What Risk Managers Need to Know About Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs



By William Judge & Rebecca Shafer

Drug and Alcohol screening is one of the most common risk management weapons in the arsenal of tools to contain workers comp costs; the goal is to hire employees who are capable of performing the job they are hired to do and to prevent losses where you can.

Among the tools used are drug, alcohol and impairment testing that affect job performance. Medical evaluation programs often include such testing. Pre-employment screening of various types helps employers avoid hiring those who cannot safely perform the functions of the job. And, it also reduces costs because in twelve states, workers' comp insurance premiums are discounted for companies with substance abuse policies and in 15 states presumption of intoxication and/or cause can avoid paying a claim.

In the workers' comp risk management arena there are 4 types of drug and alcohol screening: pre-placement screening, reasonable suspicion or for cause, post accident testing and random testing.

There are several types of polices we recommend employers institute, among these is a Company Medical Policy or Substance Abuse Policy. Like all policies, the terms of the policy will need to be customized to comply with corporate culture considerations and with various state and federal laws. Both the Company Medical Policy and the Substance Abuse Policy can refer to drug and/or alcohol screening.

The policy should include what type of drugs the applicants or employees will be tested. Some model policy requires testing for marijuana and cocaine, but with the increased use of prescription drugs companies may also want to test of amphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP).

Consider the scope of testing, who will be tested. The prime candidates are safety-sensitive workers, such as those who drive or operate machinery on public roads, employees engaged in hazardous duty or those working with radioactive or explosive materials, medicines or firearms. Essentially, any employee whose job affects health and safety.

It is probably easiest to start a program with new hires rather than existing employees especially if a company does not have an existing program.  All prospective employees who have been offered employment are required to take a drug test. If the individual's test results are positive, he will not be considered for employment.

The policy should be communicated to all employees as part of an employee awareness and education program duty at the company. Some states require proof that each employee has been given a copy of the policy, so each employee should sign an acknowledgement that they have received the policy. Educating employees about the severity of the drug and alcohol problem is also important and in some states required.

The type of testing to be done will include considering state law, as well as the cost and facilities needed for testing. For example, hair sample testing is more discreet and easier to collect samples, but is not allowed in some states. It is also more expensive and provides results for a longer duration of time – time that did not affect work performance.

Consider why you want to have a drug testing program. For example, I had a company contact me to begin a drug testing program because they had a fork-lift driver who had repeat accidents, including running off a ramp and running into a warehouse support pole. I suggested that perhaps the accidents were due to eyesight problems, but because the employee wore Grateful Dead t-shirts, the assumption was he was using drugs. In fact, the issue turned out to be eye-sight related.

Disciplinary Guidelines:  In most states, there are no limits on the type of discipline imposed.  However there are six (6) states and Puerto Rico that limit the type of discipline that an employer may impose on employees who test positive.

Employee Assistance Programs:  In some states like Maine and Vermont an employer wishing to conduct workplace drug or alcohol testing must have an EAP.  Many other states offering benefits also require at least some form of local EAP resource file to be maintained. 

Overall, while implementing a workplace drug and alcohol testing program may seem detailed, especially for multi-state employers, the benefits far outweigh these up-front details. It has been estimated that 38% to 50% of all work comp claims involve a drug or alcohol issue.  This being the case, a well-designed drug and alcohol program can help combat this reality and return hard earned dollars to the bottom line.

Visit the Drug Free Work Week site on the LexisNexis Workers' Compensation Law Center

This post is provided by LexisNexis Workers' Compensation Law Center. 


© Copyright 2009 LexisNexis Workers' Compensation Law Center



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