Working Under the Influence

You can tell immediately as soon as you see them: the glazed eyes, the slurred speech, the unbalanced walking… your worker is definitely under the influence of something.  As a supervisor or a business owner, it is your responsibility to keep not only your employees safe, but your customers, equipment, and products.  It would be irresponsible to have them return to work in their present state.  So what can you do?

Employers are allowed to send their employees in for a drug and/or alcohol test when there is “reasonable suspicion” of the employee being under the influence or in possession of illegal and/or illicit drugs and alcohol while on the job.  A few examples of what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” include the following: discovery of drugs and/or alcohol in the employee’s work vehicle or workstation, smell of drugs and/or alcohol on the employee’s presence, dilated or unfocused eyes, erratic work performance, poor decision making, etc.  While there are many examples of what may represent “reasonable suspicion,” employers should use their best judgment in deciding whether the reason for these behaviors are due to drug and/or alcohol use on the job and not another factor before testing the employee for drugs and alcohol. It is recommended that employers have a company policy regarding drug and alcohol testing that outlines the procedures followed when an employee is suspected of being under the influence at work.

Once reasonable suspicion has been established, you may test the employee for drugs or alcohol. Employers can send employees directly to a clinic for drug and/or alcohol testing. Transportation should be arranged for the employee to the clinic and someone (preferably a supervisor) should escort the employee. The employee will then provide a sample for testing. A negative test result through the clinic usually comes back within 24 hours; however, if anything is detected in the sample, the sample is sent to a laboratory for further testing.  It usually takes a few days to receive the final results from the lab – until then, employers may place the employee on an unpaid, disciplinary suspension pending the drug and/or alcohol test results.  Some employers choose to have rapid test kits, such as breathalyzers or swabs, that can be administered for preliminary testing at their worksite. If the preliminary tests come back positive, the employer can then send the employee to a medical clinic for confirmation testing, which can be verified by a lab.  Preliminary testing allows for employers to determine whether their employee may be under the influence of something prior to having to pay for a medical clinic’s test that may come back negative.

If you receive positive results from the laboratory, you should follow your drug testing policy for next steps.  Some employers offer to sponsor rehabilitation treatment for their employees, have them sign last-chance agreements, or offer to have the employees retest their sample at their own expense; other employers choose to immediately terminate their workers’ employment.  If the test results come back negative, employers may keep the employee working and provide them the option of using any vacation and/or PTO time to cover their time off if they were suspended from work pending the results.  Whatever you decide to do, it should be written in a policy and applied consistently to all employees in a non-discriminatory manner.

With recreational marijuana now legal in the state of Michigan and the threat imposed by the national opioid crisis, it is important as an employer that your employees are working effectively and safely.  Implementing and enforcing a drug and alcohol use and testing policy is the best weapon against the possession or use of illegal or illicit substances during the workday by your employees.  Let UAP’s qualified HR representatives analyze your situation and create a customized drug and alcohol policy to prepare you should this situation ever happen in your business.