What if your colleague was abusing substances?

In collaboration with Sedqa, the Local Councils’ Association lays down an official policy to address issues related to drugs, alcohol, and gambling.

Everyone knows that drug and alcohol abuse are a problem, and so is excessive gambling. What everyone doesn’t necessarily know is how to deal with it. Things can get even more complicated when the people involved are colleagues.

That’s precisely why the Local Councils’ Association, Regional Councils, and Local Councils have come up with an official policy that addresses issues related to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. They have done this in full collaboration with Sedqa, the national agency against drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and problem gambling.

This policy impacts employees, irrespective of their position or grade. It recognises the potential health-related problems and psycho-social implications arising from substance abuse. Its overarching aim is to ensure that affected individuals receive the necessary professional help and specialised treatment.

The Journal had a look at the policy and compiled a list of the key take-aways from it.

Informing employees and reducing workplace risks

Employees are to be provided with a summary of the policy’s main points, emphasising the encouragement for those facing difficulties to seek help. Training sessions focusing on awareness of drugs, alcohol, and gambling will be conducted periodically. Furthermore, Sedqa will furnish the HR Offices of the Local Councils’ Association, Regional Councils, and Local Councils with information leaflets upon request.

Non-alcoholic options at social functions

The policy acknowledges that certain jobs carry a higher risk of exposure to substance abuse. It states that “irregular hours, travel, and separation from the family and the strain of a heavy workload are just some of the common job-related causes of alcohol abuse.”

To address this, training programmes are committed to preparing personnel to navigate such circumstances. Clear guidelines are laid down, prohibiting alcohol and substance consumption during working hours and ensuring non-alcoholic options at social functions.

Addressing solvent abuse

Beyond drugs, alcohol, and gambling, the policy extends to address solvent abuse at work and the misuse of prescribed drugs.

“Where the solvent use is specifically work-related, the employer will ensure that the use of solvents has been subject to the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance Act (Chapter 101, Laws of Malta), that the risks involved have been assessed and that measures have been taken to reduce all exposures to solvents to the lowest level reasonably practicable.”

Confidentiality and employee rights safeguarded

A crucial aspect of the policy is confidentiality. It ensures that counselling remains strictly confidential, and any records compiled by a counsellor are treated as the individual property of that counsellor or their employing agency. Employees have the right to be represented by their Union representative in any meeting, ensuring transparency and protection.

Job security and supportive measures

The policy underscores job security, assuring that employees participating in treatment and counselling will have their job held open in accordance with normal sickness procedures. Long-term job security is contingent upon the individual’s performance returning to an acceptable level, with due consideration given to maintaining recovery.

Disciplinary procedures and support during treatment

While drug, alcohol, or gambling difficulties are not generally grounds for dismissal, the policy outlines disciplinary procedures, involving the employee’s Union representative at all stages. Notably, disciplinary procedures associated with substance abuse are suspended during the duration of treatment, emphasising support and recovery.

Encouraging seeking help and testing measures

Employees facing substance abuse difficulties are encouraged to seek guidance from Sedqa, with indicators prompting self-referral for professional help and advice. These indicators include poor work performance, absenteeism, deteriorating health, the repeated possession of betting slips, requests to borrow money or requests for advances in salary. Refusal of treatment alone will not be grounds for discipline unless it poses a danger to others.

Toxicological analysis

Toxicological analysis of blood, breath, urine, hair, or other body tissue could be used to determine the presence of various substances (legal or illegal). If testing procedures are agreed upon, they must only be carried out on reasonable suspicion based on specific failed performance milestones which might show that the person concerned is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Any person testing positive shall have the right to challenge the results and obtain an independent analysis of the sample.

A win-win for employers and employees

Speaking to The Journal, Mario Fava, President of the Local Councils Association, said that this policy will impact slightly more than a thousand employees.

“Everyday stress, relationship difficulties, and similar human challenges can sometimes result in substance-related problems. We aim to inspire other employers, as implementing such policies not only benefits the employees but also proves advantageous for employers themselves.”

In fact, benefits for employers are highlighted in the policy itself. One of the benefits is cost savings on recruiting and training new employees to replace those whose employment might have been terminated, thus minimising absenteeism, and maintaining productivity. By retaining employees, employers retain the valuable work experience accumulated over the years.

Another advantage is boosting the morale among other employees by demonstrating the success of intervention and treatment programmes. Eliminating substance abuse also means decreasing the risk and occurrence of workplace accidents and gaining a public perception of the organisation as a responsible employer.

Better than piecemeal measures

The policy itself explains that a unified, clear sense of direction on this matter is much more effective than sporadic measures.

“Rather than piecemeal measures which, though beneficial in themselves may fall short of providing the multi-faceted help required in these cases, it is important for employers to have in place coherent and comprehensive substance abuse and gambling policies developed with union involvement, to ensure that they are in the best interests of all concerned. Such policies are essential where any drug, alcohol or gambling difficulties occur, but, preferably, they should be in place in advance of any such difficulties coming to light.”

Photo: Michal Jarmoluk

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