Drug and Alcohol Addiction in High-Stakes Organizations

July 25, 2017 by John Collins MA, SHRM-SCP

The spectre of what has become a public epidemic can find its way even into organizations having great public importance.  A recent high-profile incident coming out of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s laboratory in Pensacola provides good justification to remain vigilant.

Circumstances leading to a full-scale crisis began to emerge when investigators at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in Pensacola discovered that prescription pain killer evidence in its evidence control unit had been replaced with similar looking over-the-counter preparations. As the investigation progressed, however, it reportedly became obvious that the common thread to all the tainted evidence was not a sheriff’s department employee but rather a single forensic chemist at the FDLE’s Pensacola regional laboratory who conducted the analyses.

Other incidents have surfaced in Delaware, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, as drug and alcohol abuse continue their assault on the American workforce, leaders of high-stakes organizations will have to confront the problem with a degree of urgency that, until now, was not necessarily possible due to the complexity of the problem from an organizational management perspective.

Drug and alcohol abuse are not quality assurance problems that can be neatly resolved with accreditation requirements or quality system policies. Drug and alcohol abuse, rather, are highly sensitive HR management challenges whose remedies are limited by a number of factors and influences, such as:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Existing labor contracts
  • Collective bargaining practices
  • Parent agency policies and procedures
  • Local and State civil service rules

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the cost of drug use to employers in the American economy is about $75 billion to $100 billion every year. But in forensic science and other quality-intensive industries, the impact of addiction goes far beyond monetary or economic damages. The human cost is equally compelling though impossible to quantify.

Workplace Drug Testing

Just as complex as drug abuse in the workplace is the practice of testing employees for possible drug use. Typically, workplace drug testing falls into one of two categories: pre-employment and post-employment. Pre-employment drug testing, or the screening of a job candidate prior to hiring, is generally easy to do because it is voluntary. If a job candidate doesn’t want to be screened, then he or she can look for work elsewhere.

But for existing employees, the implementation of a new workplace drug testing program can be a challenge, but it is not insurmountable.

First, workplace drug testing that is exclusively random is not a reliable program for screening employees. Policies governing the random selection of employees for drug screening is good practice, but must be accompanied by a “reasonable suspicion clause” as well as a “post- incident” clause that allows the employer to test an employee when there is a good reason to suspect that an employee may be using illicit drugs, or following an workplace accident or failure that could have been caused by impaired performance resulting from drug abuse. The key is to avoid any appearance of illegal discrimination or the violation

of an employee’s legitimate right to of privacy.