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Industry News: FAQ on Alcohol Use in the Workplace

Published on: February 24, 2017

Written by: Janet Russell.

It has become common knowledge that alcohol can affect judgment, concentration and problem solving skills. Alcohol use in the workplace can lead to negative consequences in terms of being fit to work because of the possibility of endangering oneself and fellow employees, as well as affecting the company as a whole.

Alcohol dependence is one of the surging problems that companies are facing. That’s why employers are continuously finding ways on how to make the workplace as safe and as healthy as possible to the workforce. Just like drug addiction, alcohol abuse can impair a person’s well-being by affecting the following:

  • Brain: interferes with the decision-making capabilities
  • Heart: causes constricting of blood vessels to allow natural blood flow
  • Liver: cause inflammations which include cirrhosis, fibrosis, fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat, esophagus, breast and liver
  • Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) which can affect proper digestion
  • Immune system: may weaken, leading to increased risk of pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Despite all the known facts on alcohol abuse, it remains to be one of the leading causes of death among teenagers than all other drugs combined. These are just some of the reasons why we at Confirm BioSciences thought it best to release a FAQ article to discuss some of the most common questions related to alcohol.

How serious is the alcohol abuse problem?

If you’re not yet informed about the gravity of alcohol abuse in society, here are some alarming facts on alcohol use:

  • At least 86.4% among 18 years and older reported to have drank alcohol in their lifetime, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • About 15.1 Million aged 18 years and older have Alcohol Use Disorder.
  • About 88,000 alcohol-related deaths annually have been reported.
  • Alcoholism has become a national concern as the U.S government spent $249 Million in 2010.
  • Relatively 10% of U.S. children are under the care of alcoholic parents.
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has been reported to about 0.5 to 3.0 per 1000 births.
  • 40% of violent crimes occur under the influence of alcohol.

How is alcoholism handled in the workplace?

Every individual is free to do whatever he wants. However, if it will be a hindrance to perform well in the workplace and may affect other employees, then this is something that should be given attention. Companies would never tolerate anyone to report for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

alcohol abuse

What is the importance of having an alcohol-free workplace?

Any company’s ultimate concern is to provide a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace to ensure that all employees are in a healthy and safe environment so that they may become productive in their respective jobs.

What are the effects of alcohol use on employees?

Frequent alcohol use can become a burden on the employers as they lose time and money in providing their products and services to their customers. Because of employees who are alcohol users, this has led to:

  • Absenteeism
  • Workplace violence
  • Increased risk on work-related injuries

What happens when alcohol use in the workplace is not prevented?

Statistics showed that about 77% of drug users are employed. When the effects of alcohol abuse are added, productivity of the whole workforce is affected. This would then lead to:

  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Unhealthy employees
  • Loss of productivity
  • More accidents
  • Decreased revenues
  • Higher medical claims expenses.

Simply put, the whole organization may be paralyzed if the company will not initiate steps on how to prevent these from happening.

What kind of assistance can companies provide to its employees?

Any company should be able to adopt a program that will help their employees in realizing the ill effects of using illegal substances and to extend additional help to those who have been found to be working under the influence. The said program is called the Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program.

What is the importance of having a Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program?

By offering this type of program to the employees, the chances of having to deal with serious issues in the workplace with regards to the employee’s performance may be minimized. This would then be a way of leading employees to a much better life.

What is included the Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program?

The Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program is an extensive program wherein employees are obligated to be part of. The program has 5 basic components, namely:

  • Written Policy
  • Assistance Program
  • Employee Education
  • Supervisor Training
  • Drug Testing

What is stated in the written policy?

Prior to hiring employees, some companies have required applicants to undergo drug testing. Before they can be fully accepted, a written policy with regards to drug testing is given to them. This policy may also be posted on a wall where all employees will be able to have access to.

Written in the policy is how the employees will have to undergo drug testing, depending on every employer. Some may want drug testing to be conducted on an annual basis.

It should also be clearly written on the policy that there would be random drug testing should the supervisors suspect anyone to be working under the influence. The policy should also include the consequences that employees will suffer if they have been found out to be positive.

What does the Education Program cover?

This prevention program will let employees know about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It will be presented to them how these substances can affect their body as well as their relationship with their families and how it would have a huge impact towards their jobs.

This will help prevent loss of employment and to ensure employees that they are given a safe workplace where they can continue their career and be productive without fear.

What is the role of the supervisors with the Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program?

Supervisors are trained to be able to determine any employee who may be engaging in prohibited drugs or alcohol use. First off, they should treat every employee equally.

An initial sign of intoxication may not be enough to conclude that the employee is indeed working under the influence. Therefore, further observation should be done. When a supervisor suspects an employee, he/she may request the employee to submit for a drug testing.

Common signs of alcohol use that a supervisor should be aware of are the following:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Slurred speech
  • Absenteeism
  • Disputes among co-employees
  • Work injuries
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Faulty analysis
  • Missed deadlines
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Unsteady gait
  • Smell of alcohol
  • Mood swings
  • Sleeping at work

What are the roles of the Supervisor?

The supervisor has the responsibility to monitor the daily performances of the employees as well as its conduct and relationship towards fellow employees. It also includes:

  • Reviewing and assessment of work and performance;
  • Set-up work schedules which includes approving leave requesting;
  • Responsible for taking necessary disciplinary actions that involves performance and behavior;
  • Refer employees to the Employee Assistance Program.

workplace drug testing program machinery operator

What kind of assistance can the employer provide to those who are found to be positive with alcohol use?

The employer shall refer the employee to a clinic or rehabilitation center wherein the employee must submit himself for treatment. This program includes follow up check up with therapist to ensure that the user is slowly gaining back his confidence and is fit to be part of the workforce again.

How should an employer approach an employee who is found to be working under the influence?

It is extremely dangerous to let an employee continue to work, most especially those who may be handling heavy machinery as it will not only pose danger to himself but to his co-employees as well.

The proper way on how to approach an employee positive with illicit substance or alcohol should be in a calm manner. Clearly and gently inform the employee to stop whatever he is doing and that arrangements will be made for him to go home.

As much as possible, avoid having debates about the reason why you wanted him to stop. Never use profane words.

What measures should be done once the employee has been found to be positive with alcohol use?

A positive result after alcohol screening will immediately suspend the employee from work. He will be instructed to be admitted in a rehabilitation center and can only be allowed to report back for work if the final assessment backed up by another drug testing which should turn negative.

What kind of test is used to determine alcohol use?

The most common testing device to use in determining alcohol intoxication is the evidentiary breath test (EBT), or commonly known as breathalyzer. In addition, the employer may choose to use alternative alcohol testing products such as urine cups, dip cards, and saliva test kits.

Alcohol Tests

What are the industries that require alcohol testing?

Alcohol testing is not a mandatory procedure among agencies, although there are certain industries imposed by the Department of Transportation. Such industries include:

  • Aviation
  • Trucking
  • Maritime
  • Pipeline
  • Transportation (Rail Road/Transit)

What is the employee’s status when he submits himself to rehabilitation?

The employee will have a leave status while he is on treatment. In most cases, it would be more helpful for the employee to use his sick leave; otherwise, he will be given a leave without pay.

What steps should be done prior to returning to work?

Prior to reporting back to work, a conference with the supervisor, employee, counselor and a staff member from the treatment program should be made. This is a way to make sure that the employer will be advised with regards to how the treatment went and if there will be any changes that need to be done to ensure that the employee will be able to perform well.

What is a Return-To-Work Agreement?

When an employee has been found out to be positive with any illicit substance, he is asked to sign an agreement wherein it states the employer’s expectations and what will be the consequences if those expectations were not met. Generally, the agreement states that the employee should abstain from substance abuse and that further drug testing will be shouldered by the employee.

What will happen if the employee has been found out to be under the influence again?

The Return-To-Work Agreement is a means giving the employee another chance in life. But it also comes with a responsibility to remain sober most especially while at work. The agreement, however, also states dismissal from employment and it is the employer’s discretion to allow an employee to return to work or not.

An employee caught the second time may no longer be allowed to return to work.

Helpful Links and Resources

http://www.narconon.org/drug-information/alcohol-workplace-faq.html

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/basics/definition/con-20020866

https://www.thebalance.com/breath-alcohol-tests-for-employment-2062138