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Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace Overview


Learning objectives

  • Identify issues created by drug and alcohol use in the workplace.

  • Recognize signs and symptoms of workplace behavior related to drug and alcohol use.

  • Recall industry best practices on internal reporting of possible drug and alcohol use.

  • Identify sources for getting help for drug and alcohol misuse.

  • Recall federal requirements for a Drug-Free Workplace program.

Course overview

The economic costs of drug and alcohol abuse in the United States are significant and have continued to rise.

Nearly 33 million adults are affected by alcohol problems— that’s 14 percent of the U.S. population. To put it in perspective, that means if you looked around your office or worksite, about one out of every seven people meet the definition of a ‘problem drinker.’

And the reports for drug abuse aren’t much better. Almost 7 million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents, according to Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Michele Leonhart. When you include illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, those statistics are even higher.

Some workplaces choose to test their employees for drugs on a regular basis, and Quest Diagnostics reports that the number of positive drug tests went up nearly 9.3 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Increased reports of positive drug tests may be a result of more testing, but it could also be attributed in part to the rise in prescription drug abuse. Companies are finding that more and more employees are misusing stimulants like Adderall and Concerta to help them stay alert, concentrate better and be more productive on the job. This especially goes for those who work long hours and need a boost to keep them awake and focused.

Although the effects of stimulants may seem positive at first glance, many doctors have concern over the anxiety, rapid heartbeat and hallucinations that stimulants can incite when taken in high doses. When used on a regular basis, stimulants can also significantly reduce the amount of sleep a body needs for proper functioning.

Typical Warning Signs of Drug or Alcohol Problem

  • Slow Reactions, Unsteadiness, Confusion

  • Recklessness

  • Frequent Accidents

  • Absenteeism and Tardiness

  • Unreliability

  • Declining Performance

Drug-Free Workplace Program

A Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace program provides a way for employees to get help for themselves. It’s also a way for co-workers to get help for other co-workers. Taking steps to prevent drug and alcohol abuse from entering the workplace is about safety, first, but also about getting your employees the help they may need to stay healthy and employed. There are additional standards for employees working directly for or contracted by the federal government.

Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace programs increasingly address the risk of tobacco, as well. As a known carcinogen, progressive safety and health professionals are working to implement ‘tobacco-free zones’ where they work to improve the total health of the workforce, but also for the people served by the organizations they support. Today, hospitals and healthcare providers are popular examples of institutions moving forward with tobacco-free workplace policies. This is because 1 out of every 5 deaths in the United States is the result of tobacco use and exposure. Fatal risks include cancer, heart and lung disease, second-hand smoke, and burn injuries incurred during fires directly resulting from cigarette use.

Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace programs are one way employers can begin to mitigate the impact of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace. The purpose of Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace programs is not to interfere in anyone’s personal life, but to improve safety in the workplace. When drugs and alcohol enter the workplace, risk and liability both rise, particularly in high-risk work environments.

Federal Requirements for a Drug-Free Workplace Program

  • A printed statement for employees

  • A drug-free awareness program

  • Copies of the policy statement for each employee

  • Explaining how the policy affects conditions of employment

  • Notifying the contracting officer about employee convictions

  • Taking appropriate action

Printed Statement

The federally contracted employer must publish a statement that notifies all employees regarding company policy, and that the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of a controlled substance is prohibited in the workplace. The statement will specify the actions that will be taken by the employer against any employee who violates this policy.

Drug-Free Awareness Program

The employer will sustain a drug-free awareness program to inform employees about:

  • The dangers caused by drug abuse in the workplace.

  • The employer's policy and activities that will be used to maintain a drug-free workplace.

  • The types of services available like drug counseling, rehabilitation, and employee assistance programs.

  • The penalties that will be imposed on employees who violate the drug-free workplace policy.

Copy of the Policy Statement

Each individual who is employed as a result of a government agreement is required to have a copy of the company Drug-Free Workplace statement. This company document explains all the employee requirements of the program and how the company supports the federal program to provide a drug-free workplace.

Condition of Employment

The federal guideline requires federally contracted employers to give each employee a written statement explaining that in order to maintain employment, employees must abide by the terms of the company program. In the case of government contracted companies an employee is required to notify their employer in writing about any criminal drug statute conviction for any violation that occurs in the workplace. This must be done within 5 calendar days following the conviction.

Notify Contracting Officer

The employer is responsible for notifying the government contracting officer within 10 calendar days after learning about an employee’s conviction. Notification of the employer may be a direct communication with the employee or from other legal sources. The notification sent to the contracting officer will include the position title of the employee working on the government agreement.

Action Taken

The Drug-Free Workplace Act requires a specific action when there are convictions for drug abuse in the workplace. These requirements are for companies receiving government agreements. When there is a drug abuse conviction, the employer has 30 days to take action against the employee. This is required for convictions of drug abuse violations that occur in the workplace. The action taken should follow company policy. The range of possible actions may vary from requiring the employee to participate in a drug abuse assistance or rehabilitation program to termination of employment.

Available Resources

  • Alcoholics Anonymous® (AA)

  • Narcotics Anonymous® (NA)

  • Al-Anon

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD)

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English, Spanish

Mobile Ready

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5 min

Course Outline

Course Outline

  • Introduction

  • Risks of Drug and Alcohol Use

  • Signs and Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Use

  • Reporting Concerns and Getting Help

  • Drug-Free Workplace Program



  • Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-690)

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse

  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

  • Al-Anon Family Groups

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