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Drug testing policies and safety incentive programs: New laws

If you work for a company with drug testing policies and safety incentive programs, you should be aware that the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new rules designed to prevent those policies from being used to quiet employees about workplace accidents.

How can a drug policy have that effect?

Essentially, OSHA has acknowledged that mandatory drug and alcohol testing for any employee who reports a workplace injury or illness doesn't make sense when the injury or illness can't reasonably be connected to possible substance abuse. All that kind of policy does is intimidate employees and keep them from reporting anything.

Why would a company want to do that?

In part, keeping workplace injuries low helps keep workers' compensation insurance costs low. The more claims a place has, the higher the premium eventually becomes.

In some cases, supervisors or middle managers may be especially motivated to keep reports down—they may have cash incentives and bonuses that they lose if there are safety violations or injuries.

How do the new rules protect employees and encourage reporting?

The new rules don't ban all post-accident drug and alcohol testing or an employer's right to keep the workplace drug-free. What it does ban is post-accident or post-injury testing whenever the accident or injury couldn't reasonably be related to drug or alcohol use.

For example, a worker reporting wrist strain from a repetitive motion injury wouldn't need to undergo drug or alcohol testing because there's no reasonable correlation between the injury and any possible drug or alcohol use.

How do the new rules affect safety incentive programs?

In conjunction with prohibiting unreasonable drug and alcohol testing, the new rules prohibit safety incentive programs that would cost an entire shift to lose a safety bonus due to a single injury report. That helps reduce the peer pressure that might be put on an employee to not report minor injuries by his or her co-workers.

If you believe that you've been unfairly treated after a workplace accident under the new OSHA rules, consider contacting an attorney to discuss the situation.

Source: Safety.BLR, "OSHA offers enforcement guidance on reporting, incentives, and drug testing," Feb. 08, 2017

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