Drug-Free Workplace Programs – Why You Need One

By: Patti Maluchnik, CIC, CBIA

Georgetown Insurance Service, Inc.

Frederick, MD

Implementing a drug-free workplace program can provide employers with many benefits and incentives. From saving money on their workers’ compensation premiums to improving employee morale, these valuable programs are typically viewed as a win-win for everyone involved.

What Is a Drug-Free Workplace Program?

A comprehensive drug-free workplace program is about more than just including a formal statement in your employee handbook. While that is certainly advisable to incorporate, it isn’t nearly enough. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a drug-free workplace program should include five key components (Source).

  1. Written Policy – Having a formal policy in place that employees can review and use as a reference point is important. This policy will serve as the foundation for your program. Information to consider incorporating include: a rationale, laws and regulations, compliance expectations, assistance/support options for employees and consequences for violating the policy.
  2. Employee EducationProviding employees with adequate education regarding the policy is crucial. Prior to rolling out the program (or during a new hire’s onboarding session), explain why this program has been created and how the entire company will benefit from a drug-free work environment.
  3. Supervisor Training – It is imperative that your leadership team be on board with the program. They must understand how it works, what to look for and the proper protocols. Confidentiality and employee sensitivity should always be top priorities. In addition, by having systematic, uniform and fair procedures in place, companies can lessen the chance of potential lawsuits or legal claims.
  4. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – All drug-free workplace programs should have EAPs available for employees who might be struggling with personal issues. These issues are often the root of substance or drug abuse and can distract employees on the job. EAPs can include internal and external resources to help employees work through these problems and ultimately improve their job performance.
  5. Drug Testing – While the other four components listed are important, you simply cannot have an effective drug-free workplace program without testing. Drug tests ensure compliance. It is important to have a uniform drug testing program in place and verify that it aligns with state, local and federal laws.

Benefits of a Drug-Free Workplace Program

Everyone benefits from a well-designed and properly enforced drug-free workplace program.  Benefits include:

  • A safer work environment for all employees. Substance and drug abuse are leading factors in workplace accidents. This is particularly important for employees who work in high-risk industries, such as construction, where they are responsible for operating heavy and/or dangerous equipment and working as a team. It is imperative that every team member is 100 percent mentally present, always.
  • Improved morale. Substance and drug abuse are often linked to poor work performance, tardiness and absenteeism. These factors can often rub off on other employees and create a toxic environment. In addition, by implementing a drug-free workplace program, employers are showing they care about their employees and creating a safe and enjoyable work environment.
  • Workers’ Compensation cost savings. A drug-free workplace program can help reduce the number of workplace accidents and injuries. This, in turn, reduces the number of Workers’ Compensation claims. In fact, many states, including Maryland and Virginia, offer a discount for employers who have these programs in place. Employers in Maryland could see up to 4 percent off their workers’ compensation premiums and up to 5 percent in Virginia. 

The Changing Landscape

As marijuana laws across the country evolve, it is important for employers to remain aware of any federal or state-specific changes. Since medical marijuana is now legal in many states, it has created confusion for employers about how to enforce or alter their drug-free workplace programs.

For example, medicinal marijuana is now legal in Maryland and DC. However, the laws surrounding medical usage do not address employee protections. This means that employers can still legally terminate employees for marijuana usage at work or if it shows up on a test. On the other hand, some states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, have adopted differing levels of employee protection surrounding medicinal usage. At the federal level, all usage is still illegal. It is important to note, that in all 50 states employers do not have to accommodate employees under the influence on the job or attempting to use while on-duty — regardless of medicinal status.

Overall, a drug-free workplace program is a worthwhile investment for both employers and employees. However, as with all programs, it is important to reevaluate and refine them on a regular basis to ensure compliance with new laws and regulations. If you need help developing a drug-free workplace program for your company, we recommend researching SAMHSA’s recommendations or reaching out to your insurance agent.


Disclaimer: All data, information, and opinions provided on this article, newsletter, or blog is for informational and educational purposes only. While every caution has been taken to provide readers with the most accurate information and honest analysis, please use individual discretion before making any decisions based on the information in this article, newsletter, or blog. Georgetown Insurance Service, Inc. is not responsible if its readers happen to experience loss, injury, or damage resulting from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. This article, newsletter, or blog does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans, or strategies of any specific Insurance Carrier, Georgetown Insurance Service, Inc. partner or affiliate.

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