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Anti-drug programs in the workplace: are they here to stay?

Howard V. Hayghe

In 1988, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted the Survey of Employer Anti-drug Programs to find out how many private nonfarm employers were taking steps to help prevent employee drug use and to find out what these steps were.1 Employers were asked whether they had any drug-testing programs, employee-assistance programs, or formal written policy statements regarding drug abuse by employees. The survey, however, did not generate information that could indicate whether the incidence of anti-drug programs or policies was changing over time.

As drug-related issues continued to have a growing impact on the workplace, the lack of up-to-date information on employers' anti-drug practices has hampered analysts and policy-makers. Therefore, to try to measure changes in the frequency of some of the major practices in 1990, the Bureau conducted a follow-up survey of a sample of the employers who had participated in the 1988 survey.

The follow-up survey was limited to establishments in existence in both 1988 and 1990. That is, it did not cover any that were formed since the 1988 survey. Like its predecessor, the 1990 survey sought to determine the incidence of drug-testing programs, employee-assistance programs, and formal written policy statements regarding drug use by employees. While the recent survey was not large enough to provide data at the same level of detail as the 1988 survey, it did reveal strong indications of fairly rapid changes in the proportion of employers with anti-drug policies and programs.


The 1990 survey indicated that, while the overall incidence of drug-testing programs among the establishments that were originally surveyed in 1988 remained unchanged in 1990, the proportion with employee-assistance programs and formal, written policy statements regarding drug use among employees had increased. Drug-testing programs. Less than 3 percent of small establishments (those with fewer than 50 employees) had drug-testing programs in 1990. This was about the same proportion as in 1988. And, because these small firms make up the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of all establishments in the United States, there was virtually no change in the overall proportion of establishments with testing programs.

However, the proportion of large establishments (those with 250 employees or more) with drug-testing programs rose from 32 percent in 1988 to 46 percent in 1990 and the proportion of medium-sized establishments (50 to 249 employees) with testing programs grew from 14 percent to 26 percent. But, because these larger establishments were so few in number (relative to the small ones), these large gains in the proportions with testing programs had virtually no impact on the totals. (See table 1.)

While many employers adopted drug-testing programs between 1988 and 1990, others discontinued their testing programs. (See table 2.) Overall, about 1 out of 3 establishments that reported having a drug-testing program in 1988 said they did not have one in 1990. Large establishments were much less likely than small ones to have discarded a testing program. Of the large establishments that had reported having a drug-testing program in 1988, only 9 percent said they did not have one in 1990. By contrast, 46 percent of the small businesses that reported having a drug-testing program in 1988 did not have one 2 years later.

Interestingly, many of the establishments that appeared to have dropped drug-testing programs between 1988 and 1990 were having second thoughts. About 1 out of 6, overall, of those that reported having had a drug-testing program in 1988, but not in 1990, indicated that they were reconsidering such a program.

The number of employers who had decided to discontinue their drug-testing programs between 1988 and 1990 was offset by gains in the number of those adopting such programs. Of the 4.4 million establishments without a drug-testing program in 1988, about 100,000 (2 percent) had started such a program by 1990. Large establishments were far more likely (25 percent) to have begun drug testing by 1990 than small businesses (1.5 percent).

Why did so many establishments shift their positions on drug testing? Costs and effectiveness were undoubtedly factors in these decisions. Also, the rapidly changing legal environment probably affected many employers' decisions to cancel or begin a drug-testing program. Since the 1988 survey, a growing number of States have passed legislation affecting drug testing. Also, there have been many court decisions, some appearing contradictory, dealing with the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved in employee drug testing.

At the time of the initial survey, there were only seven States with legislation regulating some aspect of drug testing, such as who could be tested, under what circumstances, and the procedures that were to be followed. These were: Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont.1 By 1990, they had been joined by 13 more: Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee,3 Horida, Maine,4 Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina, and South Dakota.5 Some of the newer legislation involved drug-free workplace laws, that is, specific standards which private employers must meet to do business with a State government agency. Other legislation applied only to public employees. Also, Mississippi and New Hampshire had set up committees to investigate the possibility of drug-testing legislation.

In addition to legislation, recent court cases may have affected employers' decisions with regard to starting, continuing, or halting a drug-testing program. Generally, court rulings have been mixed, sometimes coming down on the side of employee testing, sometimes against it. For instance, recent legislation in Georgia allowing testing of applicants for State jobs was overturned in U.S. District Court.1 In another decision involving a private employer in Georgia, the courts also ruled against testing.7 Elsewhere, however, court decisions involving public and private employers supported employee testing.1 Other drug-testing issues with which the courts have become involved include personnel actions that result from erroneous drug-test results.9 Clearly, then, many legal issues tend to surface when drug-testing programs are being considered or are in place. Employee-assistance programs. The proportion of establishments with employee-assistance programs increased from 7 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 1990. As was the case for drug-testing programs, the probability of having employee-assistance programs varied considerably depending on the size of the establishment. The very large firms had the greatest percentage-point increase in the proportion with employee-assistance programs.

Also, like employers with drug-testing programs, those with employee-assistance programs appear to be uncertain about their usefulness in dealing with drug abuse. This is indicated by the fact that about one-third of those that had had employee-assistance programs in 1988 did not have them 2 years later. These proportions differed greatly by establishment size. Thus, while only 6 percent of the large establishments dropped their employee-assistance programs between 1988 and 1990, 36 percent of the small businesses did so during the same period. About 5 percent of the businesses that had canceled their employee-assistance programs were considering restarting them in 1990.

While some employers were eliminating employee-assistance programs, others were starting them. Of the 4.2 million establishments in 1988 that did not have an employee-assistance program, about 8 percent had started one by 1990. Not surprisingly, the increase was greatest among large establishments (64 percent) and least among small businesses (7 percent).

Formal written policy. By l990, about 15 percent of establishments had formal written statements, detailing company policies on drug abuse. This was up from about 9 percent 2 years earlier. As might be expected, large establishments were far more likely than small firms to have such a statement, and also far more likely to have promulgated one since 1988.

About 7 out of 10 establishments with written drug policies in 1988 still had such policies in 1990. Very large firms (90 percent), of course, were far more likely to have kept diem than small firms (65 percent). Almost 9 out of 10 of those that did not have a written policy statement in 1988 also did not have one in 1990. However, the larger the establishment, the more likely it was to have issued one in the period since the first survey. EVIDENCE FROM THE 1990 follow-up survey on employers' anti-drug programs clearly showed that during the 2-year period, there was a strong tendency among larger firms to establish anti-drug programs and policies. By contrast, small businesses, which were far more numerous, were much less likely to have begun such programs or policies. Moreover, the follow-up survey indicated that substantial proportions of firms-especially small ones-had discarded their anti-drug programs or policies during the 2-year period. However, the reason some employers dropped their anti-drug programs was not evident from the follow-up survey. Some may have found that the promised benefits of drug-testing or employee-assistance programs did not materialize. Others may have faced a confusing legal situation or higher-than-anticipated costs. Clearly, future inquiry in this area would undoubtedly enhance the ability of analysts and policy-makers to design programs supportive of employers' efforts to help eliminate substance abuse among workers.


1 For further information on this survey, see Survey of Employer Anti-drug Programs, Report 760 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 1989).

2 See Survey of Employer Anti-drug Programs, p. 13.

3 See Richard R. Nelson, "State labor legislation enacted in 1988," Monthly Labor Review, January 1989, p. 42.

4 See Richard R. Nelson, "State labor legislation enacted in 1989," Monthly Labor Review, January 1990, p. 37.

5 See Richard R. Nelson, "State labor legislation enacted in 1990," Monthly Labor Review, January 199 1, p. 42.

6 Nelson, "Legislation in 1990," Monthly Labor Review, January 199 1, p. 42.

7 See The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 3, 1989, p. C-13.

8 See The Wall Street Joumal,Mar.21,1989, p. B-8; Mar. 22, 1989, p. A-8; and Sept. I 1, 1989, p. B-5.

9 See The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17, 1990, p. A-1.

The role of public policy

... the United States continues to make labor market policy as though worker is a masculine noun. Employed mothers in the United States are expected to "make it" under present rules and conditions, coping as best they can. American fathers are expected to sustain their primary investment in work. But the practice of both parents taking on the traditional male work role-each working full-time and not taking time off to meet child care needs-would be patently unacceptable in Sweden. Although most Swedes value work and occupational achievement as highly as most Americans, they value home and family to an even greater extent. From the Swedish viewpoint, women cannot merely be assimilated into the traditional male world of work, Rather, this world must be recast in ways that permit fathers as well as mothers to participate equitably in the "productions" of human beings and mothers no less than fathers to participate equitably in the production of goods and services.


Working Parents: Transformations

in Gender Roles and Public Policies

in Sweden

Madison, University of

Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 146-47.
COPYRIGHT 1991 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Author:Hayghe, Howard V.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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