplace program in place to protect all employees. 

A comprehensive approach to alcohol/drug-free workplace policies should account for extenuating circumstances, develop long-term solutions, and foster positive employee retention. See how these policies differ from zero-tolerance policies and learn best practices for implementing substance abuse strategies at EHS facilities.

Punitive Strategies Don’t Work

Punitive strategies can range from a reduction in an employee’s responsibilities (and salary) right up to employment termination. Not only does punishment not stop an employee’s addiction habits, negative consequences can drive a person to abuse drugs/alcohol more frequently due to job stress. Sudden changes in an employee’s job performance, time management skills, mood, and hygiene may also be signs of increased alcohol or drug use.

Even firing a worker is costly for the company because of the reduction in manpower and the time it takes to hire and train new staff. Instead, experts suggest documenting any performance issues and putting together a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or Employee Assistance Program (EAP), whichever is applicable.
Need a crash course on human resources? Check out Lion’s new Human Resources Manager online course and gain the confidence to provide a safe and positive work environment.

The Optics Matter

Consider what the rest of your team sees when enacting aggressive zero-tolerance policies. Even though most employees may not have a drug or alcohol addiction, drug and alcohol tests become a nerve-wracking experience when they are used as the end-all to employment. When overused, drug and alcohol tests can cause a decrease in productivity and even have a negative effect on employee retention. If your company chooses to use drug/alcohol tests, rest assured that there is a way to use these tests without impacting company morale.

Confidentiality is key to winning the trust of your employees. When workers know that their privacy is valued, they are more likely to voluntarily come forward if they suspect they have a drug or alcohol problem. The more employees feel comfortable coming forward on their own, the less your company must rely on drug testing. Drug /alcohol tests can then be used sparingly and only in the most egregious cases.

Helping Employees Helps the Company

When companies provide a safe, positive work environment, employees become more confident in their jobs. This translates into higher productivity as well as less workplace accidents and disputes. Even providing employees with substance abuse resources can save the company thousands of dollars in healthcare costs.

To help managers make informed decisions about workplace drug policies, Lion now offers the Drug Free Workplace online course. Human resources professionals and EHS managers alike will complete the self-paced course with the confidence to develop their own alcohol/drug-free workplace policy and implement it properly. Learn how to engage employees in substance abuse discussions, write personnel documentation, overcome crisis situations, and much more.


Tags: addiction, alcohol, drugs, employees, employer, HR, Human Resources, manager, workplace

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