Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Does Your Reasonable Suspicion Alcohol and Drug Policy Jive With Reality?

Is trouble brewing for your company’s drug-free workplace policy and its prohibitions because they do not match reality? DOT Supervisor Training may be more difficult if your policy is not examined and made clear with respect to your work culture and what you are trying to accomplish.

In other words, do you risk of a blow-up and organizational crisis because the policy, as written, interferes with the drinking practices of high-functioning, top management and corporate executives who run the organization? It’s the elephant in the living room – or I should say in the boardroom with many employers.
Employees drinking beer and booze at lunch

Some companies have zero tolerance policies that state no alcohol may be consumed before coming to work, at at lunch during the work day, or before  the employee's return to the workplace at any time. They focus on consumption around the use of the substance, not performance related symptoms of the disease of alcoholism.

This can be a mistake when it comes to alcohol use. Illicit drugs are a different matter altogether.

Some hospitals have very strict policies. And who can blame with them with amount of risk to patients from an employee who came back to work with one too many. Sounds logical and fitting to implement, right? Maybe not.
Be careful when implementing a zero-tolerance policy so that you get buy-in from top management--you may have alcoholics working in the organization in powerful positions who will fight your efforts.

Better than a zero tolerance policy is one that focuses on performance and behavior, being "under the influence" when returning to work, and signs and symptoms that indicate an employees is not fit for duty.

Alcoholics usually do not appear under the influence, even when drunk on the job because of tolerance. And here is something to consider: Can a VP of marketing go out to lunch and have three martinis, but the mail room clerk get fired for the same thing and having a "breath on" -- no different than the VP of marketing?

Alcohol is a legal, addictive intoxicant for 10% of drinkers. These policies can get very sticky once they are implemented. The bottom line is this: You can’t author a zero tolerance policy without an accommodation provision for addicts, or at least the organization's alcoholics. Attempting to do so will cause alcoholic employees to hide or if the power exists, have the policy indiscriminately applied, or rejected by top management altogether who feel they have a right to keep a fifth of liquor in the boardroom.

Trust the research—if you have more than say 20 top management employees, you have an alcoholic in top management. Alcoholism affects approximately 7% of the workforce – 70% of employees (conservatively) drink beverage alcohol.

Many employers are burying their heads in the sand. The “zero” tolerance alcohol and drug abuse policy is not adding up because top management will not comply and ultimately exempt themselves from it. 

If a municipality wants to write a zero tolerance, day long policy, can they force employees not to consume a legal substance at lunch off site on their own time?

What about a hospital with employees caring for very ill patients? One hospital I worked for attempted to write a zero tolerance policy and it was immediately confronted by the hospital medical staff physicians. They were not about to comply with it. And no one could force them to do so. The Vice President of the Medical Staff – with interesting drinking practices, himself, led the rebellion.

These doctors wanted to drink alcohol during the work day at lunch, or whenever. They weren't about to be restricted in their alcohol use. That meant going back to work with a positive BAL. 
The Federal government has had the same problem for a long time where thousands of federal workers find watering at holes during the lunch hour to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which could cause them to leave work early if they experience agitation, or drink from a bottle of booze in the desk drawer.

Alcoholism is a disease, and the symptoms of it are manifested by the alcoholic’s inability to decide when they will drink, how much they will consume on any particular drinking occasion, and what the consequences will be—indirectly or directly—for consuming alcohol. This describes “loss of control.”

Most alcohol and drug policies are faulty. They are written with the assumption that any one can control their alcohol abuse and use, or addiction at any time. That is what a zero tolerance policy is predicted on.

Policies could be written for abstinence for everyone to follow, and then when violated, users could be referred to an employee assistance program or other occupational alcoholism assessment. But this does not happen in reality or with those at the top who control the organization.

Alcoholism is also characterized by tolerance to alcohol. This means the ability to drink more over time, not feel its effects, appear sober, drink larger quantities than non-alcoholics, and appear functional, even with a high blood alcohol
This is a big problem with drug-free workplace policies that try to impose all-day abstinence on all workers.
The rate of alcoholism in Great Britain is much higher than in the USA—for males about 25% of the workforce. Ditto Australia and Russia. In the UK, it is illegal to take action against a worker for being drunk on the job where the only evidence is alcohol on the breath. Behavioral cues that are documentable performance issues must be used as the criteria for a reasonable suspicion drug test or other job action associated with intoxicant use.
This phenomenon is a big problem for drug free workplace policies that are written to be zero tolerance documents. A zero tolerance policy usually states that an employee will be fired for being drunk on the job or abusing drugs on the job.

How do we deal with the issue of tolerance as described above? And how do we deal with alcoholics in withdrawal? How do we address use of alcohol during the workday for those who will not be noticed because of high tolerance.

Can employees drink during the workday at lunch? How many drinks? Can we control employees’ behavior at lunch on their own time? What about employees in withdrawal because of alcohol addiction who must drink at lunch or appear dysfunctional in the afternoon unable to contain their physical symptoms, hide them, or show dysfunction because of withdrawal symptoms. All of this leads to risk, absenteeism, and productivity costs of one type or another.

You better answer these questions before signing off on that drug-free workplace policy that you are calling zero tolerance. Zero tolerance policies are great in theory, but without treatment and accommodation provisions within them for addicts, they cause employees to hide their drinking and drug use, and increase risk to the organization. And employees who control the organization will write themselves an exemption.

There is nothing more problematic than a drug-free workplace policy that is zero tolerance, meaning that employees are fired for abusing drugs on the job or having a positive blood alcohol level. Ultimately, it will be discriminatory.
Here’s why: Employees who are alcoholic MUST possess a positive blood alcohol level, and if they do not, they go into withdrawal and may not be able to function on the job and ward off withdrawal symptoms like shaking, being tremulous, cravings for a drink, and mood swings associated with this condition.

When I authored the drug free workplace policy at a hospital 25 years ago, the policy was written from a risk management viewpoint. The policy stated that employees may not consume alcohol or drugs during the workday or off campus at lunch during the work day. It sounded great.  Medical doctors were not required to comply with the policy. And they refused, making it a power issue.

Doctors control hospitals, not hospital administrators. Remember that. He who owns the gold makes the rules. And medical doctors report to head doctors. And if that doctor is a lunch time drinker, or keeps a bottle of booze in their office, all bets are off.

Medical doctors who are alcoholic, depending on the progression of their illness, must go to lunch and drink, drink in the hospital, and if necessary return to work intoxicated—even surgeons.

So, in theory, at a hospital where medical doctors are exempt from a drug and alcohol policy, it is permissible for the doctors to consume alcohol during the workday, and potentially be drunk on the job. They do their own thing at the peril of the community.

At last report, the drug-free workplace policy at the hospital where I work still does not apply to physicians--only to other employees in the hospital. Medical staff reserves the right to consume alcohol before work, during the work day, late afternoon, or at any time they choose. Perhaps none of the medical staff drink during the work day—but do you believe that? Get non-dot supervisor training or DOT supervisor training

No comments:

Post a Comment