Major-league athletes may get the headlines, but they're not alone in their susceptibility to drug abuse. High-flying brokers, top executives, foremen, shipping clerks -- all are vulnerable and all are costing businesses a pretty penny. As Mark Juster, a Chicago labor lawyer, puts it: "If you've got a drug or alcohol problem in your factory, it's a good bet you're losing money." A 1984 report from the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration pegged business losses from alcohol and drug use at $99 billion a year.
The problem of drugs at work is so widespread that an estimated 30% of Fortune 500 companies have instituted drug-testing programs. Since the lab costs for a single workup range from $40 to $100, however, testing may be out of the financial reach of most smaller companies. Yet the costs of accidents, absenteeism, and theft cannot be ignored, either.
Peter Bensinger, a Chicago-based consultant who works primarily for Fortune 500 firms, advises small companies to adopt a preventive stance. He suggests, for example, that new hires be required to sign a consent agreement to take the tests or, upon refusal, to face the possibility of dismissal. "It sends a signal to a prospective employee, and may discourage a possible abuser from taking a job," he says. And, he adds, "a strongly worded policy also will show your current staff that you're aware such problems exist."
General Binding Corp., a $163-million company in Northbrook, Ill., has just such a policy. "GBC has a strong commitment to all GBCers to provide a safe and healthy work environment," it begins. "While GBC has no intention of intruding into the private lives of its employees, the Company expects all GBCers to report to work in a condition to perform their duties. The presence of alcohol or drugs on the job and the influence of them relative to employees during working hours are inconsistent with these objectives. . . ." The policy then goes on to list specific actions that the company will take in response to the sale, possession, and use of alcohol and drugs.
With the rise in employee lawsuits generally, it is very important that a company policy be cler and nondiscriminatory, and that any problem or incident be carefully documented."The most important thing for any employer," says Phil Moss, a lawyer with Perkins, Thompson, Hinckley & Keddy, a Portland, Maine, law firm, "is a well-thought-out policy and adequate supervisory training."