Danielle Stone - HR Professional
So this happened……
As a trained and accredited drug and alcohol tester, I am often asked by a range of clients to attend their worksites for the purposes of facilitating random drug testing.
Since COVID-19 came crashing into town studies have shown that there has been a significant increase in the Australian public using illegal drugs, prescription medication and alcohol to assist them to cope with COVID-19 related anxiety, negativity, stress and the ever changing environment
It is not our place to question what people do in their own time and in the privacy of their own home, but everyone needs to be aware that the personal choices we make may impact negatively on our professional selves. And of late it has become of increasing concern that people are attending work still under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
One of our clients in the construction sector had this very same concern. Having employees operating heavy machinery in controlled but often potentially dangerous environments requires them to take the health and safety of their employees very seriously. There is definitely no place for the misuse of drugs or alcohol by employees. Not only would working under the influence of drugs or alcohol be a clear breach of a clearly communicated company policy, it is inherently risky behaviour that would destabilise the employers ability to provide a safe workplace for other employees and have the potential to cause serious injury to self or others.
It was decided that Monday morning would be the best time to truly gauge if their teams were attending work free from the effects of drugs or alcohol so off I popped to visit a couple of their construction worksites.
The process involves oral testing using a 9 panel screening test in line with Australian Standards and I was thrilled that the initial six employees tested negative. We were off to a good start!
I walked back through the construction site and noticed an employee who was, well let’s say a little more bright, enthusiastic and talkative, than what would be considered normal workplace behaviour. The employee raced over to me to ask if it was their turn and then proceeded to light up a cigarette. All employees had been instructed not to eat, drink or smoke for 20 mins prior to the testing being conducted as doing so can produce a false reading.
So, we wait the required 20 minutes to offset any impact of the cigarette and I conduct the test. As we are waiting for the results, the employee casually asked, “Oh, would Duromine effect the results?” Hmmm…… Duromine is a legal, prescription only amphetamine type stimulant medication, generally prescribed for weight loss purposes. It was also something the employee failed to list when asked in the pre-testing paperwork if there was any prescription medication they had taken recently. It was also noted that the employee was considered in no way to be overweight.
Given the above question, it was of no real surprise that the test showed a Non-Negative result and we were able to determine it was for both Meth Amphetamine and Amphetamine. When asked about the Duromine the employee stated that they used it on Saturday (48 hours prior to testing) to wake themselves up because they had not had a good night’s sleep. They further added that they had a prescription from the doctor for the medication.
Based on the result of the onsite test, the next step in the process was to direct the employee to leave site and immediately see a medical professional of their choice to undergo a confirmatory urine drug test. This urine test would then be sent to a laboratory to determine if it was the prescription medication showing a non-negative result or whether there were other illegal substances in their system. It is important to note that due to Covid-19, additional OH&S measures were taken to ensure the safety of both myself and the employees while the oral drug testing was being facilitated. While urine testing would generally be undertaken as part of our service, due to COVID-19, we have made the decision to temporarily refer urine testing to a medical practice for safety purposes.
In a follow up call to the employee that evening they advised that they just couldn’t get in to see any doctor and they would be attending first thing the next morning. As the employee returned a “non negative” preliminary result, they were stood down without pay pending the results of the secondary confirmatory urine drug screen. The employee was advised that if the secondary test produced a negative result, any time off work whilst stood down would be paid. Some two days after testing “non -negative”, and four days after allegedly taking the Duromine, the employee finally went to see their doctor and underwent a urine drug test.
All we could do was then wait patiently for the tests results to come in and when they did, the Duromine showed up at a reading more than six times the detectable rate. Australian Drug testing standards show that substances would generally show up in an oral drug test if taken in the 24 hours prior and if taken 2-4 days prior for a urine test. So, this subsequent urine test showed us that the amount taken of this legal prescription drug was well above a prescribed and therefore, safe level.
Making this situation more problematic, we had to make several requests to the employee before they finally provided us with a copy of their medication and prescription which was dated January 2017, around 3 and a half years prior confirming misuse.
The business wanted to support the employee. We believed them when they advised they had taken it as a one off and so allowed them to undergo another urine drug test some seven days later at the employee’s request.
Sadly, the result was the same - six times the detectable limit. Unfortunately, it was now clear that the employee was being deceptive about the one off use of Duromine. Although the business did everything in their power to assist the employee, the ongoing dishonesty and the employee’s unwillingness to commit to accepting professional help, including access to their free employee assistance program left them with no choice other than to terminate her employment.
The reasons for the termination included;
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