America’s alarming addiction to opioids is having a devastating impact on our healthcare system and in our communities (see our recent article about the opioid epidemic). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have quadrupled since 1999.
The abuse of and addiction can threaten the safety and livelihoods of our employees. Employees using or abusing opioids may increase the risk of workplace accidents and errors and can increase our workers’ compensation costs, including increasing the length of lost time and even lengthen disability claims.
Yes. According to a 2016 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, one in five people reported that a family member has been addicted to prescription pain relievers. But recognizing the symptoms of prescription drug abuse can be difficult. Often times, we do not become aware of an employee’s problem until after an adverse incident occurs, such as a workplace accident or near miss. And more often than not, employees who are addicted to opioids take great steps to hide their addiction. But if left untreated, sooner or later, the addiction will likely negatively affect the employee’s work performance and you will have to address the problem with your employee.
According to a National Safety Council study, one of the most common workplace issues reported stemming from employee’s prescription drug use is employee absenteeism. Other commonly reported issues included impaired and diminished job performance, and near misses or injuries. The effects and costs for employers in the aggregate are staggering. According to a recent study, prescription opioid abuse cost employers more than $25 billion in 2007.
If you have an employee addicted to opioids, you may see the following workplace, which are associated with addiction:
According to the Job Accommodation Network, while these behaviors do not necessarily mean that an employee has an addiction issue, they may be important warning signs that there’s a problem.
Employers should review their existing policy and practices and determine if any changes need to be made. For example most employers have a policy prohibiting illegal drug use – but does your policy address use of prescribed drugs at work? A comprehensive policy should provide that the legal use of prescribed drugs is permissible so long as the use does not impair the employee’s ability to safely do his or her job. Likewise, the policy should prohibit the illegal use of prescriptions drugs, e.g., prescription drugs used for recreational purposes or used without a prescription.
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide confidential counseling and referral services for your employees with addiction issues. If you have an EAP, employees should be encouraged to utilize your EAP benefit and to bring questions and concerns about substance dependency issues to their supervisor and/or your organization’s Human Resources Department. Both supervisors and HR professionals should be prepared to respond to employees who raise such issues so that the employee can receive the appropriate information and obtain the resources they need to address the addiction.
In some circumstances, the employee may also be entitled to time off for treatment under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or even reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Treatment for substance abuse may be a serious health condition under the FMLA and accordingly, FMLA leave may be taken for treatment by a provider of health care services or on referral by a provider. However, absences that are caused by the employee’s substance abuse do not qualify for protected FMLA leave.
Notably, the ADA does not protect employees who are currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs. That said, the law may protect a recovered drug addict, and could require a job accommodation, for example, a modified schedule, so that the employee could attend treatment. Likewise if an employee with a disability is engaged in the lawful use of an opioid but the employee’s impairment poses a direct threat to the employee’s safety or otherwise impairs the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions, then reasonable job accommodations would also have to be considered.
A Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey taken in collaboration with the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association found that the implementation of a drug testing program had a positive effect in the workplace. In particular, the study found that absenteeism, workers’ compensation rates, productivity, and employee turn-over all improved in after the implementation of a drug testing program.
Employers who are interested in implementing a drug testing program or are considering making changes to their existing program should carefully consider the types of testing that will be included in the program and make sure to check state law to ensure compliance – as drug testing laws may vary from state to state. The considerations include whether you will conduct pre-employment and/or post-employment testing of employees, and under what conditions. In Minnesota, for example, employers may only test employees on a random basis who work in safety sensitive positions. Other states do not have this prohibition and allow random testing of all employees. Likewise in Minnesota, employees who test positive must be allowed to participate in drug or alcohol counseling and/or a rehabilitation program, whichever is more appropriate. Employees and employers subject to federal drug testing laws, e.g., Department of Transportation, must follow those rules.
Ultimately, in order to effectively combat opioid and other addiction issues, employers will want to review and implement:
For more information about how you can combat opioid abuse in your organization, contact us.
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before becoming an HR Consultant in 2015. She educates and advises human resources professionals and employers on a broad range of
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before joining Associated Financial Group’s HR Consultants in 2015. She educates and advises Human Resources professionals and employers on a broad range of employment issues and best practices and costly litigation compliance topics including respectful workplace practices, unlawful harassment avoidance, wage and hour issues, medical leaves and accommodations, as well as federal and state discrimination and anti-retaliation issues. Janice received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, magna cum laude, and her law degree from the University of Wisconsin, cum laude.
If you could give human form to your safety culture, what would it look like?
Maybe it would be a thick-set, shirtless brute named Trog with a foul disposition beating out a drum cadence to keep your employees rowing in-sync.
Or would it be more like a fussy and constantly disapproving Dickensian paper-pusher named Fizzlewhite who has never met a rule or procedure he didn’t like, even though he hasn’t done most of the things he creates rules to address?
If you were to search the various “mommy blogs” and parenting advice websites out there, how many of them do you think would endorse the following practice?
A child’s safety should always be a top priority for any parent. When leaving children under the age of 10 alone in the house for lengthy periods of time, be sure to provide the kids with a loaded pistol with the safety off in case a stranger should happen by. In a pinch, recently sharpened knives can be substituted for the pistol.
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