Staffing Supersedes Safety?

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A landscaper from South Carolina called me the other day to talk about her company’s drug and alcohol testing program. Historically, this issue was predictable, widespread, and uneventful, with most landscapers utilizing pre-employment, post-accident/injury, and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing; with union-based organizations frequently incorporating random drug and alcohol testing.

The traditional process was highly routinized: The applicant does well on the interview, receives a written conditional job offer, takes a drug and alcohol test at the affiliated occupational health clinic, the company gets the negative results within a day, and the new employee begins work on Monday morning.

That was then; this is now.

Maybe you have noticed marijuana is legal almost everywhere, an increased number of people are on some type of medication, and most importantly, there is a dire staffing shortage across the green industry. Forced to adapt, many landscapers are moving briskly toward a position in which they now only have a reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing policy.

Remember a decade ago when only a couple of people had tattoos? At that point, landscapers began to implement a No-Tattoo Policy for their employees. What happened next? More people got tattoos. Landscapers adapted by implementing a No Visible Tattoo Policy. What happened next? More people got tattoos. With each iteration, the applicant pool got smaller. All those applicants with tattoos began working with the competition. Corporate adaptation became disadvantageous.

By way of analogy, the same process is now evident with drug and alcohol testing.

Society has changed, norms have changed, and policies have changed.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating unrestricted drug use. No chance in hell. That said, my personal opinion does not sway my professional advice given to my clients, readers, or colleagues. My professional advice is aimed singularly at their success. If the issue becomes spiritually challenging for me, I will sever the business partnership, immediately. Until then, I work for their success.

It’s almost to the point now, that what was once illegal, is now legal; and what was once legal, is now illegal.

If an applicant fails a pre-employment drug and alcohol test with your company on Monday, rest assured that the applicant will be employed by a competitor on Wednesday. If one of your employees is involved in an accident or is injured on the job, and tests positive for marijuana, do you really think the worker’s compensation vendor will reflexively deny the claim, its cost, and your liability? The rules have changed. In either case, you have just lost two employees, further exacerbating your staffing problem.

I prefer the reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing policy. This standard focuses on employees’ behavior at work. If an employee has bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or irregular gait, send the employee to the clinic for a test before something calamitous happens. If the results come back positive, you still have the option of termination, suspension, coaching, reprimand, etc. That discretion remains with you.

I do not view this adaptive stance as moral surrender, contributing to societal demise, or selling out. Neither should you. Talk about this with your management team; either way, I support your decision completely. Wholeheartedly. I really do! Think about your business goals: Does your company have too many drug-related instances or too few employees?

I may not agree with the change. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t changing.

That was then; this is now.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.