Drug Abusers and Small Business

August 2011

Drug use in the United States is rising at an alarming pace, and this is being felt in no greater place than the small American business.

While substance abuse is a valid concern for businesses of any size, smaller businesses are at a greater risk of drug abusers damaging or completely destroying the company. More drug abusers work there.

As far as American employees go as a whole, about half work at large corporations and the other half work at small business.

 The landscape shifts dramatically when looking at drug users. 90% of drug users work at small businesses. There’s more than one reason for this:

1: Smaller businesses often do not require new employees to undergo drug testing during the hiring process. Drug users have a better chance of ‘slipping through’ to jobs than at a larger corporation.

2: Small businesses often do not have an established drug-free workplace policy.

3. Owners of smaller businesses often have a more personal relationship with their employees than larger business owners. This creates a more difficult and complex situation when dealing with a drug abusing employee. Small business owners are more likely to turn a blind eye to drug abuse and give more ‘second chances’ than owners of larger companies.

The large amount of drug users leaves small businesses extremely vulnerable to high costs of employing drug abusers.

-The ‘dead weight’ costs. Drug users are more likely to miss work, be less productive, and be less focused. While the cost of these actions is difficult to quantify, it can add up to lots of dollars down the drain.

-The ‘lost customer’ costs. An unproductive employee may mishandle customer requests, needs, and complaints, causing disgruntled customers to take their business elsewhere. A small company most likely cannot absorb losing customers as easily nor can attract customers as quickly as a larger company. These losses can greatly impact the bottom line.

-The legal costs. Smaller businesses pockets are not as deep as larger corporations. If an impaired employee causes an accident or injury, the resulting lawsuits, workers comp claims, and property damage could devastate a small business much faster than a large corporation.

The co-worker costs. Employees of small businesses work closely together, and a drug abusing employee can strangle the productivity. Knowing other employees are abusing drugs can bring down morale. Workers may also have to redo work or cover for a drug abusing co-worker. The top producing employees may become disgruntled by the drug abusers performance to the point that they may leave the company.

Smaller business owners need to be aware of this trend and take steps to protect their company from drug abusing employees.

Step 1: Implement drug screening as part of the pre-employment screening process. A good portion of drug testing is relatively low-cost. This step can bring about a high level of benefit by screening out drug abusers BEFORE they are hired.

Step 2: Check out OSHA’s website. There are lots of free tools and resources available to create a drug free workplace.

Step 3: It’s advisable to have a written plan of how and on what occasions your company screens for drugs, and the actions that will be taken if an employee has drugs in their system. Stay consistent with that plan.

These 3 steps are low cost to the company and a good starting point to minimize a company’s risk and expense of employing drug abusers.

Having a program in place can play a vital role in increasing productivity, minimizing accidents, decreasing theft, and improving safety and attendance. And, for small companies, this can be the difference in thriving or going out of business.