Returning to work after a positive drug test

Oct 28, 2021

A recent article published in Daily Commercial News discussed the steps that need to be taken to bring back an employee to work after they tested positive for drugs and were removed from the jobsite.

Specifically, the article discussed the recommendations presented during the Fit for Duty webinar organized by the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association Carpenters Trade Labour – Management Health and Safety Committee. As part of the webinar, the presenter and substance abuse professional (SAP) Julian Toy shared some key insights and strategies for helping employees return to work after testing positive on a drug test.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) created the role of the SAP to evaluate individuals working in safety-sensitive positions who return to work following a positive drug or alcohol test during screening.

“[The DOT] recognized that the current methods that they were using to evaluate employees who tested positive for a drug screen weren’t effective, necessarily,” said Toy, and added that an employee may not fully disclose information to a doctor.

“What the DOT recognized was that they had to send people who tested positive to someone who’s clinically trained in alcohol and drug addiction,” he said.

According to Mr. Toy, supervisors need to be trained in defensible documentation to protect the company and properly intervene with workers. Furthermore, he added that approximately one in 10 workers has a moderate to severe substance use disorder, which is a disability under the Human Rights Act and requires accommodation.

“Companies that have not trained supervisors and workers in substance abuse recognition and intervention are at high risk of massive fines and possible jail time under the Ontario Health and Safety Act,” Toy said.

Mr. Toy has worked with adult treatment centres and individuals affected by alcohol and drug addiction. He recommends using the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) for substance abuse assessment.

“It’s one of the only tests designed for substance abuse that takes into account that people who have that condition lie,” he said. “The test is actually sensitive to clients that are trying to deceive it and uses that as a way to determine if the person has a problem or not.”

The SAP carries out two assessments, an initial one and a follow up. The initial assessment determines whether the worker has a problem and recommends specific treatment and/or education as appropriate. Then, an initial report is provided to the company and includes a test positive or test negative statement and specific treatment recommendations.

Consequently, the follow-up assessment determines whether the worker complied with SAP recommendations.

When it has been determined that the worker complied, the SAP provides a date for their return to work.

“I recommend a staggered return for most workers to allow them time to connect with community resources like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, to make sure that the recovery is solid before they actually go back to full-time work,” said Toy. “Ultimately it’s up to the company, whether to put them back on safety sensitive duties.”

If you need to get your supervisors trained for recognition of signs of drug or alcohol abuse and how to defensibly complete reasonable suspicion testing, check out our Supervisor Awareness Training course.