Monday, October 17, 2011

Combating Drugs and Alcohol in the Food Industry

Statistics from the United States Department of Labor show illicit drug use at 17.4% for the food industry, compared to the national average of 8.2%. Heavy alcohol use is shown at 12.1%, compared to the national average of 8.8%. Much work remains to be done to bring down these figures for all restaurant owners. Having an effective drug and alcohol policy is one tool in the arsenal in the battle of drugs and alcohol. Effective drug and alcohol policies and procedures saves your restaurant untold amounts of money in workers' compensation, training dollars, general productivity, morale and theft. Assisting an employee who has a drug and alcohol problem is much more cost effective than hiring a new employee. The hiring and firing process, along with the training, is expensive. You have invested a lot of training dollars in your employees. There is no guarantee that the new employee does not have the same problems. Sixty percent of all employees can be successfully rehabilitated if they seek treatment. Train your management and supervisors with basic information about their role in your policies and their implementation. Through the school of hard knocks, I have had to develop my own employee drug and alcohol policy with my attorneys. I am not an attorney, so I recommend that you seek the advice of counsel. The document prepared for me protects me, my co-workers and employees, as well as the general public. This document states my intent to operate in an environment free of drugs and alcohol. "We believe that the use of drugs or alcohol or being under the influence jeopardizes the welfare and safety of our employees and visitors, as well as our productivity and efficiency. Compliance with the following provisions of the workplace drug and alcohol policy is a condition of employment." I outline my proposal for pre-employment screening. I define the use, sale or possession of drugs or alcohol which includes legal and illegal drugs. I give specific instructions on how to proceed if an employee has knowledge that another is using drugs. I give further specific guidelines about not covering up for a co-worker. I have provisions for searches and for testing for drugs or alcohol for all employees or individual testing, when necessary. I provide specific information on what disciplinary action will be taken and then provide a course of action for employee assistance programs. It is very important to have an employee assistance program. We maintain a referral service to help employees who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse. It is the responsibility of the employee to seek this out before an alcohol or drug problem leads to disciplinary action. Once a violation occurs, subsequent use of the assistance program may have no bearing on the determination of the discipline. The employee's decision to seek prior assistance will not be used as the basis of discipline; however, seeking help will not be a defense to imposition of discipline. In the event of an industrial accident, the employee acknowledges they will be required to undergo a drug and alcohol screening. This may sound like legal mumbo-jumbo, but it is important to protect yourself from lawsuits. I've had different instances where I thought that I was doing right. I knew one guy I hired was an alcoholic and had a problem drinking. About a month or a month and a half later, he didn't show up for work one day. I saw his picture on the front page of the paper that day and the story that he was picked up in a parole sweep. He was drunk and they put him back in prison. He failed to mention on his application that he was a parolee too. However, while he was in prison in Southern California, he filed for unemployment assistance. I contested the claim, offering my proof that he was arrested and even on the front page of the newspaper. Even though this was many years ago, I'm sure you can understand my surprise when I received notice that this employee was entitled to receive unemployment benefits. The reasoning behind the decision was that I knew he was an alcoholic when I hired him and that under the American Disabilities Act he had been proven an alcoholic in the past and was doing what alcoholics do. They actually ruled in his favor. A more recent experience was about a year ago. I had a waitress who was, without a doubt, loaded on narcotics. She came back from a break and she was obviously under the influence. I was at one of my other restaurants when my wife called me. We immediately took this server off the floor. We questioned her and wanted to send her for a drug test, but the server ended up leaving the restaurant and going home. I ended up terminating her. At the time of our unemployment hearing, the Administrative Law Judge was very intent on determining why my staff did not call an ambulance if we were so concerned about her being under the influence and a danger to herself and others. As an alternative, the Administrative Law Judge voiced her concern about how this employee was allowed to drive home. As things turned out, my restaurant lost this decision because we did not have this plan in effect. These are some of the things that you, as an employer, must weigh. You have to consider the time invested in any employee, how long they have been with you, do they generally want to try, are they a good employee, are they salvageable or do they want help? You see, there is a difference between treatment and recovery. Anyone can go to treatment, but once in treatment and physically removed from the alcohol or the drugs, your employee must be willing to seek help for their problem. The well known 12 Step programs talk about the surrender and admitting process required in accepting a problem and the follow-through program of action to stay off the drugs and alcohol. To be physically withdrawn from the drugs and alcohol is the first step. Once that happens, then recovery begins. There are different 12 Step programs available from Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, outpatient programs and even church. Recovery depends on what the addiction is and how far your employee is willing to go. My own experience has shown that some of my absolute best employees are the ones that I took the time and made the investment in to assist with their drug and alcohol problems. Several of these employees have now been with me for 20 years because they have come from the depths of despair and frustration and been able to reassemble their families and become productive members of society again. They show up to work and give an honest day of work for an honest day of pay. As an employer, it is fabulous to watch and know that you can actually affect and help other people's lives.

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