By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 13 May 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. David Miles

Whether or not it is required by law, creating and implementing a drug-free workplace policy can help prevent various issues in the workplace, improve productivity and performance, and set clear expectations and goals for all employees and supervisors. It is important to ensure that this policy is comprehensive and applies to the specific needs of the organization.

Creating a Drug and Alcohol Workplace Policy

What is a workplace drug policy?

A workplace drug policy is a set of guidelines for employers and employees that can help create and maintain a safe workplace environment concerning the use of substances. The policy can act as a framework to help inform employees of their expectations and requirements within the organization.

It can also provide employers with information about complying with laws and regulations, protecting and maintaining employee health and professional performance, and managing substance-related issues in the workplace

Workplace drug policies are often created collaboratively between management and workers within the company, sometimes involving union representatives. This allows for the development of shared goals and expectations for all. 

The template for a comprehensive drug policy

Drug policies can vary depending on the type of organization and the specific needs and goals of the workplace. A comprehensive drug policy will often involve the following:

  • A statement of purpose: Explaining the goals and expectations of the organization and any legal compliance requirements.

  • Goals: Meeting legal requirements, organizational goals, and employee health and safety.

  • Expectations and definitions: Clear definitions of substance use, what behaviors are prohibited, when and where the rules apply, who will enforce the policy and procedures, and if/when drug testing will be carried out.

  • Strategies for providing information: How and when employees and supervisors can access training, educational resources, and policy information.

  • Strategies for providing support and equality: How confidentiality will be maintained, how substance-related support will be provided or referred including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), how discrimination will be prevented, and how to help employees understand and comply with the policy.

  • How violations will be managed: The consequences of violating the policy, such as investigation procedures, rehabilitation or treatment referrals, and disciplinary actions. Also, how employees can access representation or make an appeal during this process.

Different approaches to creating a workplace drug policy

Policies around drug and alcohol use can involve minimum requirements in order to meet laws and regulations or more extensive goals that apply to the workplace such as specific substance-related issues. 

Meeting legal requirements

The organization must be clear on its legal requirements, such as whether any federal or state laws are applicable. Seeking legal advice can help ensure that these laws are understood and met within policies.

This type of policy should include:

  • A clear description of what substances are prohibited and where.

  • How awareness and training will be provided to employees to ensure they know their legal requirements.

  • The actions of the employer to comply with laws, including the reporting of violations.

  • What actions will be taken if violations occur, such as disciplinary procedures and treatment referrals.

How to manage a range of substances

Some organizations may wish to include guidelines around the use of illegal and legal substances, including tobacco, alcohol, prescription medications, and medicinal marijuana (depending on state laws around marijuana use).

This type of policy could include:

  • Specific substances that are prohibited and where. For example, if there are designated smoking areas.

  • Guidelines around the use of prescription drugs in the workplace, particularly if they influence performance.

  • Guidelines around alcohol use, such as during meetings with clients or work events.

How to manage other substance-related issues

Some policies might include goals relating to specific substance-related issues that have occurred or could occur due to substance use, such as:

  • Absences, especially around weekends or holidays

  • Decline in productivity or performance

  • Missed deadlines

  • Property damage

  • Accidents in the workplace

How to create a statement of purpose

The statement of purpose in a written policy should clearly outline the organization’s goals and expectations regarding substance use. This can be a basic purpose, such as simply meeting legal requirements, or include a broader range of goals and purposes relating to other substances or substance-related issues.

The statement of purpose will typically begin with ‘The purpose of this policy is…’ and may include one or more of the following:

  • To comply with federal and state laws around substance use and drug testing in the workplace.

  • To detail which illegal or legal substances are prohibited in the workplace, including tobacco and alcohol.

  • To prevent and manage potential substance-related issues such as fitness-for-duty behaviors, missed deadlines or production schedules, and illnesses or absences.

  • To clearly explain the processes involved when employees experience substance-related issues, including providing support and service referrals.

Setting goals

The policy should include clear goals for the organization, which may vary and will depend on the type of organization, environment, and professional roles. This can include:

  • Complying with federal, state, or local laws

  • Managing absences, performance, and accidents

  • Promoting and protecting employee health and safety, including preventing or managing substance use issues and providing supportive services

Educating staff and new employees

Employers should ensure that they provide appropriate and comprehensive training and education to employees when commencing and during employment. This should include regular training to ensure staff understand the drug and alcohol policy and how they can access necessary information relating to the policy or associated resources such as EAPs.

Additionally, employers can provide education about substance use, including the potential harm to the individual and their work performance. Programs involving prevention strategies and health promotion can also be provided, such as ways to manage stress, pain, and nutrition. These programs can reduce the risk of substance use and improve overall health.

Creating awareness

Along with regular training and education programs, employers can help spread awareness around substance-related issues by providing accessible resources, such as on the company intranet, posters and leaflets in the workplace, and during meetings. This can include information about helpful services such as EAPs, helplines, and health-related programs.

Employers and supervisors can also ensure that they provide positive feedback relating to the policy and goals, to demonstrate recognition of employee efforts. Maintaining open communication can help promote healthy and supportive attitudes around substance-related issues and encourage employees to seek support.

Maintaining and improving

Before implementing the policy, it is helpful to design and prepare an evaluation protocol based on the organization’s goals and needs. This can include strategies to measure and track certain data and how to compare this data with baseline figures. This might include the number of absences or accidents relating to substance use.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the drug and alcohol policy at regular intervals can help determine successful areas and those that require improvement. This can involve discussions with employees and supervisors to gather information about their views. Aspects of the policy that have been ineffective can be reviewed and any necessary improvements or changes can be implemented.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Workplace Health Model

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work: Guidance for People Professionals

The International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA)

National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Develop a Policy

SAMHSA, Employer Resources