Employers can easily get confused when they read advice concerning the best way to deal with detected drug or alcohol use in the workplace. Does the employer immediately terminate the worker? Should the employee be allowed to go through multiple rehabilitation programs? Should the worker be told to go home and return the next day? When a fair dismissal is supported by the facts, how does the employer implement the dismissal policy with minimal business disruption? These are the kind of questions that continually arise as employers attempt to fairly manage drug and alcohol programs in a way that balances workplace safety and health while promoting harm minimisation to worker lives.
As long as an employer uses rigorous and high-quality testing equipment and adheres to appropriate collection procedures, they can rely on the results. Additional appropriate safeguards include communicating clear cut-off points for positive results to workers, ensuring procedures are clear about who will be told final testing results, and developing a grievance and complaint process that includes a process for challenging test results.1 However, a well-developed set of policies and procedures also addresses how positive tests will be managed from that point forward. One of the important points to keep in mind is that the faith and trust workers put into a drug and alcohol testing program depends on administrative consistency and uniform and fair application of consequences in response to positive test results.
The consequences of positive substance tests include temporary suspension, mandatory re-testing, required counselling or completion of a rehabilitation program, and termination. How consistently an employer responds to a positive drug and alcohol test plays a major role in how seriously employees take the program and how effective the program is in the end. Assuming an employee tests positive, what are the appropriate responses?
First, the employer should always re-test the employee to verify the test result is accurate. This supports the importance of using high-quality equipment that meets Standards Australia requirements. It is important to be careful to avoid making statements that can be misconstrued by the worker. For example, saying something like, “I expected you would test positive,” instantly adds suspicion to the test despite the verifiable results. Those kinds of statements can create a perspective that the testing was done to “catch” a worker doing wrong.
If a worker has a positive re-test, the worker should be informed in a professional manner what the next steps will be and the options offered by the employer based on the policy. The worker should be asked to stay in a safe place in the workplace until safe transportation home is arranged. An incident report should be completed quickly while events are fresh in the manager’s mind and to ensure documentation is completed. Upon consultation with Human Resources and top management, the manager will recommend the next steps which are the “consequences” of using substances in the workplace. Consequences are usually a combination of disciplinary action and some form of rehabilitative action. Disciplinary actions can include demotions, temporary suspensions, termination, or job reassignment when appropriate.2 In jobs with high safety risks, allowing the employee to return to the same position without rehabilitation is usually not an option.
Accountability and Fairness
Unfair dismissal claims brought by employees to Fair Work Australia are common. Employers are held accountable for the wording of the policies and the administration and communication of the policies. Policies and procedures must be reasonable and fair. When an employee is dismissed, the employer must be able to prove each step was completed and that the employee was not treated any differently than any other employee who tests positive for drugs or alcohol.
CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) can help employers fulfill their responsibilities to accurately and fairly administer drug and alcohol policies and procedures. CMM Technology has a wide selection of testing supplies and equipment that are reliable, accurate, and dependable.
- Department of Justice and Attorney-General. (2012, July 12). Framework for alcohol and drug management in the workplace. Retrieved from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland: http://bit.ly/1kjYvIy
- An employee has tested positive to drugs. Now what? (2012, December 10). Retrieved from HRDaily: http://bit.ly/Mx4P12