Ensure a Drug-Free Workplace by Watching for These 4 Warning Signs

Part of keeping your employees and business safe is ensuring people aren’t coming to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Here are warning signs to look out for, behaviors to monitor and steps to take to create a drug-free workplace.

Every business, no matter how big or small, can experience employees who struggle with or even use drugs or alcohol at work. Small businesses may face unique challenges to this issue, both from a manpower and from a financial perspective. You know and like your employees, but perhaps you have limited resources to help them or lack the knowledge or skills to detect an issue. Maybe you only have a few employees and don’t know how to prevent or deal with a drug problem in your company. How do you know you aren’t just being paranoid?

Short of actually catching your employee in the act of actually taking drugs or drinking, there really is no way you can tell for sure they are taking drugs. Most people who take drugs are very secretive and are very adept at hiding their addictions. That doesn’t mean that you can’t detect drug use in your company, you just have to be observant and diligent.

We are bringing you a list of warning signs and tips to help you determine if an employee is using drugs, followed by ways to effectively and safely handle the situation.

Beware of these behaviors that may be telltale signs of drug use:

Warning sign No. 1: Erratic or unusual behavior. An employee may be very energetic one day and very quiet and tired the next. They may behave irrationally or lash out. They may not be able to concentrate or have a short attention span. They may also be forgetful. While these behaviors may be symptoms of many things, if they are new or if they continue for a while, you should look into the possibility of drug use.

Warning sign No. 2: Risky behavior. Drug users often do not consider the consequences of their behavior, making decisions that can lead to harming themselves or others. Small, but other telltale signs, can also be that they never have any money or that they are dealing with many legal issues. Again, these signs can mean many things, but they can also be signs of drug abuse.

Warning sign No. 3: Irresponsible behavior. If you find they are breaking things, losing things or borrowing things you may want to keep an eye out for drug or alcohol usage symptoms.

Warning sign No. 4: Nervous or confused behavior. Again, these can be a sign of many things but can also be a sign of a drug abuser.

If you suspect an employee of drug abuse, never accuse them. Begin by monitoring them and keeping a written record of their behaviors, including the following:

  • how often they miss work;
  • if they yell at or act aggressively toward you or co-workers;
  • if they are glassy eyed;
  • if their hygiene has slipped or changed; and
  • if they are slurring their words.

If you suspect an employee is using drugs or alcohol at work, send them home immediately! However, make sure that they can get home safely. Have someone drive them so they don’t get behind the wheel themselves. And, if possible, have another employee or supervisor witness when you do this. Do not spend time alone with them, especially if they are under the influence.

You can discuss the situation at another time. Choose another day when they are clean to ask them about their behavior or actions. Perhaps you can offer some help or resources. Be prepared with a list of facilities or support groups you can give to them. Refer them to your company policy on drug abuse and if necessary, report them to the authorities. Let them know you care and want to help them.

While nothing can completely stop drugs at work, you can help to make your workplace a drug free zone and protect yourself, your employees and your business by doing the following:

  • Create and enforce rules about drugs use at work. This includes rules about drinking and smoking on the premises. Include any consequences that will be enforced if they break these rules, up to and including termination.
  • If you can afford it, institute a random drug testing program. Be sure to tell employees and all new hires that you are going to do random drug testing.
  • Educate your employees about the signs of drug abuse.
  • Teach stress management to help employees deal with issues so they don’t turn to drugs.

If you need assistance with any of these issues, you can bring in an outside firm to help you design a program, create or update your policies, or even to help with disciplining or even firing an employee.

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com

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  • Next up: Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder
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  • Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder

    Passion and ideas are not enough to grow a successful business. Entrepreneurs or start-up teams need to possess key characteristics that give them a stronger ability to launch and succeed. Understanding who you are and where you stand as an entrepreneur can help you tap your talents to become successful. Gallup Strengths Center explored this concept, resulting in a book, Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder by Jim Clifton and Sangeet Bharadwaj Badal.

    Passion and ideas are not enough to grow a successful business. Entrepreneurs or start-up teams need to possess key characteristics that give them a stronger ability to launch and succeed. Understanding who you are and where you stand as an entrepreneur can help you tap your talents to become successful. Gallup Strengths Center explored this concept, resulting in a book, Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder by Jim Clifton and Sangeet Bharadwaj Badal.

    “We studied successful entrepreneurs and figured out how to scientifically measure qualities that individuals inherently have that drive them to be successful in this role,” says Badal. The last four years, Gallup has been intensely studying successful entrepreneurs, identifying entrepreneurship as a strategy for economic growth. “We realize that even though there are so many different reasons why someone would start a business and why some businesses are more successful than others, one of the differentiators was the role of the entrepreneur who is at the center of the activity,” Badal says. Now, there is science that explains why entrepreneurs are different, and this can help us hone natural talents and provide tools to drive successful entrepreneurial ventures.

    “The demands of the entrepreneurial role are so complex that any one predictor of success is not possible,” Badal says, prefacing the 10 talents of successful entrepreneurs she lays out in Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder. “You can’t have one or two characteristics that make you magically successful. In a role this complex, you need a complete set of talents.”  Badal identifies those talents as: business focus, confidence, creative thinker, delegator, determination, independent, knowledge seeker, promoter, relationship-builder and risk-taker.

    Have your StrengthFinder results analyzed by Gallup at COSE’s workshop event on August 13.

    This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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  • Next up: Everything You Need to Know About Paid Leave
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  • Everything You Need to Know About Paid Leave

    Now that summer is behind us and the holidays are approaching, now is a good time to review your company's paid leave policy. Here's what you need to know.

    It’s hard to believe Labor Day has already come and gone! I know some of you hate to hear me say this, but Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. Followed soon after by the winter holidays.

    There’s a good chance your office is closed for at least one holiday, probably more. But is this your business’s official policy, or something that is not set in stone but just, “one of those things that everybody just knows?” With holiday time quickly approaching, now is a perfect time to give your company’s policies on holidays and other types of leave a thorough checkup.


    What counts as a holiday? It depends! Many businesses who choose to close for holidays tend to adhere pretty closely to the calendar of Federally recognized holidays, though some—such as Presidents Day or Columbus Day—are rarely viewed as an occasion to close up shop.

    Eliminate the guesswork by specifically listing the holidays your business will observe, and whether employees will be paid for them. For example:

    XYZ Company observes the following paid holidays:

    • New Year's Day (Jan. 1)
    • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
    • Independence Day (July 4)
    • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
    • Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
    • Christmas Day (Dec. 25)

    XYZ will grant paid holiday time off to all eligible employees. Holiday pay for regular full-time employees will be calculated based on the employee's base pay rate (as of the date of the holiday) times the number of hours the employee would otherwise have worked on that day. Regular part-time employees will not be paid for holidays.

    If an eligible full-time non-exempt employee works on a recognized holiday with company approval, he or she will receive holiday pay plus wages at his or her straight-time rate for the hours worked on the holiday. 

    PTO vs. vacation/sick days

    A growing trend among employers is a movement away from the traditional, “You get X number of vacation days per year and X number of sick days” approach, choosing instead to employ a more universal and flexible PTO (Paid Time Off) policy.

    Often, Paid Time Off is accrued as the employee accumulates actual hours worked. For example, an employee might earn one PTO hour for each 25 hours of workplace service. Generally, the employee may choose to use this earned time off however he or she sees fit and PTO hours are applied identically whether used for sick days, vacation time, or other personal reasons. In contrast, traditional Vacation Time or Sick Leave days are intended to be used specifically (and only) for their stated reason and generally do not need to already be “in the bank” for the employee before they can be used.

    Whether you choose a PTO approach or a more traditional vacation/sick days combination, there are important details to consider. Who is eligible—full time employees only, or can part-timers enjoy this benefit as well? Will your employees be eligible for time off right away, or will you require a certain term of service to be completed before time off becomes accessible? Also consider how you’d like to address unused time off to which an employee is entitled. Will unused hours/days expire if unused within a year? Can employees roll over leftover Vacation or PTO days into the following year? Whatever you choose, make sure that your policies are outlined clearly in your employee manual.

    Family and medical leave

    While it’s true only employers with 50 or more employees are required to comply with the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), smaller employers still face many of the same concerns that can befall themselves or their employees. At some point or another, nearly everyone might need to take unpaid leave to care for a new child, to care for a seriously ill family member, to handle their own medical issues, or to handle issues relating to a family member's military service. Do you have a plan in place to address these challenging circumstances? Have you applied identical understanding and accommodation to all employees who have needed this type of time away from work? If you’re a larger employer, it’s time to brush up on FMLA! If your group is smaller, though, you still need a plan. Craft and document your official policies now, before you need them.

    Other Kinds of Leave

    Not every workplace absence falls neatly into the sick, vacation, or holiday categories. Some of the most notable exceptions include:

    • Bereavement time following the loss of an immediate family member;
    • Jury duty; and
    • voting time.

    Will you provide paid time away for these events? Will your PTO or Vacation policy these occasions apply to the same way that you’d address absences under different circumstances? Whatever your plan is, it should be consistent and well communicated to each employee beginning their very first day, when they receive their employee manual.

    Caroline Schwerko is a long-time leader in the administration department at BIG-HR, which focuses on HR consulting and outsourcing. You can learn more about the company by clicking here.

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  • Next up: Exempt Vs. Non-Exempt Employees: How to Avoid the Sinkhole of FLSA Lawsuits
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  • Exempt Vs. Non-Exempt Employees: How to Avoid the Sinkhole of FLSA Lawsuits

    Get educated on how exempt employees differ from non-exempt employees. Knowing the difference could save your business from a costly FLSA lawsuit.

    In a previous article, you learned the differences between employees and independent contractors. Once a worker is determined to be an employee, the next step is determining whether they are exempt or non-exempt from FLSA minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay non-exempt employees for overtime hours at a rate of one and a half times their regular pay, with “overtime” defined as more than 40 hours worked in a work week.

    Properly classifying employees as exempt or non-exempt is the cornerstone of complying with the FLSA. Misclassification is a common ground for lawsuits against employers. Fines, penalties and back pay for FLSA violations can add up to an enormous, even crippling, sum that may far surpass the cost of paying overtime. Further, back pay owed to employees who were misclassified can be doubled as a means of bolstering compliance with the law.

    Know the difference

    With few exceptions, an exempt employee must

    • be paid at least $23,600 per year ($455 per week);
    • be paid on a salary basis; and
    • perform exempt job duties.

    Most employees must meet all three “tests” to be exempt. Exempt job duties include: executive, administrative, learned professional, creative professional, computer science and outside sales.

    In addition, highly compensated employees performing office or non-manual tasks, paid in excess of $100,000, are exempt if they customarily perform one of the mentioned duties.

    Implement your knowledge

    Once you have developed a thorough understanding of the differences between exempt and non-exempt employees, follow these steps to protect your company from FLSA exposure:

    1. Conduct an extensive self-audit to ensure that all employees are properly classified by using the tests mentioned above.
    2. Train managers on wage and hour regulations, and explain how errors negatively affect the company. Remind them that wage and hour compliance is part of their duties.
    3. Educate your staff about company rules regarding overtime, proper time clock usage, meal and rest periods, and all other wage and hour related items.
    4. Determine repercussions for employees who break company rules in this area, and educate the staff on them.
    5. Take all wage and hour complaints seriously, immediately correcting any errors.
    6. Be careful when new positions are added, especially if they are added because of mergers or acquisitions. If the previous company misclassified its employees, you might be responsible even though the merged or acquired entity may no longer legally exist.

    Ohio law

    Under Ohio law, employers grossing more than $150,000 per year are required to pay overtime to non-exempt employees at a rate of one and a half times the employee’s wage rate for any hours worked over 40 within one work week.

    Employers grossing less than $150,000 are not required to pay overtime for hours worked beyond 40.

    In most circumstances, the employer should follow the rule that is most advantageous to the employees when federal and state laws differ. For instance, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but the current minimum wage in Ohio is $8.10 per hour. This means Ohio employers must use the state minimum wage of $8.10, as this is most advantageous to employees. Thus, the minimum overtime rate in Ohio is $12.15 per hour. However, if the employer grosses less than $297,000, it may use the federal minimum wage as a basis for paying overtime.


    Determining an employee’s exemption status isn’t always simple. It pays to know the rules ahead of time because the wrong classification can trigger a painful inquiry from the IRS and the Ohio Department of Labor, as well as other fines and penalties. Following these tips will help you to stay ahead of the game and ensure that your employees are properly classified—saving your business a huge chunk of change!


    This article is made available for educational purposes only, as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this information, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the author. In no event should any information contained here be used as a substitute for competent legal advice on your own individual situation from a licensed attorney in your state. For more information on this topic, contact Alex Gertsburg at 440-571-7775 or ag@gertsburglaw.com. Get more legal tips for your business on The Gertsburg Law Firm blog, with new articles every week.

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  • Next up: Firearms in the Workplace: What You Need to Know
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  • Firearms in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

    With workplace violence and shootings on the rise, it’s crucial for business owners to outline firearm policies for their employees. In order to do so, employers must know the laws regarding employee possession of firearms. Read on as we unpack these laws and detail potential scenarios that could trigger this type of violence.

    Workplace violence and workplace shootings are a real concern for employers of all sizes. As a result, many employers are considering policies prohibiting their employees from possessing firearms during work time or on their premises. Policies such as these can help to protect employers from liabilities. Every employer should consider instituting these policies with a full understanding of the laws and the steps that need to be taken.

    The United States is a country that protects the rights of its citizens to bear arms. And with workplace shootings and workplace violence on the rise, people are exercising that right by purchasing and owning firearms. As a result, it is imperative that employers understand the laws and what their rights are when restricting firearms in the workplace.

    Know the law

    While employers are not generally liable for crimes committed by their employees, they could bear some liability for crimes committed by employees who have guns at work. This falls under negligent hiring, supervision or retention; worker’s compensation; or the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). What’s most important here is if the employer knows or should have known of an employee’s violent tendencies and that the employee possessed a firearm. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Every employer should have a thorough understanding of federal and state laws regarding firearms in the workplace and consulting with an attorney on these matters is highly recommended.

    Approximately half of all states, including Ohio, have statutes that require employers to allow employees to store firearms in their own personal vehicle. However, employers can restrict employees from storing weapons in company-owned vehicles. They can also restrict firearms from coming into their place of business, but they cannot prohibit firearms from being locked in a car in the parking lot.

    All workplaces, regardless of their size, should have a firearms policy in their employee handbook or company manual. While policies restricting an employee’s ability to possess a firearm at their place of employment or during work time can help to protect other employees and the employer from liability, employers should also be aware of state laws that protect an employee’s right to possess firearms.

    Currently, prohibiting employees from carrying a firearm on his or her person while working or from having guns in the employer’s workplace is permissible in every state. However, laws do vary from state to state, so prohibiting employees from having firearms in their personal vehicles—even in a company parking lot—and discriminating against gun owners in hiring or in regard to the terms and conditions of employment can result in liability in many states. As mentioned earlier, employers should seek advice from competent legal counsel when drafting their policies limiting employees’ ability to possess guns.

    Be aware of triggers

    In addition to instituting firearms policies, and since employees depend on their employer to provide a safe workplace within the confines of state and federal laws, all employers should be aware of potential situations or scenarios that might be of concern such as:

    • a disgruntled employee who was recently fired;
    • a co-worker with substance abuse issues and/or mental illness;
    • volatile events (i.e., strikes, protests); and
    • an employee having marital or custody issues

    These can be triggers for workplace violence and workplace shootings. Therefore, employers should always follow these three steps to provide a safe work environment:

    Step No. 1: Acknowledge employees’ concerns for safety.

    Step No. 2: Establish clear gun policies and procedures for the workplace.

    Step No. 3: Educate employees on safety measures in place for their protection.

    Employers who follow all the above steps can help to avert a potentially tragic situation. 

    Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com.

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  • Next up: When You Can’t Fire Employees at Will
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  • When You Can’t Fire Employees at Will

    At-will employment does have limitations when it comes to terminating employees. Read on below for some things to keep in mind before you fire someone.

    Employment at will—the right to terminate a work relationship for any reason or no reason at all—is a state law concept structured to give both businesses and workers flexibility and mobility. For employers, employment at will obviously provides great latitude concerning staff management and it can help facilitate decisions related to seasonal and holiday workers, outsourcing, probationary periods, and policy effectiveness. Forty-nine states recognize employment at will as the default employment relationship (Montana being the exception).

    But employment at will is not an employer’s carte blanche and the doctrine does have its limitations. While an employer need not necessarily give a reason for terminating an employee at will, if a reason is given, it must be a permissible one. Even when no reason is given, the circumstances of the termination might imply an impermissible motive underlying the termination. Further still, the relationship between the employer and employee may evolve over time to imply something more than at-will status.

    Employers should always pause and assess the situation before opting for termination.

    Personal characteristics and immigration status

    Anti-discrimination laws, spearheaded by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, or religion. Other state and federal laws have expanded anti-discrimination protections to age, sexual orientation, pregnant females, and new mothers.

    It is permissible to refuse employment or terminate an existing employee if their immigration status prohibits them from working; however, federal statutes like the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibit hiring and firing decisions made based on legal alien status.

    Pretextual termination

    A perfectly legal basis for termination might later be perceived or characterized as pretextual for something more insidious, potentially making the circumstances surrounding a termination relevant to a wrongful termination lawsuit. Common examples of pretextual termination include releasing an employee before he or she qualifies for retirement benefits, or coercing an employee’s departure through uncomfortable or inhospitable work conditions in order to avoid paying severance.

    Not cooperating with company investigations

    Generally, employees might refuse to cooperate with a company investigation—a property search or drug test, for example. It is also generally alright for a company to respond to such refusal with a termination letter. But there are situations where non-cooperation is not proper grounds for terminating an employee at will. The federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, for example, prevents termination for refusal to take a lie detector test.

     First Amendment rights

    While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution broadly protects freedom of speech, the Constitution generally regulates only government activities and its application to private employers is therefore limited. However, some types of speech, such as politically expressive speech, operate in a gray area. While several states have extended protection for political speech to private employees, Ohio is not among them.

    Other speech, such as discussions about workplace conditions and acts contrary to public policy, remain in the sphere of protection. Let’s delve into them.

    Politics affecting workplace conditions

    The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from banning discussions about workplace conditions, including how the political climate or the outcome of a particular election might impact the workplace. By logical extension, employers also cannot fire terminate employees for such discussions.

    Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010), which held that corporations have a right to make independent political expenditures under the First Amendment, employers can communicate directly to employees about elections, encourage them to vote for certain candidates, and, in many states, even compel them to do political work or attend political gatherings during work hours and for compensation.

    In a legislative parallel, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 prohibits discrimination (up to and including termination) of a public employee for his or her political affiliation. This protection has not found widespread purchase in the private sector. Ohio has no such employee protections, but it does require employers to allow for “reasonable” time off to vote at the polls. See R.C. 3599.06.  


    Employers cannot terminate employees simply for attempting to defend or assert their rights. For example, consider an employee who files a good faith lawsuit for workplace discrimination; the employer cannot terminate the employee out of hand just for bringing the lawsuit. A court could find that such a termination was retaliatory.

    Another point of retaliation might be an employee challenging the business on public policy grounds. Public policy is an amorphous talking point in the law, but in our context the heart of it is to encourage acts that the public would view as morally or ethically positive and discourage those which are not. An employee’s refusal to commit an illegal act, reporting an employer’s illegal act (i.e., whistleblowing), or exercising a legal right (e.g., voting) are all favored by public policy and may not be used as a basis for termination.

    Implied contracts

    Sometimes, an implied contract can arise from an employment at will relationship. Such an implied contract could arise from representations by the employer that suggest job security to the employee. Courts will often carve out or limit an employer’s otherwise blanket right to terminate based on these kinds of representations. In some states, even at-will policies in employee handbooks can be amended or nullified by an employer’s subsequent representations and assurances. See, e.g., Wilson v. General Motors Corp., 454 N.W. 2d 405 (Mich Ct. App. 1990).

    Most of the prohibitions on termination that we’ve discussed require the employer to take some conscious (often contentious) action. An implied contract, though, can form from the most innocuous of conversations. Hence, employers should be careful about representations made to employees in any circumstance.

    Max Julian is an attorney at The Gertsburg Law Firm. Julian’s practice is focused on commercial litigation. He can be reached at mj@gertsburglaw.com or by phone at (440) 571-7541.

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