Deviant Behavior in the Workplace
Reporting Child Sex-Abuse in Light of the Penn State Situation

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Programs to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for business and industry including lost productivity, injuries, an increase the health insurance claims, theft, and problems with employee morale. The loss to companies in the United States due to alcohol and drug-related abuse by employees totals $100 billion a year, according to the The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI). This staggering number does not include the cost of diverting company resources that could be used for other purposes toward addressing substance abuse issues. Nor does it include the "pain and suffering.”

A national survey of more than 1,000 human resources professionals conducted by the nonprofit Hazelden Foundation shows that while substance abuse and addiction are recognized as among the most serious problems faced in the workplace, employer policies and practices are not fully addressing the problem. The survey also found that although most companies offer employee assistance programs, many do not openly and effectively deal with employee substance abuse issues, do not refer employees to treatment programs, and face barriers that prevent them from helping employees seek and receive addiction treatment.

According to NCADI statistics, alcohol and drug users:

  • Are far less productive.
  • Use three times as many sick days.
  • Are more likely to injure themselves or someone else.
  • Are five times more likely to file worker's compensation claims.

One survey found that nine percent of heavy drinkers and 10 percent of drug users had missed work because of a hangover, six percent had gone to work high or drunk in the past year, and 11 percent of heavy drinkers and 18 percent of drug users had skipped work in the past month.

Surprisingly, new research by the Christian Science Monitor shows it is the social drinkers - not the hard-core alcoholics or problem drinkers - who are responsible for most of lost productivity. The study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. Twenty-three percent of upper managers and 11 percent of first-line supervisors reported having a drink during the workday, compared with only eight percent of hourly employees. The study also found that 21 percent of employees said their own productivity had been affected because of a co-worker's drinking.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly supports comprehensive drug-free workforce programs, especially within certain workplace environments, such as those involving safety-sensitive duties like operating machinery. A comprehensive drug-free workforce approach includes five components—a policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance, and drug testing. Such programs, especially when drug testing is included, must be reasonable and take into consideration employee rights to privacy.

OSHA works closely small businesses through the US Department of Labor's Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace program to help employers ensure their health and safety plans are enhanced through workplace drug prevention. Small Businesses are less likely than their larger counterparts to have mechanisms in place to prevent workplace substance abuse—despite being more likely to suffer from its negative impact.

The good news is that small businesses have enormous power to improve the safety and health of their workplaces and employees by implementing drug-free workplace programs that educate employees about the dangers of drug abuse and encourage individuals with related problems to seek help. Such programs help reduce occupational injuries and illnesses and send a clear signal that employers care about the safety and health of their employees.

I teach my students about business ethics and social responsibility. Businesses have a responsibility to provide for a safe workplace and to deal quickly and effectively with behaviors that potentially harm an employee, fellow employees, and those in the community. Providing for an alcohol and substance abuse-free workplace requires a commitment to ethical behavior. Concerned employers should address the issue in their code of ethics and provide training to employees on just how to handle a situation when they are the substance abuser or know of someone in the organization who is an abuser. The key is to be proactive and not wait for a harmful event to take place and then get serious about a matter that affects all in the workplace.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 14, 2011