You may think that it’s obvious: drugs and alcohol are not allowed in the workplace. Period. However, you may be surprised to find that it’s a lot more complicated than that. In fact, if you don’t have a written drug and alcohol policy, you might not even be able to fire employees who are intoxicated at work!
Make sure that your candidate reference check looks into drug and alcohol related criminal histories, so you can avoid bad hiring from the start, and use the following tips to prevent other workplace problems:
The Culture Effect
One of the trickiest things about developing a drug and alcohol policy in Australia is that in many ways, our culture is fairly lenient and drinking friendly. In fact, according to studies, 90% of the Australian workforce drinks alcohol, and recreational drug use is on the rise.
There’s a common practice in many workplaces to enjoy drinks at work, just before or after closing time, and it’s one way that teams bond.
There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it does make defining what is and what is not acceptable a little tougher.
While it’s okay to maintain the tradition of heading to the local after work, there are legal requirements to consider when it comes to alcohol use in the workplace. Many of these relate to occupational health and safety, and the legal liability that is attached to those regulations.
When it comes to drug use, while few employers want to dictate what people do in their down time, employees should be aware that illegal drugs are not allowed in the workplace, and those who are required to do drug and alcohol testing for work sites need to know that it’s a serious offence to test positive.
Getting It in Writing
The most important element of any drug and alcohol policy is that it must be drafted in accordance with the law, and that it must be in writing. Employees should also sign and date the policy for retention in their employee file, to prove that they have received and read the document, in the event of any future disciplinary action.
Setting a Precedent
One of the biggest pitfalls in policy setting is when companies say one thing, but do another. Even if you have a written policy in place, if your managers are knowingly looking the other way for one or more employees, then you are opening yourself up for lawsuits if you try to enforce the policies with someone else. Once the rules are set, they must be applied equally to everyone – both during a candidate reference check and after employment is finalized.
Enforcing a Drug and Alcohol Policy
Your D&A policy should include details of what disciplinary measures may be taken, and under what circumstances. Remember that different measures may apply to different employees, for instance, an office worker who does not endanger someone may be issued a written warning, while a staff member who operates machinery under the influence may be subject to suspension or termination.
Make sure that your policy includes information about how and when employees will be tested for drug and alcohol use, and what their rights are.
Finally, make sure that your policy also takes into account legislation that views drug and alcohol abuse as a disease, and outline how employees who undergo treatment will be treated and supported.
There’s a big difference between use and abuse when it comes to most substances, but one thing is sure: there’s no place for substance abuse in the workplace!