Frontline Supervisor: Substance Abuse

Frontline Supervisor: Substance Abuse

On 16 Nov 2014, in Management, Workplace, substance abuse

Q. My employee, who has a commercial driver’s license, reportedly told another coworker he knows how to beat a drug test. All drivers participate in the drug screening program, and we have never had a positive test. What should I do, and how worried should I be?

A. Extensive research is conducted by the drug testing industry to identify ways employees attempt to beat drug tests. Dozens of products promise to beat a positive test, but most rely upon drinking enough water that the urine sample becomes diluted. Despite these products, the frequency at which employees seek to beat drug tests is dropping. This has coincided with a national drop in the number of drug positives because of vigilant employers remaining aggressive about drug abuse in the workplace. Follow your policy, talk to those who administer your program and pay attention to performance. Drug users are still 10 times more likely to miss work, 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents, 5 times more likely to file workers' comp claims and 33 percent less productive. These things you can document.

Q: I am a new supervisor and need to refer an employee for a reasonable suspicion test for substance abuse. I am very nervous. What are the key issues in making such a referral without blowing it?

A: Review your documentation in the employee’s personnel file. Review your organization’s unique policies and procedures for its testing program. Confirm that you have written evidence to substantiate the basis for your reasonable suspicion, such as first-hand observations including dates and times. Also document any instances where you’ve expressed your concerns to the employee -- and what happened. As long as you can support your referral with a well-documented file, it will be easier to confront the employee with confidence. Expect the individual to reject the referral at first. Overcome resistance by explaining that your main concern is to provide appropriate help for the employee to treat problems relating to substance abuse if they exist. Many employees will assume they are in trouble and you’re penalizing them, so reassure them that the purpose of your referral is to address safety and ability to perform -- not to punish them. If possible, rehearse with a trusted colleague and get feedback.

Q. Our company's supervisors recently attended a presentation on workplace substance abuse and were told marijuana was addictive. I do not know anyone who ever became addicted to marijuana. So what is the real story on how dangerous this drug truly is (or is not)?

A. The medical professionals who are the most knowledgeable about marijuana are addiction medicine physicians who specialize in the treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has 4,000 of these physicians as its members. Their clinical work and research support the policies and positions they publish on controversial subjects such as marijuana. ASAM's public policy on marijuana was last updated May 2006. You can look it up on the ASAM website. ASAM states that marijuana is "a dangerous drug with harmful effects." Addiction to it is classified as "the disease of marijuana dependence." According to these experts, marijuana requires some addicts to smoke four times as much as they once did to get the desired effect. Withdrawal symptoms can last two to four weeks, and may be so severe that medical support and detoxification is required to overcome cravings. Like alcohol, not everyone becomes addicted to marijuana. Similarly, a user's past experience with the drug will influence the believability about its addictive potential.

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