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Writing for drug testing auto service employees

December 29, 2005
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Writing for drug testing auto service employees
R.L. "Bud" Abraham

Many carwash operators are worried they'll lose employees if they implement a strong drug testing program.

This means they operate on the "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy — where co-workers know there is a drug problem but fear being labeled a snitch if they report it.

Do you really want to be known as a carwash that tolerates drug abuse?

Recognizing the symptoms

In any carwash employees can share true stories of personal encounters with co-workers using or involving drugs.

Have carwash operators recognized that drug abuse is a problem in their business, or is ignorance bliss?

There aren't many statistics for carwashes and/or detail shops in carwashes anywhere, because drug use never has been singled out for study in these industries, but I found that in other auto service businesses, the rate of illicit drug use is quite high.

My hunch is that drug use in the carwash industry is probably around 15-20 percent of employees, but many in the industry will say this is grossly under estimated.

Here are some interesting facts based on studies reported by the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace:

  • Of all workplace drug users who test positive, 52 percent are daily users.
  • Employees who test positive for drugs are 60 percent more likely to be responsible for accidents, use a third more sick leave and have many more unexcused absences.
  • The State of Wisconsin estimates that expenses and losses related to substance abuse average 25 percent of the salary of each worker affected.
  • A single drug user in the State of Washington will cost his employer upward of $14,946 per year.
Users tell all

On a recent survey of employed drug users seeking help in regard to their drug habits:

  • 75 percent said they'd used drugs on the job.
  • 64 percent admitted drugs had adversely affected their job performance.
  • 44 percent said they'd sold drugs to other employees.
  • 18 percent said they'd stolen from co-workers to support their habits.
Conclusive evidence

An older study conducted by the US Postal Service from 1987 to 1990 provided conclusive evidence that drug-using employees perform poorly compared to non-using employees.

During the study period, the Postal Service hired job applicants regardless of whether they passed or failed their drug tests. The two groups were then closely monitored.

The results indicated that employees who tested positive for marijuana have 55 percent more injuries, a 55 percent greater discipline rate and a 78 percent increase in absenteeism.

For the cocaine-positive group, absenteeism was 145 percent higher and there were 85 percent more injuries.

For a carwash operator it should be a no-brainer to apply these facts to their carwash and detail departments and realize how drugs are affecting the performance of the business.

It's not only costing you money, but if you fail to address the problem, it's lending legitimacy to a work environment where drug abuse by a few is tolerated and accepted.

This likely makes the vast majority of those in the carwash uncomfortable with their workplace situations and leads to a list of employee issues, such as high turnover, poor attitudes and more.

This may lead to the development of a "don't ask, don't tell" environment, where co-workers don't report illicit drug activity for fear of being labeled a snitch.

Would you, as a carwash owner, would want your carwash to be known for tolerating drug use?

Real examples

1) A carwash operator purchased new buffing tools for the detail shop. When the detail manager opened the boxes, he found some tools missing.

Suspecting employee theft, he told the owner. The owner then individually interviewed each employee in the shop to determine how the tools might have disappeared and who might be responsible.

One employee — the most likely perpetrator — promptly quit. During the course of the interviews, it was also revealed that the majority of the employees were regular drug users and that this theft was not the only one and that other things were being stolen, on a regular basis. Chemicals and detail supplies were constantly taken to resell or to support the "thieves'" weekend detail business or sold to buy drugs.

Further it was determined that drug use was probably responsible for slow turn-around time and poor quality work in the carwash and detail shop.

2) A detail shop manager promptly quit when the carwash owner began to audit work through the shop.

An investigation by the owner and an audit by the accountant revealed that this shop manager was recording on employee time sheets full car details when in fact, the work was only an express wax or shampoo. When the employees involved got their inflated paychecks they divided the excess among themselves and the manager.

The owner terminated the entire staff and closed the shop until new personnel could be interviewed and hired.

It was also found the manager was selling drugs to employees and others in the carwash.

3) In another carwash an employee openly complained to co-workers that he wasn't getting paid enough to buy his drugs and was going to demand more money. This person was later caught taking chemicals from the shop.

When confronted, he tried to excuse it by saying he wasn't paid enough to put gas in his car. He was terminated for poor-quality work, case closed.

4) An employee didn't show up for a scheduled meeting. When the manager asked where he was, a co-worker mentioned that he was in his car in the parking lot "toking up" but would be there.

5) In another carwash an employee unexpectedly quit. It was revealed that he occasionally smoked pot in the restroom. His co-workers feared that they would lose their jobs or be labeled snitches if they said anything.

What to do?

There are many drug-free business organizations around the country. In the state of Washington, the Drug Free Business Organization has helped more than 4,000 businesses implement comprehensive programs.

They can help set up your entire program with written policies, drug testing forms, sample collection facilities, supervisor training and employee assistance/counseling programs.

Once on the program, your carwash is designated as a Drug Free Business. These programs are clearly superior to any program the owner might draft themselves, and they provide the legal framework to run an effective policy.

Many owners who have such a program indicate a positive experience. Admittedly, you might be apprehensive about announcing your intention to start a program.

Pre-employment drug tests have driven off prospective new hires in the past. (In retrospect, you might have been fortunate.) But your employee response will be positive and supportive.

In many states, an employee-wide drug screening isn't an implementation requirement, and employees are given at least 45 days notice of when optional random testing or testing for cause will start — so it gives your staff ample advance notice.

I don't have an exact number as to how many carwashes are designated Drug Free Workplaces, but I strongly urge you to check into these worthwhile programs and implement one.

It will go far to help you recruit good people into your industry and to enhance the industry's public image. You should attract only the best and offer any drug abusers the opportunity to make a choice: either get off drugs or find another place to work.

R.L."Bud" Abraham is president of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR. Bud is a 37 year veteran of the carwash and detail industries and currently serves on the Board of Directors of both International Carwash Association and the Western Carwash Association. He can be contacted at