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Why I Drug Test Employees

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er hired a private investigator who administered polygraph tests to determine how the pump disappeared and who was responsible. One employee – the most likely perpetrator – promptly quit. During the course of the investigation, however, it was learned that 16 out of 25 employees were regular drug users. And this shop had been suffering from a 30 percent internal re-do rate. It took nearly five years for the shop to clean up the drug problem, but their re-do rate is now near zero.

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A shop bookkeeper promptly quit when checks started to bounce despite plenty of cash showing on the company books. An investigation by the shop owner and an audit by a CPA revealed that this bookkeeper had embezzled as much as $5,000 of company funds. A technician in the same shop was later terminated for excessive comebacks related to quality and safety issues and was later described by the shop owner as a hazard to himself and everyone around him. After he was terminated, his co-workers revealed that the bookkeeper had been buying drugs from the technician at break times.

A paint prepper openly complained to co-workers that he wasn’t getting paid enough to buy “blow” and was going to demand a raise. This person was later caught siphoning gas from a total loss vehicle. When confronted, he tried to excuse it by saying he wasn’t paid enough to put gas in his car. He was later terminated for poor-quality work.

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A helper didn’t show up for a scheduled shop meeting. When the shop owner inquired where he was, a co-worker casually mentioned that he was in his car in the employee parking lot “toking up” and would be late.

A lead technician quit. It was later revealed that he occasionally smoked pot in the paint booth. His subordinates feared that they would lose their jobs if they said anything. At the shop floor level, most people who’ve been in the collision repair trade can share many true stories like these because they’ve personally encountered or witnessed difficult situations in the shop where drugs were involved.

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Have we accepted that drug abuse is a problem in our industry, or is ignorance bliss?

I haven’t been able to find statistics for our industry because it’s never been singled out for study, but I do know that in other industries, the rate of illicit drug use ranges from a low of 3 percent for protective service workers to nearly 19 percent for food preparation, wait staff and bartenders. My hunch is that the collision repair industry is probably about 15 percent, but the guys on the floor say my hunch grossly understates the real number.

Here are some interesting general facts based on studies reported by the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace:

Of all workplace drug users who test positive, 52 percent are daily users.

Employees who test positive for drugs are 60 percent more likely to be responsible for plant accidents, use a third more sick leave and have many more unexcused absences.

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The State of Wisconsin estimates that expenses and losses related to substance abuse average 25 percent of the salary of each worker affected.

A single drug user in the State of Washington will cost his employer upward of $14,946 per year.

The postal service conducted a study from 1987 to 1990 that provided conclusive evidence that drug-using employees perform poorly compared to non-using employees. During the study period, the Postal Service hired job applicants regardless of whether they passed or failed their drug tests. The two groups were then closely monitored. The results indicated that employees who tested positive for marijuana have 55 percent more injuries, a 55 percent greater discipline rate and a 78 percent increase in absenteeism. For the cocaine-positive group, absenteeism was 145 percent higher and there were 85 percent more injuries.

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It’s a no-brainer to apply these facts to our industry and assume how this could be affecting our businesses. It’s probably not only costing us money, but if we fail to address this problem, it’s lending legitimacy to a work environment where drug abuse by a few is tolerated and accepted. And this likely makes the vast majority of those in the collision repair trade uncomfortable with their workplace situations and leads to a list of employee issues, such as high turnover, attitudes and so on.

The shop is a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” environment, where co-workers don’t report illicit drug activity for fear of being labeled a snitch. Most of my opening incidents were like that – known by other employees, but unknown to the shop owners until the parties directly involved were gone. And who would want to enter an industry with a reputation for drug abuse? So what do we do? Get help. There are many drug-free business organizations around the country. In the State of Washington, the Drug Free Business Organization has helped more than 4,000 businesses implement comprehensive programs. They set up your entire program with written policies, drug testing forms, sample collection facilities, supervisor training and employee assistance/counseling programs. Once on the program, your business is designated as a Drug Free Business. These programs are clearly superior to any program we might draft ourselves and provide you the legal framework to run an effective policy.

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My experience of implementing this was positive. Admittedly, I was apprehensive about announcing my intention to start the program. Pre-employment drug tests have driven off prospective new hires in the past. (In retrospect, I was no doubt fortunate.) But my employee response was positive and supportive, and I’m glad I took that first step.

In our state, an employee-wide drug screening isn’t an implementation requirement, and employees are given at least 45 days notice of when optional random testing or testing for cause will start – so it gives your staff ample advance notice.

I don’t know how many other collision repair facilities are designated Drug Free Workplaces, but I strongly urge you to check into this worthwhile program and implement it. It will go far to help us recruit good people into the industry and to enhance our public image. I believe that we should attract only the best and offer any drug abusers the opportunity to make a choice: Either get off drugs or find another trade.

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To find a drug-free business organization in your state, go to the Web and type “drug free business” and your state name, and you should find the one nearest you.

Writer Jim Sund owns North Kitsap Auto Rebuild, Inc. in Poulsbo, Wash., which has 12 employees, including his daughter, Sara, who’s an estimator. He’s a retired navy officer with a Master of Science Degree in Business/Information Systems from San Francisco State University. Sund worked in the information technology management field for six years prior to buying his shop. These days, he’s an I-CAR instructor for Restraints and Electronics and also the state president of the Autobody Craftsman Association – Washington.

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