Workplace Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of employees (in the state of Maine) currently have a substance abuse problem?

Maine state data has not been compiled as of this writing, but national information is available. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that in the U.S. among full-time workers aged 18 – 49, 1 in 12 reported past month heavy alcohol use, and 1 in 13 reported past month illicit drug use. In the past year, 1 in 14 of these workers was dependent or abusing alcohol, and 1 in 53 was dependent or abusing illicit drugs.

What are some symptoms and/or indicators an employer can look for that may indicate an employee has a problem with substance abuse?

It is not the employer’s responsibility to diagnosis the problem, but to recognize an employee in trouble. These performance and behavior problems may be signs of substance abuse, but can also be signs that the employee may have some other problem - i.e. health, family, depression, etc.:

Productivity is poor  /  Lack of personal hygiene
Increased absenteeism   /  Tired or falls asleep at work
Questionable extended lunch or breaks  /   Distracted easily
Low motivation and efficiency  /  Change in personality
Poor quality of work
Lack of concentration and attention to detail
Anti-social behavior
Disregard for safety

When uncertain about the nature of an employee’s problem, employers should address the concern with the employee in a caring and supportive way and consider what it would be like to be in his/her place.  Steps and acommondation's employers can implement are addressed in the questions below.

Top of Page

What are some of the most common misunderstandings an employer may have regarding substance abuse in the workplace?

A.  Substance abuse is not an issue in the workplace.

The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) reported 107.3 million persons aged 18 to 49 in the labor force, of whom 81.7 percent (87.7 million persons) worked full-time. Among full-time workers aged 18-49 years in 2000, 1 in 12 reported past month heavy alcohol use and 1 in 13 reported past month illicit drug use. In the past year, 1 in 14 of workers was dependent or abusing alcohol, and 1 in 53 was dependent or abusing illicit drugs. The results of workers who reported past month illicit drug use were compared to those that reported they did not. The workers reporting illicit drug use were twice as likely to have had three or more employers in the past year and had two or more illnesses or injury related days out of work. Workers with past month illicit drug use were also two and a half times more likely to have skipped two or more work days in the past month, compared to those that did not use.

B.  Substance abuse prevention programs in the workplace are not cost effective and would take away from the bottom line.

The Maine Office of Substance Abuse report The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Maine, 2000 stated, "The total estimated annual cost of substance abuse in Maine was $618 million." If divided by Maine's 2000 Census population count, that's $484 for every man, woman, and child in Maine. OSA's Cost of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Maine 2000 - Exective Summary states the following in regard to Morbidity - the estimated cost of lost productivity due to alcohol and drug abuse in Maine, 2000:

Approximately $69.8 (72%) of these costs were attributed to alchol abuse and $27.6 million (28%) were attributed to drug abuse. Substance abuse among males accounted for $72.3 million or 74% of total costs in this category. The highest morbidity cost, $28.6 million, was due to alcohol disorders among males age 25-44. Total costs related to lost productivity in 2000 were an estimated $97.4 million and represented 16% of the total cost of substance abuse in Maine.

Studies have shown that preventing problematic substance use can be an important component in helping reduce both the social and economic costs of substance abuse. Employers can save money by implementing workplace substance abuse prevention programs. Prevention programs help lower recruitment and training costs, worker’s compensation costs and result in fewer work related accidents. Data on cost-effectiveness of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) indicate that a savings to investment ratio may be as great as 15:1.  For every dollar spent in preventing illicit drug use, there is a fifteen-dollar savings in dealing with the consequences of drug use and addiction. According to a study by the human-resources information provider, Commerce Clearing House, Inc. (CCH), the average per-employee cost of absenteeism was $789 per year in 2002, up from $755 in 2001.  EAPs, as part of a Drug Free Work Place, can save employers money due to fewer absences, lower turnover, and lower medical claims of employees and their family members.

C.  Terminating an employee with a substance abuse problem would be the best thing for the company, other employees, and the employee with substance abuse issues.

Employers invest in employees through training, skill development, and work experience. They are an investment and have value. Implementing an employee performance / behavior contract, retaining the employee and referring them to treatment may be less expensive than hiring and training a new employee. If the employee does not meet the expectations of the performance appraisal then the employer may follow through with the consequences previously discussed in a pre-established performance contract. Steps an employer may take are be found in the information below.

D.  A majority of employees would be resistant to a Drug Free workplace program.

In 1995 the Gallup Organization conducted a study of 1006 people who were currently employed outside of their home. Seventy-one percent of all participants worked for a company with a policy regarding workplace drug use. Among those who worked for a company with a drug use policy, seventy-four percent felt that the policy was adequate to address the problem. Participants reported the following effects that drug use has on their workplaces:

Drug use had a negative effect on the image of their company.
The employee attendance, workplace safety, and the quality of products and services were all affected by drug use.
The healthcare problems of substance abusers had a direct effect on their personal healthcare costs and coverage as well as on their company’s healthcare costs.

Overall the participants supported a company’s right to randomly test employees for drugs, and believed that random testing served to deter employee drug use, and the periodic testing tended to reduce accidents and problem defects.

Top of Page

What kind of accommodations can an employer provide employees when dealing with a substance abuse issue?

An employer can develop a Drug Free Workplace Program (DFWP). A Drug Free Workplace Program serves the employees and the employer and its design is as comprehensive as needed. Assessing the extent and degree of the substance abuse issue in the company is done through a company wide needs assessment. Once the needs have been determined, an employer may implement any or all of the components of a basic program. In 1988, Congress passed the Drug Free Workplace Act, which requires employers to have a Drug Free Workplace Program if they have a federal contract, or are the recipient of a federal grant. Any employer can develop a DFWP, even if they do not have a Federal Contract or Grant. The components of a basic program are:

  • The employer’s written drug use policy that lists what is prohibited and the consequences of violating the policy. It is recommended that the employees and employer write this policy together.
  • The employees must read and agree to the policy as a condition of employment.
  • The employer must have an awareness program to educate employees about the employer’s policy, substance abuse and addiction, and available assistance and counseling.
  • If a recipient of a federal grant or contract, the employers must disclose any conviction for a drug-related offense in the workplace to the funding Federal agency within 10 days after receiving notice from the employee or others.
  • The employer must make maintaining a workplace free of drugs an ongoing effort.

As one tool of a more comprehensive Drug Free Workplace program, an employer may implement drug testing. Drug testing requires a great deal of research and work in the areas of legality, disability issues, employee rights, and if unions are involved, negotiations with union representatives . Employer drug testing that is not performed in response to federal mandates is controlled by the Maine Substance Abuse Testing Law, Title 26 MRSA, Section 681 et seq. Any employer who wants to have a substance abuse testing program (but is not required to under federal law) must submit a policy to the Bureau of Labor Standards (BLS), Wage and Hour Division for review and approval. A model substance abuse testing policy is available on the BLS website to help employers develop an acceptable policy.

Top of Page

What steps can employers take when working with an employee battling a substance abuse problem?

Employers need to consider how they would want to be addressed if they had a problem, most likely respectfully and confidentially. Address the individual’s behavior in a timely manner, one to one, staying focused on the behavior. This is about the employee’s behavior, not about who they are as a person. Addiction is a treatable disease. Once compared to diabetes, a treatable disease, with advances in science it is now suggested that drug addiction is a brain disease similar to clinical depression . People with alcoholism and/or drug addiction can be treated and live fulfilling, productive and meaningful lives.

Document all incidents and keep records in their personnel file. Develop a performance contract for the employee. The expected performance improvements should be realistic and clearly written. Base the performance contract on the employee’s job description, or the employee’s most current past evaluation / appraisal. The employer sets a target date by which the employee will need to meet the performance expectations of the contact. On the target date the employee and the employer will meet to review the performance contract and to discuss the employee’s progress. The plan should include clear consequences for not meeting the performance appraisal, or if another incident was to occur.

Once the contract is written the employer and the employee meet to review it.  At this time, the employer may want the employee to add an expectation(s) if it reflects positively, is realistic, and is consistent with the employer’s expectations for improvement. This allows the employee to have some ownership in the process. An expectation may be that the employee requests a weekly performance report from the employer to ensure that they are on track. The employer may offer or require the employee seek assistance, treatment, counseling, or referral services within the company or outside the company. An employer can be supportive of an employee’s treatment efforts by:

  • Assisting the employee in finding a treatment provider using the Maine Office of Substance Abuse Program and Services Directory, an on-line searchable directory of licensed treatment agencies, contracted prevention services, and Driver Education and Evaluation providers.
  • Consider that if employee is seeking treatment, the employee may need to consult with the treatment provider to determine a realistic target date. Offering the employee time to review and think about the contract will allow them to do this. The employer needs to emphasize that the behavior contract is effective immediately, but that the target date may be determined within a limited amount of time (for example, by the end of the week, Friday 12noon).
  • Offering the employee flextime so that the can seek counseling and/or outpatient treatment during the business day.

Top of Page

What can a small business do to address an employee's substance abuse outside of an Employee Assistance Program?

Create a substance abuse policy for your workplace that clearly outlines prohibited substances, expectations of workers, managers, the employer, procedures for reporting violations and the consequences for policy violations. Work with employees on developing this policy. Once the policy is developed, inform every employee of the policy in writing and clearly post it where employees have access to it. Employees must read and agree to the policy as a condition of employment.

Train supervisors and employees about substance abuse and addiction. Training should be comprehensive, covering signs and symptoms of abuse/addiction and effects on the workplace, family, schools, and community. Defining and discussing enabling is important so that supervisors and managers have appropriate boundaries and understand where their responsibilities end and the employee’s begins. Training should also cover the company, local, county and state resources for counseling, prevention and treatment services.

Provide information about substance abuse and addiction through pamphlets and posters. Post Information in restrooms, cafeterias, and break rooms, or any place an employee may have time to read the information. Other ways of providing this information is with paychecks, or in the company newsletter. Post substance abuse/addiction information in company wide emails or linked through the company’s human resources, EAP, or employees’ web page.

Substance abuse issues may range from the employee abusing substances that affects their work and/or their personal life, to concerns about a loved one with a substance abuse problem. Both can affect an employee’s productivity, effectiveness, attendance, and health. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s @Work Program ( can assist employers in bringing information to their employees about youth substance abuse. This site makes it simple for employers to integrate drug-prevention information and resources into the company newsletters and web-sites.

Develop a Peer to Peer Program where selected employees are trained in interpersonal communication skills and information about local and state resources. These Peers are available to assist and make referrals for employees.

Provide resources within the company (EAPs, workplace prevention programs, workplace support groups) and in the community that the employees may seek out for assistance or support. Work together with other businesses to form benefit consortiums to offer employees health and other benefits as Employee Assistance Programs. There is something to say about “power in numbers”, or should it be said “more buying” power in numbers. There are a number of other resources that may provide assistance to the employer for little or not cost.   More information can be found at the Substance Abuse and the Workplace Resource page.

Top of Page

Where can I find licensing and certification information about establishing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Licensing and Certification - Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) is responsible for overseeing EAP licensing/certification. This website provides information and forms for the EAP licensing/certification application process; regulations for EAPs for employers operationg in Maine; information about alcohol and drug testing in the workplace; and guidelines for annual evaluation of EAPs. Employers that employee 20 or more employees in Maine that wish to conduct drug testing in Maine must have a Maine licensed/certified EAP.

Top of Page