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Small Businesses Most Vulnerable

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have big disadvantages. They are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms that don’t have one, and the cost of just one error caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small company.

Among the population of full-time employed current illicit drug users:

  • 44% work for small establishments (1-24 employees)
  • 43% work for medium establishments (25-499 employees)
  • 13% work for large establishments (500 or more employees)

Among the population of full-time employed heavy drinkers:

  • 36% work for small establishments
  • 47% work for medium establishments
  • 17% work for large establishments

How does substance abuse impact your workplace?

"I know all of my employees personally. Substance abuse isn’t a problem in our workplace."

"It would be obvious if one of our employees was using drugs or alcohol at work."

Fortunately, comments like these are no longer as common as they once were as a result of the significant strides that have been made in educating employers about substance abuse and how it can affect the workplace. There is still, however, a great deal of denial as well as numerous misconceptions among many employers about who is using illicit drugs and alcohol, and how this can directly impact their bottom line. The following statistics and anecdotes are intended to further educate and inform employers about the prevalence of substance abuse in the workplace, the impact that it has on the workplace and employees, and the benefits that employers have experienced as the result of implementing prevention programs.

  • Construction workers (15.6%), sales personnel (11.4%), food preparation, wait staff, and bartenders (11.2%), handlers, helpers, and laborers (10.6%,) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use.2

  • The occupational categories with above-average rates of heavy alcohol use, in addition to construction, were handlers, helpers, and laborers (15.7%), machine operators and inspectors (13.5%), transportation and material movers (13.1%), precision production and repair workers (13.1%), and employees in food preparation, including wait staff and bartenders (12.2%).2

  • According to a national survey conducted by the Hazelden Foundation, more than 60% of adults know people who have gone to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.3

What Are the Requirements of the Act?

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires some Federal contractors and all Federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a Federal agency. Although all covered contractors and grantees must maintain a drug-free workplace, the specific components necessary to meet the requirements of the Act vary based on whether the contractor or grantee is an individual or an organization. The requirements for organizations are more extensive, because organizations have to take comprehensive, programmatic steps to achieve a workplace free of drugs.

All organizations covered by the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 are required to provide a drug-free workplace by taking the following steps:

  1. Publish and give a policy statement to all covered employees informing them that the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession or use of a controlled substance is prohibited in the covered workplace and specifying the actions that will be taken against employees who violate the policy.

  2. Establish a drug-free awareness program to make employees aware of a) the dangers of drug abuse in the workplace; b) the policy of maintaining a drug-free workplace; c) any available drug counseling, rehabilitation, and employee assistance programs; and d) the penalties that may be imposed upon employees for drug abuse violations.

  3. Notify employees that as a condition of employment on a Federal contract or grant, the employee must a) abide by the terms of the policy statement; and b) notify the employer, within five calendar days, if he or she is convicted of a criminal drug violation in the workplace.

  4. Notify the contracting agency within 10 days after receiving notice that a covered employee has been convicted of a criminal drug violation in the workplace.

  5. Impose a penalty on—or require satisfactory participation in a drug abuse assistance or rehabilitation program by—any employee who is convicted of a reportable workplace drug conviction.

  6. Make an ongoing, good faith effort to maintain a drug-free workplace by meeting the requirements of the Act.

Note: A contractor or grantee who fails to comply with these requirements is subject to certain penalties. A contractor or grantee who fails to carry out the requirements of the Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988 can be penalized in one or more of the following ways:

  • Payments for contract or grant activities may be suspended.
  • Contract or grant may be suspended or terminated.
  • Contractor or grantee may be prohibited from receiving, or participating in, any future contracts or grants awarded by any Federal agency for a specified period, not to exceed five years.

Compliance with the Act’s requirements is reviewed as part of normal Federal contract and grant administration and auditing procedures. For more information, please contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (202) 693-5919 or visit their Web site at

Developing an effective program that strikes the right balance can be a challenging task. A comprehensive drug-free workplace program includes a clear policy, employee education, supervisor training, an Employee Assistance Program and drug testing (remember that drug testing is only one part of a drug-free workplace and is not a required component in many work sites).

1 US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Programs: Results from the 1994 and 1997 NHSDA. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.

2 "An Analysis of Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Programs." Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Rockville, MD. July 1997.

3"Addiction in the Workplace Survey." October 22, 1996. Hazelden Foundation. Center City, MN.

Drug-Free Workplaces
and Employee Assistance Programs

A critical component of a drug-free workplace program is providing assistance or support to employees who have problems with alcohol and other drugs.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are generally the most effective vehicle for addressing poor workplace performance that may stem from an employee’s personal problems, including the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. EAPs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families and clearly demonstrate employers’ respect for their staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and minimize an employer’s legal vulnerability by demonstrating efforts to support employees. In addition to counseling and referrals, many EAPs offer other related services such as supervisor training and employee education.

At a minimum, businesses should maintain a resource file from which employees can access information about community-based resources, treatment programs and helplines.

Employee Assistance Program
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can be a valuable resource for both employees and managers and can play an important role in your drug-free workplace program. An EAP is a worksite-focused program designed to assist in the identification and resolution of productivity problems associated with personal problems, such as alcohol and/or drug abuse. The Department of Labor website takes you, step by step, through the elements of an EAP and how it works to benefit everyone in the workplace.

How does an EAP support your drug-free workplace program?
Since EAP services typically mirror the components of a drug-free workplace program, putting an EAP in place may go a long way towards building your drug-free workplace program.

Once contracted with Employee Assistance Services (EAS), you will have a partner in your policy development, supervisor training and employee education. EAS will complement and support your drug-free workplace program in a unique way. By encouraging employees to seek assistance with a variety of emotional issues and day-to-day problems, EAS is in a position to identify employees who have developed problems with drugs and/or alcohol before there are problems at work. Furthermore, EAS gives your supervisors tools for dealing with troubled employees, while allowing them to remain focused on employees' work performance, rather than on employees' personal lives.

The EAP component of a drug-free workplace program maximizes the health and efficiency of the workforce while conveying a caring attitude on the part of the employer. Organizations that have EAPs as part of their drug-free workplace program have adopted a prevention and treatment approach to alcohol and drug problems. This means that employees are encouraged to come forward on their own to seek help, and those who are identified as using prohibited drugs are offered treatment and education. By addressing personal problems early, EAS can help prevent employees from starting to use alcohol or drugs in misguided attempts to relieve pressure and stress. EAS can help to properly assess and refer the employee who has problems to the most appropriate level of help.

EAS supports three important ideas in a drug-free workplace:

  1. Employees are a vital part of business and valuable members of the team.
  2. It is better to offer assistance to employees than to fire them.
  3. Recovering employees can, once again, become productive and effective members of the workforce.

Including EAS as part of your drug-free workplace reflects a concern about the well being of employees and represents a distinctly different approach from that of "test and terminate." Employers who adopt the "test and terminate" approach attempt to achieve a drug-free workplace by eliminating and discarding drug-using employees without offering treatment or opportunities for recovery.

In addition to offering EAS, you can choose to help employees by allowing a reasonable period of time off the job to participate in treatment as well as adequate benefits coverage for the treatment of addiction.

If you would like to discuss how to introduce and implement a Drug-Free Workplace program at your organization, please contact Bonnie Black, Director of EAS.

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