The Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA) was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan 25 years ago. The law---written narrowly for companies engaged in business with the federal government as a contractor or grant recipient---has been misunderstood and misconstrued over the years, says employment law specialist Kimberlie Ryan. Myths and misinformation notwithstanding, the DFWA has contributed to a greater understanding of substance abuse. According to a study by Quest Diagnostics, a major industrial drug-testing firm, it has effectively reduced illegal drug use at work. However, the findings also indicate that supervisors still need to be vigilant about the issue.
That's the takeaway from a recent Wall Street Journal story that points out some areas of concern in the data. For instance, Quest found that "Positive workplace tests for cocaine and marijuana have gone down sharply over the past two decades." But government studies also show that marijuana use is rising, which may indicate that workers are more sophisticated when it comes to passing drug tests.
More troubling is the dramatic increase in prescription drug use. Quest found that positive tests for amphetamines, which include prescription drugs such as Adderall, more than doubled between 2002 and 2012. And positive tests for the painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin rose 172% and 71%, respectively, from 2005 to last year. A valid prescription may excuse drug use by an employee, but "even when used under prescription, these drugs can have an impact on workplace safety," Barry Sample, the director of drug-testing technology for Quest, told the Journal. For the supervisor, there is still the gray area of whether such drug use is impairing an employee's performance.
What about states that have legalized the use of marijuana?
The passage of initiatives legalizing the use of marijuana in states such as Washington and Colorado, should not be construed to mean that your company's workplace drug testing policy has changed, especially if the employer does business with the federal government. Federal law still considers marijuana illegal. Contact your HR Department if you have questions about your company's policy.
What can the supervisor do?
If you suspect an employee's drug use, legal or illegal, is affecting his or her performance or disturbing workplace harmony, your EAP and Human Resource Department can guide you through the proper steps to get help for the employee. "In the long run, what you want to do is help people get into recovery," said Robert DuPont, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's the best thing for both employee and employer.
Documenting A Performance Issue: Key Factors
Most troubled employees are frustrated and defensive when confronted with a problem because of their inability to self-treat or resolve it on their own. This can lead to denial and an adverse reaction to the confrontation. The employee may focus on inaccuracies in your documentation rather than the "spirit" of the message. This means your documentation must be accurate, detailed and written with the understanding that the employee will be looking for mistakes.
The least effective corrective memos omit specifics, use subjective language, focus on the employee's personal issues rather than work issues or use psychological terms that refer to personality rather than behavior. The next time you are considering a corrective interview, contact your HR department so that you know your workplace policies. Then, consult with an employee assistance professional will walk you through the Do's and Don'ts of the process and help you avoid documentation missteps.
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Written by Dan Feerst, MSW,LISW-CP