At surface level, alcohol and drug testing in the workplace is often seen as a privacy invasion of employees. The act of testing may be viewed as intrusive by certain individuals, as information about substance use of employees is obtained by companies, even if alcohol or drugs were taken outside working hours. That said, as long as testing is conducted on probable grounds and the private data of employees is managed professionally, alcohol and drug testing in the workplace benefits not only the workplace but also the community as a whole.
Ensures a safe working environment
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 1 in every 20 Australian deaths was caused by alcohol and illicit drugs. All it takes is one employee working under the influence to put other coworkers at risk. To manage these health and safety risks in the workplace, on-site alcohol and drug testing is commonly done in some high-risk industries, such as aviation, mining, and transport.
While alcohol and drug testing results do not necessarily indicate whether employees are fit-for-work, they are the closest indicators towards ensuring that no employees work under the influence in the workplace.
Boosts employee productivity and morale
Alcohol and drug use not only attributes to injuries and deaths in the workplace but also to lost productivity and absenteeism. Each year, Australian workplaces lose an estimated $6 billion in productivity due to substance use and resulting hangovers.
Even though white-collar professionals do not work in a high-risk environment, working under the influence causes reduced ability to complete tasks. A coworker often needs to step in to make up for the lost productivity. This can impact overall employee morale if the incidents reoccur without being addressed properly. Thus, alcohol and drug testing can serve as a deterrent for substance use that can affect work performance.
Plays a part in combating substance abuse issues in Australia
Besides affecting safety and work performance in the workplace, substance use also has a social impact on Australian communities. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) found that 21% of Australians aged 14 and above have experienced verbal or physical abuse, or have been put in fear by someone under the influence of alcohol.
As people spend a significant amount of time at work, alcohol and drug testing in the workplace helps identify employees who need help with recovering from substance addiction. A positive alcohol and drug testing result should not be used as supporting evidence for unfair dismissal, rather it should be an avenue for employees with substance use issues to seek further help and enrol in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Together with various programs run by governmental agencies and non-profit organisations, alcohol and drug testing in the workplace contributes to a healthy and safe community in Australia.
Even though alcohol and drug testing among employees is legal in Australia, with solid grounds as for why it should be done regularly, an alcohol and drug testing policy should be communicated at length to all employees from the very beginning. This makes sure that all stakeholders understand the importance of alcohol and drug testing, as well as allows for the company to provide adequate support via an EAP for those who are struggling with substance use. A healthy and safe community free from substance abuse can start in the workplace.