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SkiCo Relaxes Drug Testing Policy


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Aspen Skiing Co. has changed its drug testing policy for employees who are injured on the job, who damage company equipment in an accident, or who are in a situation where a guest has been injured.

Employees in those and other circumstances are no longer automatically required to take a mandatory drug test to determine if there are threshold levels of marijuana, c******, op*** or bar*****ates in their bloodstream. Instead, employees will only be tested if their supervisor, a supervisor or manager at a higher level, and someone from the human resources department all determine that a drug test is reasonable. If that determination is made, then the drug test is still mandatory. And if illegal substances are found to be present above levels set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is a commonly used standard, then employees can still be fired or suspended and they can still lose their company benefits.

The change in policy was announced to supervisors on Friday, according to Jim Laing, a vice president with the company who oversees both human resources and the company's retail division. "We're evolving from the automatic, mandatory test for any kind of accident," Laing said. "There is now more judgment involved. We can now ask, 'Is this truly an accident or do we believe it is more than an accident?' We're trying to be a little more thoughtful and a little less mechanical." Laing said other factors that might come into play for supervisors and human resources personnel deciding to test an employee might include whether the person has had a series of accidents or was frequently having trouble reporting to work on time.

The company, which has 3,500 employees at peak season, is not changing its drug testing polices regarding new hires, who will still be randomly tested and who will still receive conditional job offers based on the passage of a drug test, if they are selected.

The company does not test for alcohol, Laing said, because it is not an illegal drug.

The relaxation of the automatic, post-accident, drug testing policy means that if a waiter takes a bong hit on Friday night and on Monday morning cuts his finger slicing lemons in the kitchen at The Little Nell, there is less of a chance that his job, his ski season, and perhaps his life, will unravel as a result of a mandatory drug test.

Laing was candid about such situations.

"The most difficult part of the policy was how to interpret positive tests for THC, for pot," he said. "Everyone's body metabolizes it differently, so you can test positive many days later." Laing said that company officials have long been discussing the change in policy. The majority of the company's drug-testing policy was put in place in 1995 - along with a grooming policy - and it has evolved ever since. For example, when drug testing was first introduced, all new hires were drug tested. The latest evolution, Laing said, was an effort to build more trusting relationships between the company and its employees. "Instead of assuming everyone is always guilty, which is how you could interpret the old policy, we've flipped that around," he said. Drug test results at SkiCo have remained steady for years, Laing said, with about 5 percent of tests coming back positive.

The Aspen Professional Ski Patrol Association, which just signed a new two-year contract with SkiCo, had been asking for changes in the policy for years during contract negotiations. Doug Driscoll, the secretary for the association and the snow safety officer for Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, said that mandatory drug tests for workers' compensation claims could be annoying, especially when it was for a claim that was not related to a specific accident, like a bone spur or a sore back.

"It was just annoying and accusatory whenever you had to go to Buttermilk and pee in the cup," Driscoll said. "You don't know how annoying it is until you have to do it. People didn't take it the right way. Even the managers who had to be tested weren't happy about it."

Driscoll said he thought it was a positive step toward improving the relationship between the company and employees. "It was like they were accusing you for no reason. And my guess is they were testing a lot more people than they had to," he said.

A veteran ski instructor with the company said the change in policy would be welcome news to many employees. "It just makes it more comfortable for everybody," said the ski instructor, who preferred that his name not be used in conjunction with the topic of drug testing. "You won't feel like they are looking over your shoulder."

Source: Aspen Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2007 Aspen Daily News
Contact: Aspen Daily News | Aspen Colorado's #1 News Source
Website: Aspen Daily News | Aspen Colorado's #1 News Source
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