The decision to start a drug-testing program is a nuanced one. While it helps ensure the safety of your employees and customers, it also narrows an already shrinking labor pool.
Josh Flynn, CEO of Seabreeze Property Services, based in Portland, Maine, and Gerry Bower, president/CEO of Total Lawn Care, LLC, based in Weslaco, Texas, share why they implemented drug-free policies at their companies.
Both Bower and Flynn say the main reason they decided to start drug testing is for safety.
“Additionally, this operating standard mitigates issues from unsafe practices in the field,” Flynn says. “We hold ourselves to high standards and customers depend on us, particularly in the winter, to service their locations. We would rather have fewer, more reliable, and drug-free employees than the other way around.”
Bower says he’s been drug testing off and on for the past 20 years while Flynn says they’ve been drug testing for almost four years. Both say they’ve had incidents with employees abusing drugs in the past.
“One employee who worked for us that we terminated after a safety violation (before the testing really began) passed away from an overdose a couple of weeks after leaving our company and it was I think a wakeup call for everyone involved that there is a serious problem that exists within our community that we need to appropriately address,” Flynn says.
Pros and Cons of Testing
Drug testing can serve as a deterrent and also filter out candidates who may not be the best fit for your operation. Flynn says drug testing also ensures everyone is treated equally and fairly and emphasizes that safety is a key priority across the organization.
“Additionally, testing conveys to our customers that our crews are comprised of professionals capable of servicing their facilities,” Flynn says. “Our goal is to provide consistent and reliable service and the quality of our workforce is the key to making that happen.”
Flynn says large corporate campuses, health care operations, retirement facilities and other customers with high-security measures place a high importance on drug screening.
While it’s hard to determine one cause of employee retention, Flynn says their retention rates nearly doubled after implementing drug testing and few other employee-related practices.
“I believe the ones that don’t use appreciate that we protect them,” Bower says.
Bower says drug testing has also helped them reduce accidents. Flynn says in their case, while drug testing hasn’t directly lowered their insurance rates, it has limited liability and the prevalence of preventable instances.
As for the drawbacks of drug testing, it diminishes your hiring pool. Testing is also costly and can limit the frequency you’d like to test.
“Seabreeze has over 100 employees, and with basic tests starting at $70+, regular screens can be very costly to administer,” Flynn says. “Additionally, upon rollout, some employees viewed the program as a witch hunt. However, those feelings subsided quickly after the first few rounds and additional education on why we were performing those tests.”
When to Test
When it comes to retaining employees’ trust while adding a drug-testing program, it is important to communicate your motives and to test consistently.
“At the very beginning trust was an issue, but as we worked through the process, our teams better understood that the company’s actual motive was to protect employees,” Flynn says. “Employees who don’t abuse drugs don’t want to work with those that do, so naturally this filtered out the employees who don’t fit our company culture.”
Bower says they conduct drug tests before hiring, randomly and after accidents. Seabreeze conducts drug testing for every new hire and they’ve had mass testing events in the past but have scaled it back to more incident-related testing as needed. Flynn says often when employees are suspected and are using hard drugs, they go ahead and come forward about the situation before having to test.
In the cases where an employee comes to Seabreeze before an incident occurs and communicates their problems, Flynn says they will do everything in their power to support the employee. He says their company has taken the stance that testing is merely one piece of the overall approach to addressing substance abuse, which is a pervasive problem throughout the country.
“This includes helping find rehabilitation and detox placements as well as assisting with filing for insurance, guaranteed employment, no loss in stature or pay upon completion of a program, and a promise to commit to them moving forward afterward,” he says.
Seabreeze employees seeking rehabilitation enter in-patient programs. Upon release from the facility and completion of the program, Flynn says they will integrate the employee back into the daily work schedule as they feel comfortable doing.
“I think substance abuse is a very personal problem and there are varying degrees to which treatment works for each individual,” Flynn says. “The most important thing is that they want to get help not simply that they participate. For our company, those that have sought and completed treatment have successfully returned to our company and contributed significantly to our success while on the continued road to recovery.”
As certain drugs like marijuana become legalized in more states, it can be challenging to find a balance.
“I don’t want to judge, I want each person’s privacy protected, but if they test positive, we give them the opportunity to work with the tester if they feel it is wrong,” Bower says.
Because marijuana is legal in Maine, Seabreeze handles this the same way companies treat alcohol: don’t use it at work and don’t work under the influence.
“For substances that are considered legal in the State of Maine what an employee does on their off time is their personal choice, but they must understand the effect that the abuse or misuse of those substances can have on their employment and ultimately their career in this industry,” Flynn says.
Flynn says their employees understand their conduct outside the hourly workday is just as important when they are working on customer sites. Many Seabreeze employees drive lettered vehicles and wear company apparel in social settings. Flynn says they know that they represent the company brand and the entire team even if they are not on the clock.
Advice for Others
Bower encourages others to adopt a drug-free policy for safety reasons.
“The frequency can be a couple times a year, but you’re still sending your team (the message) that they matter,” he says.
When implementing a drug-free workplace, make sure you have a formal written policy, decide the frequency you will test and have an employee assistance plan of action. Check out NALP’s drug use form to get started.
“It would be ignorant to say, ‘that doesn’t happen at my company’ because it does,” Flynn says. “However, we can all take part in the solution through a compassionate approach that includes accountability and support. Drug testing is just one piece of that.”