Four Tips for Employers Dealing with Drug or Alcohol Use in the Workplace

Four Tips for Employers Dealing with Drug or Alcohol Use in the

With more employees working remotely, reports have shown that there has been an increase in substance abuse during work hours. Whether it is due to difficult home conditions that have brought on a drinking problem, the stress of the pandemic, or the increased availability of alcohol throughout the workday, employers are seeing an increase in performance issues due to alcohol or drug use. What should employers do to combat this growing concern? Here are four tips to help employers prevent and address drug or alcohol use in the workplace:

  1. Be attentive to performance issues and address them thoroughly and promptly. A well-defined corrective action process that consistently identifies and addresses poor performers can eliminate many drug/alcohol abusers through the process without ever resorting to other means such as drug testing. However, supervisors must understand their heightened responsibilities under this form of corrective action and be willing to consistently enforce, without exception, job standards and work rules.
  2. Ensure that your company has a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting substance abuse. While not the only method of minimizing the effects of drugs and alcohol in the workplace, a policy prohibiting use, possession, sale, or being under the influence is a great start to maintaining a safe, productive work environment. There may be additional required prohibitions depending on the type of business and other government requirements, such as for federal contractors. While some states, including Washington and Oregon, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, policies should also expressly forbid employees from being under the influence of marijuana while performing any work for the employer.
  3. Ensure your policy includes a provision that allows for drug and alcohol testing in the event of reasonable suspicion. Employers should develop their policy after reviewing the law, safety issues, the nature of the business, and company culture. Once developed, the employer should communicate the policy to all affected employees. If you have unionized employees, implementing a drug and alcohol policy must be negotiated with the union.
  4. Establish an account with a drug testing provider. The need to test an employee for drugs or alcohol generally comes up suddenly and is highly time-sensitive. Spending time researching, identifying a provider, and establishing an account should be done before the need for drug testing arises. If your organization has employees who perform work remotely, consider asking the provider if they can perform testing at an employee’s home if needed.

Although an employer can and should consistently enforce its employment policies and procedures, employers must be cautious not to discriminate against individuals with a history of drug or alcohol addiction or take adverse action based on a perception of such a problem. Individuals who identify as having an addiction to drugs or alcohol may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other federal and state laws. In that case, the employee may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation or to take leave to seek treatment.

For employers looking for guidance in responding to suspected substance abuse in the workplace, Archbright has experienced HR professionals and legal counsel well-versed in this subject. Contact Archbright at to learn how they can help.


Kathy Iverson, SPHR, is a Sr. HR Advisor at Archbright.  She works with members daily, advising on issues related to employment law compliance, employee relations, leaves, and ADA.  Kathy has 25 years of experience in recruiting, training, managing employee relations, and leading HR teams in corporate, service, manufacturing, and non-profit environments.


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