Why Your Small Business Needs a Substance Abuse Policy & How to Make One

While substance abuse among full and part time workers continues to rise, the majority of small business owners do not have a substance-abuse policy in place. Many do not realize that the potential costs of not having such a policy can easily bring a small business to its knees.

(Note: If you are in search of places to turn to for help with a substance abuse problem, know that each state has its own resource pool. For example, check out these great Missouri substance abuse resources.)

Substance Abuse is Serious Business...

Though many posts on the topic of work-related drug and alcohol policies immediately quote the shocking statistics on substance abuse among those who are employed (which I will bring below), I see it as just one piece of a bigger picture that doesn't look like it will be changing any time soon.

According several recent survey's, an unusually high amount of workers in the U.S. are downright stressed and depressed. With the holiday season in full swing, we're heading into a time of year when these distressful feelings tend to increase in defiant opposition to all the cheery fa-la-la's and holiday kitsch that smacks us in the face the minute we walk out the door, turn on the TV, or go online.

It is well-known that when people are down in the dumps, it often goes hand in hand with an increase in substance abuse, and that brings me back to the current state of substance abuse among those who are in the workforce.

It ain't pretty. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has reported that 77 percent of illegal drug users hold either full-time or part-time jobs. Substance abuse costs American businesses approximately 81 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, accidents, and approximately 500 million annual workdays.

U.S. Department of Labor studies show that workers who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to skip work. When they are on the job, they are one-third less productive, costing employers approximately $7,000 a year. Employees using drugs are also more likely to cause workplace accidents or file workers' compensation claims.

When it comes to smaller businesses in particular, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),

90 percent small and medium-sized businesses employ heavy drinkers or illicit drug users, and 75 percent of illicit drug users were primarily employed by small businesses

Reasons to Create a Policy on Substance Abuse in Your Small Business

There are several reasons why the owners of even smallest of businesses should consider having a drug testing program and an overall policy on substance abuse. Here are some of the main ones:

Potential savings in cost and liabilities.

As I mentioned above, several studies point to the fact that drug abuse among employees takes a toll on their employers' bottom line due to lost productivity and the quality of work. But small businesses also expose themselves to the higher costs of health insurance, workers' compensation claims, and any lawsuits that may arise from employee negligence as a result of drug use. This holds all the more true if the work that is being done is considered high risk or dangerous. Some states actually offer discounts on worker's compensation premiums to businesses that conduct drug testing on its employees. To make sure you are in compliance with your state laws, check your local Illinois drug testing laws or whatever state you reside in.

Lower employee turnover.

Creating a a substance abuse policy in your small business goes beyond merely avoiding hiring the wrong people. It also helps you to hold on to quality workers who have suffered a momentary lapse by directing them to appropriate sources of treatment and giving them the hope that they can eventually return to work.

Legal requirements.

Some federal and state laws require businesses to have a substance-abuse policy. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires employers who use commercial motor vehicles to have drug-testing programs for any employees who will be operating them. In addition, having such policies in place can give a smaller business a legal leg to stand on should it need to take action against the use and sale of illegal drugs during working hours.

Job applicant screening.

A substance abuse policy used in conjunction with drug testing could help screen job applicants so that a costly hiring mistake can be avoided. But make sure you only perform the test on serious candidates, so that you don't end up wasting money on people you wouldn't hire anyway.

How to Create Substance Abuse Policy in Your Small Business

The value of a substance abuse policy is only as good as it is written. There are many factors that you will need to consider before you pen even one word, such as the nature of the work, your legal requirements, your available resources, and even the culture of your company. It almost goes without saying that you should get some qualified assistance in the process. That said, this post will offer some general considerations, but you need to exercise your due diligence and make sure to get the right professionals involved and access some of the resources listed below.

One of the first things you need to determine before develop your drug and alcohol use policy is if your business falls into the category of those that will be using drug tests on its employees. If you will be relying on drug testing then you should have a written policy that clearly explains how drug testing works and what employees can expect.

Even if your business will not rely on drug testing, you should still create a statement that lays out your policy on drug use, coming to work under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and the use of prescription drugs, and this statement should be made available to your employees.

When you are ready to start writing your policy, you should be sure to consider and include the following points:

  • What does your company culture look like? Do you serve alcohol at company social events? Will employees be entertaining clients?
  • What constitutes an infraction of work policy and rules regarding substance abuse?
  • What are the consequences of being caught breaking the above rules of substance abuse?
  • Where can employees receive treatment and rehabilitation services?
  • If and how will your business use drug testing?
  • How will you ensure your employees' confidentiality?

Resources to Help Small Business Owners Create a Policy on Drugs and Alcohol

Here is a variety of resources offering workplace drug abuse tips and assistance to small businesses and their employees:

1. The Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace - is a non-profit organization that provides employers and employees with resources for substance-abuse detection, prevention, and training.
2. The United States Department of Labor - contains several entities, such as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, that can help you stay current with federal laws, statistics, and workplace standards regarding drug and alcohol use among places of employment.
3. The Department of Transportation's Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy & Compliance - information regarding approved drug and alcohol screening devices, return-to-work processes, and FAQ's regarding jobs that involve the operation of vehicles.
4. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration- A government agency focused on reducing the impact of substance abuse and mental illness in America.
5. National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) - a searchable database of interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.
6. Alcoholics Anonymous - Support group and 12-step program for recovering alcoholics.
7. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - provides information and operates a 24-hour help line.
8. Drug Help - a information and referral service provided by the American Council for Drug Education, that provides free, confidential assistance to those seeking help for themselves, a friend or family member.
9. Addicthelp.com- an alcohol and drug abuse help and resource center
10. A list of treatment centers and other online resources courtesy of Arcadia University
11. You may also want to check out the sites on the Dmoz open directory.