Should Companies Test for Alcohol?

With alcohol having legal status as an intoxicant, workplace testing for alcohol usage isn’t as clear cut as illicit drug testing (which isn’t that clear cut, either).  What is legal in one state is prohibited in another, making laws about alcohol testing in the workplace a veritable minefield across the country that can cause problems for those who are unprepared and even those who think they are prepared.

Alcohol Prevalence

But, considering the numbers on alcohol abuse, it could be worth the effort for some companies to test for it. According to the 2013 national Survey on Drug Use and Health, 66% of full-time employed adults aged 18 or older drank, while 30% said they engaged in binge drinking within the past month. Among the 58.5 million adults who were binge drinkers, 44.5 million (76%) were employed either full- or part-time. Among the 16.2 million adults who were heavy drinkers, 12.4 million (76%) were employed.

“If a workplace does  not have a comprehensive drug testing program that includes alcohol testing then they are subjecting their workplace to the potential of more accidents, more disability claims, more injuries on the job, and more harassment claims – just because they do not have a comprehensive testing program,” said Gus Stieber, director of clinical outreach services at Kiva Recovery.

However, simply enacting an alcohol testing policy is no simple task, particularly with alcohol being a legal substance.

Separation

Companies should keep alcohol testing and drug testing policies separate, says Daniel Finerty, a management-side labor and employment attorney with Linder & Marsack, S.C. in Milwaukee, WI.

“Problems typically arise when an employer’s policy fails to recognize that alcohol is lawful to purchase, possess, transport and consume,” Finerty said.

As a first step toward creating an alcohol testing policy, Finerty recommended companies check for any federal, state and local laws that could potentially affect their proposed policy. To help with this, they should engage the help of a knowledgeable employment lawyer who has experience advising companies.

As an example of the varying laws that companies have to look out for, Finerty points to Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, which all have laws to protect people from termination or discipline for alcohol usage (or usage of any lawful product) outside of working hours based on its legal status.

Marijuana Policy Needed in Workplace

“Whether it is legal or not,” Dr. Dale Masi, a noted EA professional and researcher told the Bermuda Royal Gazette, “you have to have a policy protecting your rights of the employer and the employee regarding marijuana in the workplace. People don’t realize that they can still be fired or referred to the EAP if medical marijuana affects their job.”

Here is the ten-point policy as presented by Dr. Masi.

  1. The company will inform all of its employees on its marijuana policy.
  2. The company will ensure that the policy on marijuana has included input from its various stakeholders.
  3. The company will train supervisors on their responsibility in implementing the policy on marijuana in the workplace.
  4. The company will educate its employee assistance program on its policy.
  5. The employer can request evidence of a prescription for marijuana if an employee states he/she is taking cannabis for a medical reason.
  6. The company may have a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana use by employees during work hours. “Medical marijuana may be legal, but workers should beware that employment protections may not extend to marijuana use in the workplace.” (Bononi Law Group, LLP)
  7. The company has zero-tolerance if an employee chooses to utilize prescription medical marijuana during work hours, resulting n impaired job performance.
  8. The company has a zero tolerance for positive marijuana drug test results.
  9. The company holds the right to have a mandatory EAP referral or “last-chance agreement” if the manager deems necessary.
  10. The employer needs to determine the role of the EAP in working with employees with marijuana use and/or abuse.

Dr. Masi can be reached at dalemasi@eapmasi.com

Both articles are from the Employee Assistance Report, Volume 18, No 9, September 2015

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