At each step of these guidelines, consultation must take place with workers, TWU Delegates, Health and Safety Representatives, the Health and Safety Committee and the TWU. The purpose of the consultation at this stage is to develop a level of trust, gain transparency and establish the level of support for addressing the issue of drug and/or alcohol in the workplace.”1
Developing a level of trust and transparency are two critical elements of a drug and alcohol testing program. That trust must be established between the management and the workers being tested through the development and implementation of policies that are fair and defensible. Perhaps the best way to explain the importance of trust in workplace drug and alcohol programs is to consider how employees perceive the employer’s testing program.
In a study published in the Oxford Journals, this very issue was studied. The study analysed supervisor tolerance-responsiveness to troubled employees. Tolerance in this context is dysfunctional in that the drug and alcohol policies and procedures are randomly and inconsistently enforced. For example, employees working with a hangover are tolerated despite the fact they present a safety hazard. In this study, there were two overall factors found that facilitate responsiveness: 1) a workplace climate that supports discussion between supervisors and employees concerning a drug or alcohol problem; and 2) positive support for the Employee Assurance Program (EAP).2
In other words, a workplace where employees are willing to admit a substance abuse problem to a supervisor and accept help from the EAP represents a responsive environment. Unfortunately not all employers have gained the trust of their employees for a number of reasons.3
- Employees believe managers are not properly trained thus placing burden of detection on co-workers
- Over-reliance by the employer on the reasonable suspicion policy
- Under utilisation of random testing meaning many substance abusers are not getting caught and are thus jeopardising workplace safety
- Policy is seen as primarily covering legal liability and is not for the purpose of protecting worker safety or helping co-workers with a drug or alcohol problem
- Belief that testing confidentiality is not maintained
Small thoughtless acts can harm employee perceptions of a workplace drug and alcohol testing program. For example, does the supervisor pick up the phone and call Human Resources upon suspicion an employee is using drugs and talk loudly enough so others can hear? Does the department manager make remarks about particular employees that make others falsely believe the employees are abusing drugs? Are there particular employees that always seem to get picked during random drug testing and are required to take a saliva drug test?
As the Transport Workers Union guidelines indicate, the employer must consult with employees and their representatives about the drug and alcohol testing program to build trust. The program must achieve a level of trust, transparency and support. Other important ingredients for an effective program include:4
- Clear communication of policies and procedures
- Use of established (Australian) standards for cut off testing levels so limits are not arbitrary
- Providing supervisor and employee training
- Diligently guarding the privacy of employees
- Establishing and communicating the steps taken if an employee refuses testing or tests positive
- Using quality testing equipment with proven accuracy
The employer should never condone violations of the drug and alcohol policies and procedures. In addition, testing equipment should be reliable and meet industry standards like the Oraline Saliva or the Lion SD 400 tests. Establishing reasonable and fair policies and using consistent enforcement are the quickest ways to develop employee trust. The substance abuse policies should not be used as tools for showing favouritism or for meting out punishments. It should only represent an honest attempt to maintain a safe working environment for all members of the organisation.
Consultants at CMM Technology http://www.cmm.com.au/ are ready to assist employers with developing their drug testing program in addition to selection of the best drug testing equipment or laboratory services. The quality of the testing program has a direct impact on the level of trust placed in the drug and alcohol tests.
1. Transport Workers Union of Australia. (2011). Transport Workers Union Guidelines for Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Transport Workers Union of Australia – VIC/TAS Branch: www.twu.asn.au/info/general/Document/get/673/documentId/
2. Lehman, J. B. (2001, March 2). Supervisor Tolerance-Responsiveness to Substance Abuse and Workplace Prevention Training: Use of a Cognitive Mapping Tool. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Oxford Journals: http://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/1/27.full#sec-11
4. Rauf, B., & Elgar, B. (2010). Fitness for Duty in the Mining Industry – A Legal Perspective. Retrieved March 19, 2011, from Queensland Resources Council: www.qrc.org.au/…/_dbase…/humphreys_Fitness%20for%20Duty.pdf – Similar