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Drug and alcohol testing: Six ways to protect employee privacy

by , 09 July 2015
With the stresses of today, drug and alcohol abuse is common. And often, your company will suffer because of intoxicated employees. Absenteeism is high and users are often not very productive. Normally, it's only when people reach rock bottom that they do something about it. For example, lose their families, house, job etc.

But you and your business has some protection... You can implement policies that support employees who can't control their habit. You can also implement policies to manage absenteeism and performance issues. 
But before you run off and implement your policy... You need to remember that employees have the right to privacy! And if you don't guard this, you could land up with an unfair discrimination case on your hands... Or even massive fines for not protecting your employee's information!

So let's look at when you should have a policy and how you can make sure you don't infringe an employee's privacy…

What you must consider when implementing drug and alcohol testing
Only implement drug and alcohol testing if drug or alcohol use has, or will have, a serious impact on health and safety in your workplace. For example, substance abuse is more serious in a factory with heavy machinery than in an office. So, putting office workers through a urine test, for example, is likely to be an unreasonable. It will also be an intrusion on their privacy.
If you decide you do need to implement drug and alcohol testing, consult with your employees about your policy and testing procedure. This will help employees if they worry about their privacy. If can also help increase their compliance with the policy.
Now… Let's look at how you can make sure employees' information stays private.

You must protect your employees' data and personal information according to the new POPI Act.
Here's how...

The POPI Act forces employers to be responsible and accountable for their employee's personal information and data.
This legal obligation requires you to make sure your employees' personal information and data doesn't end up in the wrong hands.
A simple thing like a third party getting hold of your employee's marital status, physical health or even home address, can land you with a R10 million fine or jail time.

Don't let this happen to you!
Six ways to protect employees' privacy when testing for drugs and alcohol
The following steps will help you to protect your employees' privacy when doing a urine test for drugs and alcohol…
  1. Take two samples. Seal both in front of the employee. Get him to certify ownership of each sample in writing. Give one sample to the employee.
  2. Give the employee the contact details of any external organisation you involve in the testing.
  3. Code the sample with a number. Don't give the employee's name.
  4. Only use the sample and test results for the reason you specify. In other words, to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol.
  5. Keep the sample and test results in a secure place. Only give access to people the employee nominates.
  6. If testing shows an employee has a medical condition, think about how you will treat and communicate these results. If you keep records of this information, you must take steps to protect the employee's privacy.
You may discipline and possibly dismiss an employee who uses or abuses alcohol/drugs at the workplace, but not necessarily in each and every case. So, make sure your policy or rules regulate how you'll deal with situations where you find an employee under the influence, or in possession of alcohol/drugs at the workplace. This way your employees will know how you'll take action against them.

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