“Zero Tolerance” is not a Solution

Many businesses want to be tough on substance abuse, so they enact a zero tolerance substance abuse policy. Although these policies may remove that substance abuser from their workplace, they do little to address the issues of substance abuse in the community. Instead of offering a solution to substance abuse, these policies essentially just make it somebody else’s problem. There are some businesses for whom I do recommend a zero tolerance policy, but in general, I advise businesses to establish a more effectual Substance Free Workplace program. Here are some reasons that a zero tolerance policy is problematic:

1. Employees “work the circuit” Although it is possible for a job loss to prompt an individual to seek treatment, it is much more likely that he will simply seek new employment. As a result, employees who leave one workplace for substance abuse issues will often just end up in another workplace. The employer who fired that employee hasn’t eliminated the safety risks of an impaired worker, he has just sent them to a different location. Likewise, he may be employing individuals who have already been fired from another workplace. We often come across individuals who are “working the circuit” and moving from one place of employment to another while continuing to struggle with substance abuse. Substance abuse remains an issue for the business community.

2. Individual struggles An individual struggling with addiction needs support and resources to enter and sustain recovery. They may also need motivation and accountability. A workplace is able to meet all of these needs through an EAP program, health insurance, supervision, follow-up drug testing, peer support, etc. The employer is in a unique position to identify a potential substance abuse issue, refer an employee to a substance abuse evaluation, and ensure that the employee follows treatment recommendations. A zero tolerance policy will identify what may or may not be a substance abuse issue and do nothing to address it. Instead of encouraging an individual to seek treatment while maintaining employment, it will decrease their access to treatment while denying employment.

3. Community costs Forcing a substance abuser out of the workplace puts them at risk of becoming a burden to the community. The costs associated with unemployment and addiction are staggering. If an individual is unable to work and struggling with substance abuse, at some point the community will bear the costs of their living expenses, health care and any expenses accrued if they become involved with the legal system. Not to mention the loss of their productivity in the community. There are additional “costs” to that individual’s family and friends, as well.

Zero Tolerance Alternatives There are many alternatives to zero tolerance policies that not only protect the workplace, but also protect the individual and the community. It is important that all workplace policies are sustainable and responsible. If you don’t want to miss an opportunity to be a part of the solution, contact us to help you with your Substance Free Workplace policies.

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