Frequently Asked Questions

Drug-Free Workplace

The following are frequently asked questions and answers on drug-free workplace issues. Each answer provides links to more detailed information about the topic found elsewhere on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Working Partners Web site.

How do I identify employees who have a substance abuse problem?

The following performance and behavior problems are common to many employed individuals who abuse alcohol and/or other drugs; however, it is important to note that if an employee displays these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean he or she has a substance abuse problem:

Performance

Behavior

It is important to note that diagnosis of an alcohol or other drug problem is not the job of a supervisor. However, remaining alert to changes in employee performance is a core component of every supervisor’s job. Because substance abuse seriously affects an employee’s ability to fulfill his/her responsibilities, supervisors play a key role in keeping a workplace alcohol and drug free. The Supervisor Training section of the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers more extensive information about on-the-job indicators of alcohol and drug abuse.

What do I do if I have an employee who I believe has a substance abuse problem?

The following principles of intervention may be followed by supervisors who need to confront an employee about a performance problem that may be related to substance abuse. The supervisor does not need to be an expert on alcohol and drug abuse to do so because the intervention should be focused on the employee’s performance problem.

Maintain control

Be clear and firm

Be supportive, but avoid emotional involvement

It is important to note that diagnosis of an alcohol or other drug problem is not the job of a supervisor. However, remaining alert to changes in employee performance is a core component of every supervisor’s job. Because substance abuse seriously affects an employee’s ability to fulfill his/her responsibilities, supervisors play a key role in keeping a workplace alcohol and drug free. The Supervisor Training section of the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers more extensive information about intervention techniques.

Can I drug test?

Most private employers have the right to test for a wide variety of substances. However, it is important that employers familiarize themselves with the various state and federal laws that may apply to their business or entity before designing a drug-testing policy. The majority of employers across the United States are not required to test, and many state and local governments have statutes that limit or prohibit workplace testing unless it is required by state or federal regulations for certain jobs. Drug-testing policies protect both employees and employers. It is important for employers to note that drug testing without a drug-testing policy—even if an employee is suspected of having substance abuse problem—exposes them to a number of significant liability and legal vulnerabilities.

The Drug Testing section of the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers more extensive information about drug testing and helps employers develop customized drug-testing policies as part of comprehensive drug-free workplace programs.

What is a drug-free workplace?

The term “drug-free workplace” is used generally to describe employer-sponsored substance abuse prevention programs. A comprehensive drug-free workplace program generally includes five components:

  1. a drug-free workplace policy,
  2. supervisor training,
  3. employee education,
  4. employee assistance and
  5. drug testing.

Although employers may choose not to include all five components, it is recommended that all be explored and considered when developing a drug-free workplace program. Research does show a positive relationship between the number of components included and a program’s overall effectiveness. However, it should be noted that drug testing is only one part of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program and may not be necessary or appropriate for many work sites.

The Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder provides the fundamental information employers need to establish comprehensive drug-free workplace programs.

What is the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988?

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is legislation that requires some federal contractors and all federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a condition of receiving a contract or grant from a federal agency. DOL does not regulate the Drug-Free Workplace Act, but the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor provides information about the act based on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) government-wide non-regulatory guidance and can help employers determine whether or not the act applies to them and, if so, what specifically is required. The Advisor’s Program Builder section also provides the fundamental information employers need to establish comprehensive drug-free workplace programs.

How do I develop a drug-free workplace policy?

A written drug-free workplace policy is the foundation of a drug-free workplace program. Every public entity’s written policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs; however, all effective policies have a few aspects in common

First, a policy should clearly state why the policy is being implemented. The rationale can be as simple as an entity being committed to protecting the safety, health and well-being of its employees and patrons and recognizing that abuse of alcohol and other drugs compromises this dedication.

Second, an effective policy should clearly outline behaviors that are prohibited. At a minimum, this should include a statement that the “use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs or controlled substances by employees is prohibited.”

The third fundamental element is a thorough explanation of the consequences for violating the policy.

Consequences may include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with other existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws. Employers should also note that sharing their policy with all employees is essential, and many businesses find it helpful to ask for feedback from employees during the initial policy development stage.

Resources

The Policy Development section of the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder helps employers establish customized drug-free workplace policies that protect worker safety and health, while respecting worker rights.