Opioid Abuse In The Workplace: Employers Shouldn't Turn A Blind Eye To The Problem
The number of drug overdose deaths in the past two years has soared to staggering levels. In 2016, the estimated number of drug-related deaths was 59,000. A year later, that number has increased 22 percent to 72,000. Employers are not immune to the effects of this ever-growing problem. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overdose fatalities from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol in the workplace has increased by 25 percent annually since 2012. From 2015 to 2017, the amount of deaths increased by 32 percent, 165 to 217, respectively. Now more than ever, employers have a role to play in combating this problem.
Educate Your Employees and Pay Attention to the Warning Signs
The opioid epidemic puts a strain on employers’ ability to find and keep workers. Many employers find it easier to simply abandon their drug testing policies for the sake of retaining talent as opposed to proactively addressing the problem. Such an approach is dangerous and invariably subjects companies to workplace injuries, or even worse. Rather than turn a blind eye, employers should implement programs to counsel employees on the dangers of drug use and applaud, rather than discourage, employees who seek assistance for drug-related issues. Creating a workplace environment conducive to the free exchange of information is key to mitigating drug abuse.
Employers should also monitor their employees’ behavior to curtail suspected drug use on the job. Train supervisors and managers on how to properly identify the warning signs: bloodshot or glassy eyes, reduced reaction time, slurred speech, etc. If drug use is suspected, management should approach the employee in a calm, non-combative manner to determine if assistance is needed. Conclusions about suspected drug use should not be made hastily; a balance must be achieved between being overly-intrusive and dealing with legitimate workplace safety issues. Effective drug testing policies and management’s adherence to the same go a long way in accomplishing this objective.
Review Drug Testing Procedures
There is no federal or Kentucky state law that prohibits drug testing in private employment. Drug testing is typically permissible when an employer has reason to suspect drug use at the workplace or after an accident has occurred. In post-accident situations, employers should not test in every instance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) allows employers to drug test after a workplace accident only when there is a reasonable basis to believe the incident or injury was caused by the employee’s impairment, and the drug test will determine whether the employee was impaired at the time of the incident or injury. For example, testing is not allowed after a bee sting or a repetitive strain injury; however, testing is likely permissible after an accident involving an in-plant vehicle (e.g., forklift) or when an employee is injured after mishandling a machine.
Rehabilitate, Don’t Terminate
Terminating employees for every infraction, big or small, is not effective. Such a policy makes it difficult to find and keep employees. Consider giving employees a chance at rehabilitation in lieu of discipline or termination. Many employers have employee assistance programs, a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. Some states, such as Kentucky, offer employers premium reductions on workers’ compensation plans for implementing employee assistance programs.
While the statistics surrounding opioid abuse are alarming and seem insurmountable, there are many tools available to employers to help combat the problem. Effective policies and programs go a long way in mitigating risks and keeping your employees safe.
By Paul Goatley, Fisher Phillips