There is plenty of discussion about detecting substance abuse in the workplace via drug and alcohol testing. There is also plenty of discussion on using an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as an important strategy for rehabilitating workers with drug or alcohol problems. However, once the EAP is completed and the right people say the employee is ready to return to work, what then? Should the employer just let the worker return without any guidance or oversight? After all, the person just completed an intensive counselling program, so does the employer really need to take any additional steps?
Assuming a Frontline Position
Reintegrating employees into the workplace is an important step in helping workers avoid relapse. Work offers much more than financial value. It also provides emotional and psychological value. Ideally, the work reintegration plan is incorporated into the worker’s EAP plan so that he or she gets professional counselling before, during and after returning to work. However, the worker’s supervisors always play a frontline role in the success of the reintegration process. They must be cognisant of the requirements of duty of care, potential issues concerning disability discrimination, and employee privacy needs.1 Without proper training, it is easy for well-intentioned supervisors to unintentionally contribute to a worker’s failure to successfully integrate.
- Following are some of the issues that an employer needs to consider:
- Are there conditions outlined by health professionals concerning the type and amount of work an employee can undertake?
- Do the conditions governing the return to work impact the ability of the worker to return to a safety sensitive position?
- If duties are restricted, who will be responsible for ensuring the worker follows the rules?
- Does the employer need to make workplace changes to accommodate the worker’s needs or restrictions?
- What will be the frequency of drug and alcohol testing?
- How long will the special arrangements be required, and how do they impact co-workers?
- Is the employee required to continue in aftercare in order to keep his or her job. If so, how will compliance be verified?
WorkSafe recommends employers appoint a Return to Work Coordinator to ensure all the return-to-work obligations are met. The coordinator is responsible for implementing the return to work plan, monitoring the worker to ensure the person has the capacity to complete job duties, managing the progressive return of workers to full pre-treatment job status, serving as a resource point of contact should the worker need assistance, and liaisons between the worker and the health professionals.2
It’s Not Just About Me
Clearly, the success of an employee reintegration plan relies on effective communication and regular drug and alcohol testing. However, the supervisors also will discover they need to take other factors and situations into consideration. For example, how will routine business social events affect a recovering employee? Are supervisors trained to recognise work conditions that may contribute to relapse, like a department functioning under severe pressure or stress? In addition, the supervisor needs to give the co-workers information that enables them to respond to the returning worker correctly. For example, they need to know the reintegrating worker is expected to carry the assigned workload and how to offer encouragement without delving into counselling or invading the worker’s privacy.
It is always important to continue drug and alcohol testing. Sometimes small businesses are hesitant to test returning workers because they do not want to offend the person or send a message that the person is no longer a trusted employee. Drug and alcohol testing is about workplace safety for all workers. The special needs of a returning worker are considered in terms of helping the person succeed and avoid relapse. The substance testing program ensures that everyone’s safety needs are considered. Employees fit to return to duty after substance abuse treatment can succeed with the right support system in place, and that begins with the supervisors.
CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) has a range of products that make it easy for employers to administer drug and alcohol testing. Options include technology and resources like saliva drug tests, urine tests and alcohol breathalysers.
1. Dr. Rob McCartney. (n.d.). Fitness for Duty. Retrieved from Australian Drilling Industry Association: http://adia.com.au/wp-content/pdf/FitnessForDuty.pdf
2. WorkSafe. (n.d.). Return to Work Information for Employers. Retrieved from WorkSafe: http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/return-to-work/information-for-employers