Best of the Best: Preventing Drug, Alcohol Issues in Your Business

Oct. 24, 2017
Don't let substance abuse harm your team or business's reputation. Rissy Sutherland talks to an HR and substance abuse expert about how to safeguard your shop.

On an average day in any automotive business, a shop owner is subject to liabilities at every turn. Is your equipment working properly? Are my employee’s safe? Am I doing all the right things regarding Department of Labor laws and OSHA if I get an audit tomorrow?  Are mine and my customer’s financial data safe? Are our employees performing at the high standards we expect of them?

If you have an employee who’s using or abusing drugs and/or alcohol, the answer to the last question is … probably not.   

Recently I was able to spend some time with many shop owners and dealerships at a convention, and I heard more horror stories regarding drug and alcohol abuse in their shops that created liability risk, retraining costs and re-staffing costs! So I started to do some research with industry experts and found a few staggering numbers.

Employees who use or abuse drugs and alcohol are 3.5 times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents than those who do not. One study showed that employees who tested positive for marijuana were 85 percent more likely to be have an on-the-job injury and have a 75 percent greater absenteeism rate than employees who tested negative. For us, that can mean a deadly injury to one of our staff, customers or damage to a customer’s vehicle when working on it or driving it.

So, how do you know when an employee has a drug/alcohol problem and is starting the downhill spiral that will become a problem for you and your shop?

As you know, my focus is on the “best of the best” for every aspect of our businesses. Therefore, I wanted to find the best-of-the-best expert in this field but one that also understood our industry.  Many times, we focus so much on hiring—in terms of filling openings—that we overlook the key aspect of who we hire and the teams we put together.

After much research about the subject I found one of the top experts in the field to learn more!  Leslie Prince, the president of Compliance Systems, began her career in DOT compliance in 1990, working in the drug and alcohol testing department of an occupational health clinic where she assisted companies regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. She helped them with the development and implementation of their drug and alcohol testing programs.

She provides the training, policy and procedure development for regulatory compliance, drug and alcohol testing, document management and more to fleets and DOT companies. If she’s the best for all of them, I knew she would be the best to help us understand prevention, warning signs, audits, compliance, programs and most importantly how to protect teams and minimize liabilities.

We all want to start with prevention, so I asked Leslie signs to look for when an employee has a drug/alcohol problem and starting the downhill spiral that will become a problem for our shops.

Leslie said you must look at this question from two perspectives because these characteristics fall into two buckets: an acute problem (your employee comes to work smelling like a brewery; you’ve got an immediate problem in this case) and a pattern of behavior (there are tell-tale signs that you notice over a period of time).

Some of the most common workplace manifestations of a drug or alcohol problem are:

  • Frequent unexcused absences or tardiness (especially on Mondays and Fridays)
  • An unkempt appearance—and the employee doesn’t seem to care.
  • Frequent minor accidents or near misses (either at work or at home)
  • Poor work quality and missed deadlines
  • Disinterest in fellow employees; only concerned with himself/herself
  • Unusual behaviors (unsteady gait, shaky hands, bloodshot eyes, sudden weight loss)

My next question was: What do we do if we think we have a problem in our shops or want to prevent one in the future?  

Leslie said that If you think you might have a problem in your workplace or just want to minimize the chance that such a problem develops, your first line of defense is to implement a drug free workplace program that includes random testing. A drug free workplace program is relatively easy and inexpensive to develop and includes the following components:

  • Policy Development
  • Employee Training
  • Supervisor Training
  • Drug Testing (Pre-Employment, Random, Post Accident, Reasonable Suspicion, Post Rehabilitation)
  • Employee Assistance Program or Community Referral Resources

If this checklist seems difficult and/or time consuming, you can easily find a drug/alcohol testing company or consultant to help you walk through the process.

I also asked Leslie: Besides the normal benefits that we all know about, what is a benefit that a shop owner could get that we may not be award of?

Leslie really hit home when she alerted me to the fact that many states mandate a discount on your workers compensation premiums to incentivize employers to make the effort to initiate a testing program. That’s music to our ears!

Leslie and I then moved into talking about the common mistakes she sees when employers implement a program.

She said that many times an employer wants to implement a testing program but they are unwilling to invest a few extra dollars in random testing. The random testing component is key. Most applicants know they are going to be drug tested when they are looking for employment and, even a frequent user, will stay clean. But after they are on your payroll, they are your liability and that’s when your testing program can make a difference. Employers who have implemented a testing program report an improvement in morale (everyone shows up on time and does their work!), an increase in productivity (again, everyone shows up on time and does their work!), and a decrease in accidents, theft, and turnover.

Leslie said that throughout her career, she’s seen many successful programs, but one particularly stands out! The month after one of my clients implemented a testing program, the number of on-the-job injuries that occurred was literally cut in half. Had I not seen the chart myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.  

The bottom line to your bottom line is that an employee with a drug and/or alcohol abuse problem can have a devastating effect on a shop’s finances. Most drug users are employed—75 percent of them, actually. According to a 2013 study done by HireRight, 90 percent of employers conduct drug testing on applicants and approximately 70 percent of employers test their employees. You don’t want to be the last one on the block to implement a drug/alcohol testing program. Where do you think all those applicants who abuse drugs/alcohol and have attendance and performance problems will show up and want a job? Don’t let it be at your shop.

That you so much to Leslie A. Prince, the president of Compliance Systems, for being the best of the best on a subject that many of us know little about but can have such huge ramifications on our shops and livelihoods!

About the Author

Rissy Sutherland

Rissy Sutherland is an auto care industry lifer, having grown up in her family’s automotive franchise business and later implementing the training and operational systems for all 300 auto repair franchise locations for Moran Industries—the automotive giant that purchased her family’s shops. She has opened more than 400 shops in her career as the executive for nearly a dozen automotive brands. She is one of the industry’s foremost experts in shop operations.

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