The Costs Of Illegal Drug Use In The Workplace

Drugs are a powerful antagonist to success. Liability and risk increase exponentially for the drug user, their family, and even their employers. As drug use prevails in the United States of America, organizations have to find ways to mitigate the effects upon their interests as illicit drug use continues to make its way into the workplace through the workforce.

Employees who struggle with substance abuse fight the battle twenty-four hours a day and the battle does not end just because they punched in the time clock at work. Very few people would admit to struggling with drug addiction and even fewer would admit to drug use at work. Despite having a drug use policy that discourages drug use at work, companies have found that there is no real deterrent to eradicate drug users totally from their payroll.

After all, drug users need jobs too, especially if they are trying to support a habit. In order to develop policies that truly protect the interests of the organization considerations must be given to the costs of illegal drug use in the workplace.

The Costs Of Illegal Drug Use In The Workplace

Balance of Costs

Organizations must have a realistic and balanced approach to the implementation and administration of their drug policies. There are a selection of strategies that companies will utilize in an attempt to eliminate drug use within their organizations.  One perspective is to assume a combative role where the management team not only adopts a zero tolerance policy as most organizations do, they aggressively pursue opportunities to make examples out of employees that violate policies.

The use of intimidation does have work as a deterrent, but it also has an impact on the culture of the workplace. In order to maximize the productivity of the business, the culture has to be based on trust and management should strive for win/win scenarios.

Another policy that seems to prevail in today’s tolerant culture is that of non-confrontation. Tolerance does not mean looking the other way. The structure of these types of policies are less astringent and do not aggressively pursue potential violators. The program will not require drug screens as a part of pre-employment or at regular intervals.

Companies with strict policies will often conduct some drug screen annually, quarterly, and at random intervals in addition to accidents, pre-employment or upon recognition of suspicious behavior. The problems with these types of nonintrusive policies is that they do nothing to mitigate the risks of liability for any potential injuries resulting from intoxicated employees. The lack of a serious enforcement plan can act as a magnet to employees prone to addiction.

To be effective means to have a balanced approach. Drug enforcement programs can be very expensive and serve as a deterrent to overt drug use. Companies can expect to spend typically from $8.00 to $125.00 and up per test per employee. Calculating the cost of the test per employee is simple, but it is not consistent. Some tests are needed with quick turnaround times on results such as in an accident or suspicious behavior and can be more expensive.

At other times, a standard urine may not be what is required, and a blood or hair test is employed. The drug abuse policy will set guidelines outlining the occasion, frequency and type of test necessary. While having an aggressive policy does mitigate risk, it is very expensive. Striking a realistic balance between under testing and over testing has monetary benefits.

Program Costs

Drug screens are not the only cost associated with a substance abuse program. Personnel to administer the test can be expensive, and the process is often outsourced to a company such as WorkFlow Employer Services. Even when the process is outsourced there will be a need for trained personnel to oversee the administration requirements.

Record keeping and administration will often fall under the responsibilities of the human resources department because they are the most capable of the legal requirements that go along with a substance abuse program. Employees have privacy rights, and any outcomes that lead to termination or other administrative accident must be handled in a way that is fair and not discriminatory in any fashion.

Legal Considerations

Employers must always be aware of legal ramifications when they develop a program for anything, to include substance abuse. Wrongful terminations are litigated courts with severe penalties when the termination is viewed as malicious and intentional.

Companies cannot simply issue a drug screen to an underperforming employee without cause. There are right and wrong ways to dismiss an employee and a termination must be done legally. The average cost of a wrongful termination suit in the United States is $250,000.00.

In contrast to lawsuits for wrongful termination, a company that fails to have any accountability for their employees and substance abuse can be liable for negligence. If an organization knows that an employee is intoxicated and allows them to work there can be penalties that result in complete loss for the company. Negligence suits often do not have a cap on the costs associated with the liability and can be in the millions. The human costs of the loss of life extend beyond the value of the dollar.

Modest Programs

Companies need to have a professional approach to the establishment of their programs. There can be no turning away from reasonable suspicion in an organization, and there should be active policies in place for regular screening. Pre-employment testing and incident response testing are not optional if there is a serious interest in maintaining a safe workplace free from the liability of an intoxicated employee.

The problems with most decision makers in the policy making department is the view a substance abuse program does not generate income and is all expenses against the revenue of the company. This is, in fact, a false view. Even if there are no incidents involving a serious tragedy, the labor output of substance abusers is significant. The social influences in the workplace can be devastating, and the lost time involved with missed work and underperformance are problems all employers face.

The best course of action is to hire a consultant and move forward with professional guidance. The two goals of mitigating liability and protecting the employees of the workplace.


The writer, Ray Donato, is a freelance writer who specializes in business topics. He fully recognizes the importance of having an effective drug enforcement program and recommends regular testing for employees where possible. You can learn more about Ray on Google+.