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HUMAN RESOURCES

Do You Have a Right to Know?

FaxPoll results on employee drug and alcohol abuse.
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Drug and alcohol abuse just isn't a big management issue for you. Most don't test for it. But whether or not you think you have the right to do so is another matter.

Do you have a written substance-abuse policy?

Yes 50%

No 50%

How big a problem is substance abuse in your company? Not at all 44%

Minor 45

Significant 9

Major 2

The majority of respondents feel that drug and alcohol abuse is at worst a minor issue. Maybe that's why this poll received by far the fewest responses we've ever gotten. Could it be that many readers didn't think it was a big enough issue to even take the poll? The larger the company, the more likely it was to report a problem with drug and alcohol abuse. Not surprisingly, then, larger companies are also far more likely to have a written substance-abuse policy. Does that mean drug- and alcohol-related problems in smaller companies are almost nonexistent? Or are those companies just not aware of the problem? According to Carl King, CEO of Team Building Systems, a preemployment-screening company in Houston, small businesses, whether they know it or not, are just as likely to have problems as large ones. "Really small companies, like those with fewer than 10 employees, are for the most part hiring people they know, whether they're relatives or friends or friends of relatives or whatever. They think they're safe because they know everybody." But such businesses are just as likely to have employees with abuse problems. After all, says King, 12% of the work force is affected by substance abuse, according to the National Retail Merchants Association. "It's unlikely that these people are only in larger companies," he says.

Do you screen your employees for drug or alcohol use?

No 63%

Yes, on a mandatory basis 31

Yes, on a voluntary basis 6

Larger companies are more likely to test on a mandatory basis, whereas smaller companies are more likely to make it voluntary. Why do you test? To protect productivity: "Drugs affect job performance and the profitability of the company." And to ensure safety: for certain jobs "lives are at stake, so drug-related impairment is a vital issue." Also, there's the company's image to consider: "Since my workers' performance is a reflection on my reputation, I have the right to know about anything that could have an adverse effect." But not all who test feel comfortable with it: "Mandatory drug tests still give me a queasy feeling -- but if random urine screens mean I have less to worry about, so be it."

If you screen, how do you think your employees feel about it?
They comply willingly 53%

They resent it but understand tha

it's necessaryt 32

They object to it 15

Most employees admit the necessity of testing, but a substantial minority have a problem with it. One major mitigating factor is the presence of a written policy. Companies that screen but don't have a written policy were more likely to report that their employees objected to testing (41%, versus 8% of those with a formal policy). Perhaps the existence of a policy lets the employees know where the company stands, so there's less resistance to testing. According to Richard Chanick, president of VSP International, a personnel consulting firm in Phoenix, "A written policy can prevent resentment. If you don't have a policy, and then some drunken forklift driver crashes, and then you start with the drug and alcohol testing, that's when you're going to face real resistance. It's better to be consistent over time."

Which of the following additional tests or screens does your company use?
Reference checks (from résumés) 84%

Experience/skills screens 46

Background checks 38

Criminal-history checks 28

Psychological/personality tests 19

Integrity/honesty screens 17

IQ tests 9

Driving-record checks 4

Regarding what you feel you have a right to know, your primary concern seems to be protecting your business and your investment. "I am paying employees a lot of money. I should be able to know what I'm buying." "I have an absolute right to know what my employees are doing." Even when they aren't at work? "If their playtime affects the business in a detrimental way, I have an obligation to deal with it appropriately." Others disagreed: "As long as they do their jobs, it's none of my damn business what they do on their own time." But where do you draw the line? According to Anne W. Lindsay, a lawyer with Productive Solutions, in Cleveland, specializing in personnel practices, "If there are things that don't directly relate to the job, you're better off not knowing them." In general, "you have to have a specific reason for wanting to know about employees' personal lives. If you don't, don't bother trying to find out." n

-- Christopher Caggiano




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