5 Biggest Mistakes Employers Make After An Employee Tests Positive (And How To Fix Those Mistakes)

One of your key employees (that you really don’t want to fire) has just tested positive on a drug test.

Have you run into this dilemma?

If you have a drug free workplace plan and you do drug testing on a regular basis (more frequently than just pre-employment testing), you will eventually run into this situation.

I guarantee it.

This is one of the many reasons I am a fan of a 2nd chance program.  Don’t confuse me with a sap though.  We all have to pay for our mistakes and drug use is definitely one of those mistakes that should have a consequence.

Here are the 5 most common mistakes we see with 2nd chance programs and how to resolve the mistakes for a bullet proof 2nd chance program.

 1)  Believing that quitting drugs or alcohol is a simple decision made based solely on if the employee wants to keep their job. 

Addiction is a disease.  Some people are more susceptible to addiction based on their gene pool or other factors.

People who naturally are not prone to addiction can have a drink or two with dinner and stop when dinner is over.  For them, it is a simple decision.  These people are pretty good at not coming to work under the influence because they understand that if they do, they will face serious consequences.

For people with addiction problems, the urge is so strong; it’s not an easy decision.  For some addictions, if they stop abruptly from using alcohol, opiates, cocaine, or amphetamines, the addict can become very ill and sometimes it can be life threatening.  For those people, their risk to stop using may seem higher because they are likely to end up non-functional.  It’s easier and less risky for them to fool everyone around them into believing they are sober than it is to get sober.

It’s important that you understand what an addict is thinking because it also helps you understand their actions.  Addicts are programmed to make everyone around them think and feel that everything is all right.  As long as an addict can keep everyone around them believing that they are OK or sober, they can carry on with their addictions.

 2)  Lecturing an employee or pass harsh judgment on an employee who they want to get help and return to work. 

I understand why an employer would be frustrated with an employee who tests positive for drugs or alcohol.  It’s frustrating!  You feel like you’ve given the employee plenty of opportunity to make a living for their family and he/she turns around and slaps you in the face by violating your simplest policy!

However, approaching an employee with these feelings will only push them further away.  Your employee is about to have an uphill battle to kick an addiction.  The best way to approach this is with love and support.

Make no mistake, you ARE about to deliver an ultimatum.  But the way you deliver it during this delicate time is important.  If you deliver the message in a scolding, judgmental way…you’re likely to push the employee further away.

On the other side, if you let them know how much you’d love to keep them as an employee and give them their options for treatment and let them know how you can support them, they are more likely to go along with the suggested treatment and salvage what they can.

It’s never a bad idea to get the advice of a substance abuse professional.  They can advise you on how to properly approach these situations in a manner that encourages the employee to get better.

3)  Failing to mandate a supervised rehabilitation program

For most people who get caught using drugs, it’s rarely their first time, regardless of the story that they tell you.  The first step to keeping an employee who has tested positive is to get them evaluated by a professional who should then prescribe their ongoing program.

These first evaluations are generally priced around $350.  The employer can require the employee to pay for the evaluation themselves, or the employer can pay for some or all of the evaluation as an employee benefit.  (My personal suggestion is that you have the employee pay for at least part of the evaluation fee.  If they are serious about keeping their job, they will need to show their commitment by forking over some money for their own treatment.  I believe that if you don’t pay, you don’t pay attention.)

After the initial evaluation, the treatment prescribed can be as simple as drug abuse education and attending regular AA meetings for a specific time period.  Many times, the treatment prescribed is free (AA meetings are free) or priced very low.  Health insurance may also cover some of the costs.

4)  Employers suspend employees for a time period and then welcome them back to work without a “return-to-duty” drug test. 

This one sounds obvious, but I see it all the time.

If your employee, who already tested positive is off work for 1 or more weeks and is sitting at home bored…there is a larger chance that using drugs is something they have a hard time letting go.  Boredom equals drug use for people who are susceptible to drug use.

Additionally, if you’re going to conduct a urine drug test, I recommend a direct observed “return to duty” drug test.  For all employees who violate your substance abuse policy, it is within your rights as an employer to require a direct observed drug test for their “return to duty” and “follow up” testing.  (If you are outside of Oklahoma and Texas, you may want to check your local state laws on occupational drug testing before you order a directly observed drug test).

We do not believe that directly observed testing is reasonable in most other testing situations, only in a few instances is it warranted.  This is one of those instances.

Additionally, if safety is a major concern with your workforce, then assuring that you’re welcoming someone back into your workforce who is sober is a high priority.  Do not skip the “return to duty” test!

5)  Not doing any regular “follow up” testing once the employee returns to work. 

Someone who has violated your policy before needs to have some accountability to make sure they aren’t tempted to violate it again.  That is why we believe it’s vital to have “follow-up” testing.

We also believe that it’s appropriate to do the follow up testing under direct observation if you’re testing urine.  We generally depend on the substance abuse counselor to prescribe the amount of follow up testing based on the level of addiction for the employee.

Most follow up programs would require a minimum of 6 additional (unannounced) tests over the next year.  However, sometimes it might be necessary to do ongoing testing for up to five years.

Follow up testing helps you put checks in place to make sure your employees who receive a second chance are crystal clear that they aren’t left up to chance of being randomly selected.  Instead, they know they will be tested frequently for a long period of time and therefore will have to keep clean in order to continue to work for your company.

Click here to get a copy of this blog post in PDF Format!

Click here to see how Lobdock can help you create a culture of safety with proper implementation of drug testing policies that are smart, efficient, and effective.

***Some information for this article was provided by Wenona Barnes from LifeFocus Counseling Services at 405-840-5252.  Check out their services at www.lifefocuseap.com/ ***

About the Author Susan Lobsinger

Susan is founder and President of Lobdock Impairment Detection, a full-service, mobile drug testing and contractor compliance management provider. Lobdock provides safety managers with the objective data they need to make safety decisions that make a difference in the lives, safety, and health of their employees who work in safety sensitive positions.

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