“LIUNA Business Agents are on the front line when it comes to handling drug testing issues and concerns,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Drug tests almost always prompt anxious calls. How do you answer the questions? We asked our Health Promotion Division to provide some guidance.”
Q. It’s just a little pot. What can they do to me?
Testing positive for “just marijuana” is not permissible on a drug-free worksite regardless of how harmless some may view it. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and this includes making sure employees are free of drugs and alcohol while working. Using marijuana can impair decision making, slow reaction times and prevent someone from being able to focus on the job.
You should become familiar with employers’ drug-free workplace policies and know what the consequences of positive drug tests are. There is usually a requirement to seek some kind of rehabilitation, to be off the job for a specified period of time and to pass a return-to-duty drug test before reentering the jobsite and working again.
Q. DUI in most states is .08 – why is it usually lower on jobsites?
The highest rates of heavy alcohol use are found in construction (15.9%), almost twice the average of all industries combined. This is cause for concern and reason enough for employers to have stringent policies. Contractors have a responsibility to provide a safe jobsite, and workers expect the site to be alcohol-free.
Keeping the cutoff level low sends the message that being under the influence of alcohol, even just a little, will not be tolerated. The low level discourages drinking before or during a shift. It also serves as a deterrent to coming to work hung over, which also poses a threat to safety.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has established an alcohol concentration level of 0.02% as the point at which a worker is considered positive for the presence of alcohol. Many employers follow DOT regulations. You should familiarize yourself with the specific employer policies in your area.
Q. Where can I get help?
First, you must familiarize yourself with your members’ benefits and what programs are available locally. Whether members seek assistance because they tested positive or because they are taking the initiative to get help, you need to be in a position to direct them. If someone does test positive, it will be critical that he or she follow the steps laid out in the employer’s drug-free workplace policy.
If a Member Assistance Program (MAP) is available, that is often an appropriate first step. If no MAP exists, we suggest members check with their health and welfare fund to see if they have substance abuse coverage and whether they need to go through certain channels and/or to certain providers for assistance. If no substance abuse benefits are available, other resources are accessible. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline offers information on substance use disorder issues and referral to treatment, in English and Spanish, 24-hours a day (800-662-HELP, 800-662-4357, 800-487-4889 (TDD), www.samhsa.gov). Finally, self-help groups can be a source of support for someone struggling with a drug and/or alcohol abuse problem. You can go online to find local contact information from organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous; these groups generally offer local support meetings.
Q. I hear I’ll be strip searched. Is that legal?
There are no actual strip searches taking place; however, recently the DOT adopted some changes to direct observation procedures and when they occur.
DOT’s July 30, 2009, final rule mandates direct observations of all return-to-duty and follow-up drug tests. Previously, it was up to an employer whether or not to have these tests observed.
In addition, under the new rule, observation procedures have become more invasive. Employees who work under DOT regulations and must provide urine samples for drug tests (after previously failing a test) must now “raise their shirts, blouses or dresses/skirts above the waist, and lower their pants and underpants, to show the observer, by turning around, that they do not have a prosthetic device on their person. After this is done, they may return their clothing to its proper position” and provide the sample.
While LIUNA supports strong drug-free workplace programs to help ensure the safety, health and wellness of members, it does not support the tougher direct observation requirements. Although covered employers and employees must now adhere to these new rules, LIUNA and the LHSFNA will continue to fight for more dignified methods. Encouraging the use of alternative testing specimens, such as oral fluids (saliva) and hair, and discouraging employers that are not subject to DOT testing from including more invasive procedures are two ways to address member concerns.
“We need to remember that construction has one of the highest injury and fatality rates of all industries,” says Sabitoni. “It is everyone’s responsibility to do what we can to prevent deaths and injuries. Keeping our jobsites and members drug- and alcohol-free will make work safer for everyone.”