Would You Take the Test?
July 14, 2006
You stroll into work, ready to take on another day. Your office manager, in a shaking voice, tells you, "Bobby got in an accident in our service truck. He's been arrested for drunk driving."
You can't breathe, like the air itself abandoned ship in the wake of this bad news. You fall into a chair and ask, "Did anyone get hurt?"
"The woman driving the other car was taken to the hospital. Bobby seems to be OK."
There is a voice inside you screaming, "You knew this would happen. You suspected that Bobby was nipping on the job! You just couldn't handle losing him. You kept telling yourself that he was just a bit hung-over from the night before. That maybe he was simply not feeling well, and that's why he looked so bad. You knew all along that trouble was brewing but you didn't want to believe it!" So you ignored it. And now...
You spend the rest of the day on the phone with doctors, lawyers, consultants, family members, police officers. Your business feels like it is disintegrating, like flood-ravaged riverbanks. Will you lose everything you've worked for? And what about the poor woman in the hospital?
OK, you can wake up now. I couldn't bear to write anymore of that story! Too grim. Your worst nightmare. And if this story really shook you up, is it because you know it could happen to you? Sure.
No one in business escapes the possibility of something like this happening. But if you take a stand on drinking and drug use in your company before this scene unfolds, you have a much better chance at surviving the trauma, both emotionally and financially.
A "Near-Miss" StoryA friend of mine recently shared this story with me:
"I never thought we would have a drug problem at our company. Our company is small - three trucks. And we have a ‘drug-free' workplace policy in effect. We test all new hires and perform random testing of all employees. My wife and I have dreams of building a $2-million service company. She wants to spend more time at home; I want to devote myself to big picture planning and business development.
"I had high hopes for our senior service tech, Zach. He had been with us for a couple of years. Zach is a people person! Everybody loves him. He could smooth out any customer complaint. We know that eventually having a first-rate service manager is a key to making our dreams come true. With Zach, we were pinching ourselves. We thought we had found the management mother lode!
"This was the first clue that slipped by me: he told us had a DUI on his record. But, he assured us that his drinking problem was in the past. He tested clean when he was hired.
"I wondered about the DUI. Should I press further? Or would I be prying into his personal life? If the guy is working out his problems, is it any business of mine? I let it go. I think I was justifying my lack of action because I really wanted to hire Zach. I could see my dream on the horizon! When he started, he was everything I hoped for. He was doing a great job.
"At least for a while. Looking back, all the signs were there: lots of missed work, cash tickets had disappeared. Zach was fidgety and nervous all the time. His wife was divorcing him but, well, I liked him and felt sorry for him. So it was hard for me to lay the missing money on him.
"Ultimately, one of the other guys told me that Zach had a real problem. It seemed that the rest of the team had had it with Zach. They wanted me to boot him right then and there. They were tired of his lies. Man, this was like a slap in the face. I had no idea how displeased everyone was.
"But shouldn't we help Zach? Our drug-free policy states that we will help rehabilitate an employee with a drug problem if they are willing to go into treatment. I confronted Zach and he broke down. Yes, he was drinking, using crack (crack!?) and his life was out of control. He said he would go into treatment. He begged me to give him a chance.
"Zach entered a drug rehab clinic for a month, and returned to work. He was clean and ready to give it his best. But when I approached him to take a random drug test a week later, he quit on the spot.
"Man, it was a roller coaster ride for the whole company. The other employees felt betrayed by Zach. Drug addiction affects everyone in the company. The rest of my team was critical of me for giving him so many chances. It will take a bit of time for us to win back their trust.
"Looking back, I realize that this could happen again. Life is tough and drugs are handy. But we must keep drunk or drugged drivers out of the trucks. Now we do an extensive search on all DMV checks.
"The employees we have now are proud to work in a drug-free environment. They don't want to work with drug users. We made mistakes along the way but we followed through on our drug-free policy. Thank goodness. I shudder to think what might have happened."
Some Guidelines for Establishing and Maintaining a Drug-Free WorkplaceThere's not a cookie-cutter program that will work for all companies. This is a sensitive topic. Take time to create a policy that you can live with. Check out this webpage for good information on drug-free workplace policy: www.dol.gov/dol/asp/public/programs/drugs/howto.html
The basic steps are:
1. Write a substance abuse policy.
2. Train the supervisors.
3. Educate your employees.
4. Determine your employee assistance provisions. You might not choose to adopt a "We want to help you" policy like my friend has. You can opt to terminate all offenders upon positive test. The choice is up to you and should be well thought out.
5. Do drug and alcohol testing. However, this is not the first step! Many contractors get on the drug-free bandwagon and start testing. Don't! Also, insist on chain-of-custody testing if you use an outsourced testing party. That means they follow the urine sample from employee to testing lab.
Consider hiring a consultant with drug-free workplace policy experience. This process is loaded with legal land mines! Call an expert. The very least you can do for your customers is send a drug-free service technician to their home.
Keep in mind that prescription drugs do not trigger a violation of your drug-free policy. In the first story, if a drug test had found only prescription drugs in the urine sample, Bobby would be off the hook legally, as would you. But, frankly, I find that disturbing. As I flip through popular magazines and see multi-page ads for Prozac and Claritin, I wonder at the definition of "drug free." Our society accepts that it's OK to tamper with body chemistry. So I suggest that you look yourself straight in the eye (you might need a mirror for this) and confront your own beliefs and habits. Once upon a time as a manager, I confronted a drug-dealing employee who told me she was selling drugs to the owner! Are you ready to play the game that you ask your employees to play? Would you take the test?
Now is the perfect time to reflect and make changes. Give yourself the gift of a drug-free workplace. Confront your own demons. Elevate your standards. Your company is a reflection of you.