One evening in October 1988 members of the cleaning staff approached American Playworld's management and asked if it knew what was going on at the plant. Then they displayed drug paraphernalia they'd found while cleaning up -- syringes, plastic bags, and razor blades.
Nedra Allen, then personnel director of the Ogden, Utah, trampoline manufacturer, had to fight the impulse to confront employees. Instead she contacted a lawyer and a local government drug-control program and began to work with the specialists to develop a drug policy that would withstand the rigors of day-to-day job supervision. Along the way Allen learned three lessons: don't panic, don't punish, and don't make exceptions.
A month later, at a companywide meeting, she and the owners presented the workforce with a considered, airtight drug policy. They explained their concern about substance abuse in a manufacturing facility: "We weren't out to punish lifestyles," Allen emphasizes. "I just didn't want someone high driving a forklift toward me." Instead of presenting disciplinary action as punishment, she talks about the logical consequences of drug use -- a distinction that helps her keep interactions professional.
When the company initiated the policy, it closed for one day, with pay. All 50-odd employees had to undergo a urine test at a nearby lab; anyone who tested positive had to enroll in a company-approved rehabilitation program before returning to work. Workers who come up positive in random tests are suspended for three days, during which they must go to a company-approved drug counselor, who determines treatment. Otherwise, they're terminated. Since the policy was initiated, hiring at American Playworld has gotten tougher, too: testing positive in a preemployment screening means a rejection letter.
"Our lawyer said, 'If you're not going to do it 100%, don't even stick your foot in the water," says Allen. She made sure other managers knew to pass the buck to her when people asked for favors. How does she handle the pressure? "I have five kids; I've heard it all." She also trained with a drug counselor, who told Allen a job is the last thing an addict will give up because it pays for drugs. "I use it as a bargaining chip," and it's a good one, she says.
Pressure comes not just from users trying to escape treatment but also from affronted nonusers. Allen assures the workers that the owners themselves are randomly tested. She'll also put disgruntled workers on the phone, anonymously, with the company's lawyer, who can justify the policy if need be.
A year later the number of work-site accidents was down significantly, and so were insurance rates. Lifetime Products, which owned American Playworld, sold the division earlier this year but retains the same drug policy.
Benchmark: Who's Testing Whom
Although some experts question its effectiveness, drug testing is still on the rise in small companies, a trend paralleled in large corporations.
Percentage of companies with sales of less than $50 million that carry out drug testing on --
Job applicants Current employees
1990: 32.4% 1990: 32.6%
1994: 56.7 1994: 78.9
Source: "1994 AMA Survey on Workplace Drug Testing and Drug Abuse Policies," American Management Association, New York City, April 1994.