Alcohol: Still a workplace threat
BY DEE MASON
Alcohol is the drug that gets lost in the shadows. But it shouldn’t be. With all the activity around prescription drug abuse, medical marijuana and synthetic drugs, we cannot lose focus of an old nemesis, alcohol. Alcohol is different from other legal and illegal drugs and it is critical that drug-free workplace programs (DFWP) specifically address issues related to alcohol
consumption on the job.
Alcohol has long been associated with the workplace. Corporate outings, happy hour get-togethers, holiday parties, and industry and trade activities can blur the line between “on the job,” “within the scope of employment” and “off-duty.”
Further complicating the issue is the fact that there can be minors attending corporate
sponsored events where alcohol is served.
Because of its legality and frequent involvement in ordained or related business activities, alcohol use and abuse creates greater exposure than many other drug categories for a company. Corporate exposures (e.g., liability, negligence, auto and fleet insurance coverage, health insurance) can be improved by the rules we place around alcohol. These rules should be derived from a base of knowledge.
Research shows it’s not the heavy drinkers or alcoholics who are mostly responsible. As reported by Dr. Jeffrey Wiese, medical professor at the University of California, following a review of medical studies on alcohol use, it is the light or light-to-moderate drinkers who cause the most problems, with more than half of all alcohol-related problems in the workplace being caused by light drinkers and 87% caused by light-to-moderate drinkers.
The lingering effects of employees drinking when they are officially “off-duty” can affect their ability to perform their jobs. As reported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, a 1986 Yesavage and Leirer study found evidence of impairment 14 hours after airplane pilots reached blood alcohol concentration levels between 0.10 and 0.12 percent. Beyond impairment, frequent and/or excessive drinking has also been positively associated with frequent absenteeism, arriving late to work or leaving earlier, poor job performance and arguing
Dealing with alcohol in a DFWP
Exposure, damage and costs at the hand of alcohol users are issues that employers can
protect against by implementing a DFWP. But there are three key factors that differentiate
how alcohol, as opposed to other drugs,
should be addressed on the workplace:
1. The human body metabolizes alcohol very quickly.
2. Alcoholism is a protected classification under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
3. An alcohol test is considered a medical examination under ADA.
Given these factors alone, the employer who suspects an employee of being under the influence of alcohol must act with prudence. Because of the law and the substance itself, alcohol use needs to be addressed and tested for differently. Even the consequences leveled on the employee need to be dealt with differently. An employer should carefully craft policy and procedures around
• When/why such an alcohol test should
• Methodology and determining what type of specimen should be tested
• Consequences following a test
Obviously, the best way to deal with
alcohol problems in the workplace is not to have any. Statistically, the odds are against the employer who is hoping to avoid ever having to deal with workplace alcohol issues. Taking a minimalist approach to this topic can be devastating
when action is needed.
Investment in employee education is one way you can help prevent workplace problems.
A study by Shain, Suurvali and Boutilier in Healthier Workers: Health Promotion and Employee Assistance Programs found that an employee health promotion program, designed to increase participants’ awareness of the health risks related to stress and drinking, delivered in three 2-hour sessions at one manufacturing plant, resulted in fewer employees drinking. Participants reported changes in their attitudes toward drinking, drinking and driving, knowledge about problem drinking, and recognition of
signs of a drinking problem.
It takes all the moving parts of a DFWP to soundly arm an employer to deal with alcohol and its impact on the workplace. Although complicated, dealing with alcohol must not be forgotten in the mix of the workplace substance battles that face us. BXM
For assistance with your drug-free workplace
program guidelines, employee education or
supervisor training, contact Working Partners