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Important Information

Workplace Substance Abuse
America's Small Business at Risk

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have big disadvantages. They are less likely than large companies to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the "employer-of-choice" for illicit drug users. Individuals who can't adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms that don't have one, and the cost of just one accident caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small business.

The good news is that small businesses have enormous power to improve the safety and health of their workplaces and employees by implementing drug-free workplace programs that educate employees about the dangers of drug abuse and encourage individuals with related problems to seek help. Such programs help reduce occupational injuries and illnesses and send a clear signal that employers care about the safety and health of their employees.

Some small businesses do not effectively address the issue due to a lack of resources, such as staff to seek information about it and provide assistance to employees who have related problems. This reluctance may be reinforced by confusion over the cost of running drug-free workplace programs and what action can be legally taken, particularly regarding drug testing and disciplinary procedures.


Steps to a Drug-Free Workplace

Employers implement drug-free workplace programs to protect their business from the impact of drug and alcohol abuse. A drug-free workplace program generally includes five components: a drug-free workplace policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance and drug testing.

Although employers may choose not to include all five components, it is recommended that all be explored with developing a drug-free workplace program. Research shows that more components may lead to a more effective program.

Before considering the five components, employers should examine the needs of their workforce and organization and take steps to ensure the program they design will work well in their company. Because every business is unique, there is no one right way to establish a drug-free workplace program. Rather, each organization’s program should match its specific needs. A careful assessment will determine which program elements are the most feasible and beneficial, as well as which may be unnecessary or unsuitable. Furthermore, many companies find it helpful to ask for input from employees during this process.


A written drug-free workplace policy is the foundation of a drug-free workplace program. Every organization’s policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs; however, all effective policies have a few aspects in common, including:

  • Why the policy is being implemented. Rationale can be as simple as a company being committed to protecting the safety, health and well being of its employees and patrons and recognizing that abuse of alcohol and other drugs compromises this dedication.
  • A clear description of prohibited behaviors. At a minimum, this should include the following statement: “The use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs by employees is prohibited.”
  • An explanation of the consequences for violating the policy. These may include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws.

Sharing all policies with all employees is essential for success; therefore, employers should be certain that all employees are aware of the policy and drug-free workplace program.

Supervisor Training

After developing a drug-free workplace policy, an organization should train those individuals closest to its workforce—supervisors. Training should ensure that supervisors understand:

  • The drug-free workplace policy
  • Ways to recognize and deal with employees who have performance problems that may be related to alcohol and other drugs
  • How to refer employees to available assistance

In relation to a drug-free workplace program, supervisors’ responsibilities should include monitoring employees’ performance, staying alert to and documenting performance problems, and enforcing the policy. Supervisors should not, however, be expected to diagnose alcohol- and drug-related problems or provide counseling to employees who may have them.

Note: If supervisors are responsible for making referrals for drug testing based on reasonable suspicion, they also must be trained on how to make that determination.

Employee Education

A drug and alcohol education program provides employees with the information they need to fully understand, cooperate with and benefit from their company’s drug-free workplace program.

Effective employee education programs provide company-specific information, such as the details of the drug-free workplace policy, as well as generalized information about the nature of alcohol and drug addiction; its impact on work performance, health and personal life; and types of help available for individuals with related problems.

All employees should participate, and the message should be delivered on an ongoing basis through a variety of means. Forums for employee education may include home mailings, workplace displays, brown-bag lunches, guest speakers, seminars and sessions at new employee orientation.

Employee Assistance

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are an effective vehicle for addressing poor workplace performance that may stem from an employee’s personal problems, including the abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

EAPs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families and clearly demonstrate employers’ respect for their staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and minimize an employer’s legal vulnerability by demonstrating efforts to support employees.

In addition to counseling and referrals, many EAPs offer other related services, such as supervisor training and employee education. At a minimum, businesses should maintain a resource file from which employees can access information about community-based resources, treatment programs and helplines.

Drug Testing

Some employers decide to drug test employees for a variety of reasons, such as deterring and detecting drug use, as well as providing concrete evidence for intervention, referral to treatment and/or disciplinary action. Before deciding to conduct testing, employers should consider a few factors, including:

  • Who will be tested? Options may include all staff, job applicants and/or employees in safety-sensitive positions.
  • When will tests be conducted? Possibilities including pre-employment, upon reasonable suspicion or for-cause, post-accident, randomly, periodically and post-rehabilitation.
  • Which drugs will be tested for? Options include testing applicants and employees for illegal drugs and testing employees for a broader range of substances, including alcohol and certain prescription drugs.
  • How will tests be conducted? Different testing modes are available, and many states have laws that dictate which may and may not be used.

Employers also must be familiar with any local, state , or federal laws, or any collective bargaining agreements that may impact when, where and how testing is performed. It is strongly recommended that legal counsel be sought before starting any testing program.

More information to help employers implement drug-free workplace programs—including how to develop a policy from start to finish and ready-to-use supervisor training and employee education materials—is available on the Department of Labor’s Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace Web site, located at

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This information was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor