The State Industrial Commission is on the verge of adopting a policy concerning people who test positive for drugs or alcohol, are fired and apply for unemployment benefits. However, a final decision probably won't come until the February meeting.
Commissioners feel they already have written a good policy that conforms to provisions of the Utah Drug and Alcohol Testing Act, but some comments made during Wednesday's commission meeting prompted Chairman Stephen M. Hadley to note that maybe more time is needed for study.Hadley said the main objective of the policy is to inform the employers and employees what is expected of them when a worker is fired after drug tests prove positive and the former employee applies for unemployment benefits.
Commissioner John Florez said the commission has a responsibility to maintain a safe work place and Commissioner Tom Carlson said the policy deals only with issuing unemployment benefits to those fired when a drug test is positive.
The proposed policy notes the Legislature has determined the use of drugs and alcohol creates an unsafe and unproductive work force.
"In balancing the interests of employees, employers and the welfare of the general public, it is found that the fair and equitable testing for drugs in the workplace is in the interest of all parties. It is the responsibility of the Industrial Commission to administer laws assuring a safe, healthy and productive workplace and to promote fair employment practices," the policy said.
Under the Utah Drug and Alcohol Testing Act it is lawful for an employer to test employees or prospective employees for the presence of drugs or alcohol as a condition of hiring or continued employment, the policy said.
The employer must provide the following information in order to establish a case for ineligibility of unemployment benefits:
- The employer must establish a written policy on drug testing that is consistent with the requirements of the act. Hadley said the company policy must outline how a person will be tested. If the tests are positive the employee can be fired.
- Reasonable proof and description of the method for communicating the policy to all employees and that violation of the policy may result in termination.
- Proof of testing procedures must be provided, including documentation of sample collection, storage and transportation procedures; documentation that the result of any screening test was verified or confirmation by gas chomatography or other another comparably reliable analytical method and a copy of the positive drug or alcohol test report.
The policy said proof of a verified or confirmed positive drug or alcohol test result or refusal to provide a test sample may be considered a violation of a reasonable employer rule and the claimant may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
Hadley said the policy doesn't provide for an appeal of a termination or denial of unemployment benefits, but does provide for verification of the test results.
Robyn Blummer of the American Civil Liberties Union said the policy should have a provision allowing a person whose drug test is positive to enter a rehabilitation center in lieu of being terminated. The commission will consider her suggestion in rewriting the policy.
Ed Mayne, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, agrees with what the policy is attempting to accomplish because his organization has never stood in the way of people being terminated for drug and alcohol use on the job. "People should know better," he said.
However, Mayne questioned if the commission should attempt to adopt a policy when the Legislature had the chance last year and failed to do so. He said an employee whose test is positive should have the chance to get a second test, at at his or her own expense.