Business Owners Ask: What if My Employees Use Drugs?

Working to keep your workplace free of drugs and alcohol? Best practices say that an employee handbook and workplace policies regarding substance use (and substance abuse) need to be clearly posted and communicated.

But what if those policies are violated?

Although clearly communicating your rules and expectations may deter some substance abusers, there will still be the rule breakers out there. After all, drivers get speeding tickets every day despite speed limit signs.

Be prepared to address employee behavior if workplace policies are violated.

Disciplining Employees Who Use Drugs

Your company culture and organizational structure will determine the best route for discipline. Workplace policies should outline the procedures taken in the event an employee violates the code of conduct.

Protect yourself and don’t leave discipline open-ended.

How the DOT handles drug and alcohol violations

One example of a workplace with tight regulations is a business that falls under the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines. The DOT has VERY strict regulations regarding employee drug and alcohol testing.

Drivers who engage in prohibited alcohol conduct must be immediately removed from safety-sensitive functions. Drivers who have engaged in alcohol misuse cannot return to safety-sensitive duties until they have been evaluated by a substance abuse professional and complied with any treatment recommendations to assist them with an alcohol problem. To further safeguard transportation safety, drivers who have any alcohol concentration (defined as 0.02 or greater) when tested just before, during or just after performing safety-sensitive functions must also be removed from performing such duties for 24 hours. If a driver’s behavior or appearance suggests alcohol misuse, a reasonable suspicion alcohol test must be conducted. If a breath test cannot be administered, the driver must be removed from performing safety-sensitive duties for at least 24 hours. – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

The DOT leaves nothing to chance. Individuals are immediately removed from safety-sensitive positions for positive drug and alcohol tests.

Other ways to handle employees

Even if your workplace isn’t as regulated as the DOT, it’s smart to plan ahead and know how you will address employees who break the rules. A few things to consider:

  • Include employee disciplinary actions in all manager training.
  • Determine if certain positions carry greater consequences than others. (For example, those in safety-sensitive positions vs. those with “office jobs.”)
  • Determine if you will be flexible on the alcohol or drug test results.
  • If you refer employees to substance abuse counseling, have your resources lined up.
  • Determine a timeline and plan of action.

Can I fire an employee for using drugs?

As you’re forming drug and alcohol policies, we recommend legal counsel from a trusted attorney who understands your state’s labor laws. There are caveats to the law and many factors to consider when handling substance abuse in the workplace.

Just check out some of the worker’s comp laws in Kansas or worker’s comp laws in Missouri – especially the areas pertaining to drug testing.

There’s not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to determining if employment needs terminated – although as an employer you do have the right to act upon misconduct. You’ll need to consider things like how the drug test is given, unacceptable limits for the test results, the position of the individual tested and the issue of unemployment benefits.

Can I get help?

We know workplace drug and alcohol policies can be complicated and confusing. That’s why we’re here to help.

If you’re in the Kansas City metro area and need help with:


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