Substance Abuse and the Drug-Free Workplace Act

Substance abuse is one of the most critical problems facing employers in the workplace today. Over 22 million Americans are illegally using drugs and 74.8% of them are employed, the majority of whom are full-time.  Substance abuse can affect anyone, at any age and from any walk of life.

The cost of substance abuse in the workplace has been estimated at $81 billion annually! This figure includes direct and indirect costs including loss of productivity, sick time, workers compensation claims, unemployment rating, turnover costs and hiring costs.

Problems in the Workplace

Numerous problems can be traced to employees who use illegal drugs:

  • Absenteeism and tardiness. Two of the most common signs of substance abuse are frequent absenteeism and tardiness. These employees are 2 or 3 times more likely to be late and absent, request time off and to be laid off.
  • Increased Medical Costs. Substance abusers utilize medical benefits at a rate three greater than regular employees. This in turn increases the cost of medical insurance for both the employer and all the employees in the company.
  • Theft. Theft is another issue employers have to face regarding substance-abusing employees. Employers may be shocked to know that up to 80% of drug abusers steal from their workplace to support their drug use!
  • Workplace Violence. Substance abuse is known as the 3rd leading cause of workplace violence. Other leading causes, such as family and marital problems and personality conflicts often result from an underlying substance abuse problem.
  • Injuries and Accidents. Up to 40% of workplace fatalities and 47% of industrial accidents can be attributed to substance abuse. A sobering statistic informs us that the injured party in 80% of serious accidents is not the abuser.

Drug-Free Workplace Act

In 1988, Congress passed the Drug-Free Workplace Act. To comply with the law, federal grantees and recipients of federal contracts of $100,000 and above are required to:

  • Publish a statement informing employees that unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession or use of a controlled substance is prohibited in the workplace. The consequences of violation must be specified.
  • Establish a drug-free awareness program to apprise employees of
    1. the dangers of drug abuse in the workplace
    2. the employer’s policy of maintaining a drug-free workplace
    3. the availability of drug rehabilitation, counseling and employee assistance programs
    4. possible penalties imposed on employees for drug-abuse violations
  • Distribute copies of the statement to all employees directly involved in implementation of the government contract. Such employees must agree to:
    1. comply with the terms of the statement
    2. inform the employer within 5 days of any drug-related criminal conviction for a violation occurring in the workplace.
  • Require satisfactory participation in a rehabilitation program or impose sanctions on individuals convicted of a workplace, drug-related crime.
  • Once an employer becomes aware of a workplace-related drug conviction, they must notify the contracting agency within 10 days.
  • Constantly endeavor to maintain a drug-free workplace.

In our next article, we will provide detailed guidance to managers and human resources professionals for dealing with employees who are abusing drugs or other substances in the workplace.