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updated 9/13/2014 2:15:34 AM ET 2014-09-13T06:15:34

You never think that your employee of the month, your top salesperson or your friendliest receptionist will test positive for drugs. But it happens.

Substance abuse isn’t uncommon in the workplace. A recent study showed that 70 percent of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. And drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually. The most abused drug is marijuana, followed by cocaine and prescription drugs.

Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of employers make mistakes when dealing with employees who are abusing drugs. And while it’s never an easy situation to face (especially when the employee is a friend or a valued team member), if you’re prepared, you’ll be able to make the best decision for the employee and the company.

Related: Why Your Company Needs an Up-to-Date Marijuana Policy

It’s vital for companies to have drug-esting procedures and policies in place before they begin testing employees. The procedures should clearly state the type of tests to be used, their frequency and the consequences for finding positive results.

If an employee tests positive, this can present a difficult and uncomfortable situation. Following these steps can help resolve the issue efficiently:

1. Anticipate excuses. Often employees won’t admit they’ve taken drugs. Whether they blame it on secondhand smoke, a faulty test or a poppy-seed muffin, expect this type of response and know how to follow up in an effective manner to unveil the truth.

2. Retest and confirm. I always recommend that an employee be re-evaluted after testing positive for drugs. For the follow-up test, use a qualified lab and be sure the results are confirmed by a medical review officer. If the employee tested positive because of a medication taken, a medical review officer can make note of it.

3. Consult a lawyer. Always have an attorney review the company’s policies for drug tests before conducting them. But if an employee tests positive, consult the lawyer once more about the proper (and legal) actions to take. States have different laws concerning treatment, termination and probation.

4. Remove the employee from the workplace. The employee should be relieved of all duties at work, particularly if she or he performs a safety-sensitive job.

5. Offer the services of an employee assistance program. Before considering termination, grant the employee the chance to participate in an employeee assistance program for treatment or counseling Termination should not always be the consequence of testing positive for drugs, especially if it’s an employee’s first offense. Some states prohibit immediate termination.

If the staffer refuses to participate or doesn’t complete treatment, however, termination could be the next step.

Related: 4 Steps to Deal with an Employee's Substance Abuse Problem

6. Set a probation period. If an employee participates in the assistance program and returns to work, the focus should be on continued recovery and easing back into work duties. Consider removing certain responsibilities or privileges for a span of time as a consequence of the positive tests or requiring temporary supervision and subsequent drug tests.

7. Promote the company’s culture of support. While keeping the matter as private as possible, reinforce the fact that there's a company culture of support for all situations, including addiction recovery. Demonstrating caring about the health and safety of staffers will set the tone for others to adopt the same attitude.

8. Don’t play favorites. Don’t avoid taking action because an employee is a friend or holds a position of leadership. Instead, opt for constructive solutions that will help the employee move past this situation with support. If the employee is important to the staff, address the matter rather than ignoring it in order to do the most good.

Confronting employees about positive drug-test results can be difficult, especially when this involves staffers close to management. But having a plan and knowing the actions to take can make the entire process easier. Just remember that everyone makes mistakes and the important thing to focus on is the safety and health of the team.

Related: To Avoid Common Startup Ailments, Try These Preventative Measures

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