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Drug policies seen to benefit employers

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Gina Riordon is program supervisor at Drug Free Workplace PA, a state-funded organization that works with businesses at no cost to create and implement policies for a drug-free workplace.
Gina Riordon is program supervisor at Drug Free Workplace PA, a state-funded organization that works with businesses at no cost to create and implement policies for a drug-free workplace. - (Photo / )

A company that has 100 employees probably doesn't realize that it's losing $180,000 annually as a result of substance abuse by its employees.

It costs businesses roughly $15,000 per year for each person they employ who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. And 12 percent of a company’s workforce, on average, has a substance use disorder, said Mischelle Moyer, curriculum development specialist at Drug Free Workplace PA, which helps businesses tackle the problem.

Based in Paxtang Borough, the state-funded organization works with businesses at no cost to create and implement policies for a drug-free workplace.

About 77 percent of people who abuse alcohol or drugs are employed full or part-time, so it’s a problem that most employers have to confront, said Gina Riordon, program supervisor at Drug Free Workplace PA.

Heroin, alcohol and marijuana are widely abused in the workplace, which in addition to financial loss, can also cause turnover, accidents, fatalities and legal problems, according to Riordon.

And it can tarnish a business’s image, something in which Anne Deeter Gallaher, CEO and owner of the Camp Hill-based Deeter Gallaher Group LLC, specializes.

“You’re not going to attract top talent if they think this kind of stuff is going on,” said Gallaher.

The policy

It’s important that employers keep their drug and alcohol policies current and consistent with how they actually plan to take action, said Karen Young, president of HR Resolutions, a human resources consulting firm in Lower Paxton Township.

Not enforcing or consistently following workplace policy is worse for employers than not having one, she said.

They could get into legal trouble or it could lead to an employee relations issue if employees feel their employer is picking and choosing to whom they apply the policy, Young said.

But before any policy is put in place, Young recommends that supervisors be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, something Drug Free Workplace PA provides for free.

Businesses looking to set up a policy or use the free services of Drug Free Workplace PA can visit www.drugfreeworkplacepa.org or contact Gina Riordon, program supervisor at Drug Free Workplace PA, or Mischelle Moyer, curriculum development specialist at Drug Free Workplace PA at (717) 454-3100.

If a supervisor does suspect substance abuse based on what they have learned from their training, Riordon said they have cause for drug testing, also known as reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion testing and pre-employment testing are crucial elements to include in policies, which should also emphasize that a person declining to undergo a test will be treated the same way as if they had tested positive for drugs, Young said.

Additionally, the policy should note what drug testing facility the company plans to use and how their employees will be transported to the facility. Employers should never let their employees drive themselves to a drug testing facility, according to Young.

If the results come back negative, employers should pay their workers for any time they missed – something they don’t have to do, but ought to, according to Young.

Young also recommends that employers tell their employees why they suspected substance abuse and ask if anything else is going on in their lives that may have manifested itself in that way.

Some employees may be able to beat a drug test even if they are on drugs, according to Riordon, which is why she recommends employers use drug-testing facilities that observe people while they take urine tests.

Immediate termination for a positive drug test result must be part of the policy or employers can run into legal issues, hence the importance of having a policy in place, Moyer said.


Riordon does experience pushback from some supervisors when she comes in to help them create and implement a drug-free work place policy.

They may not believe in the policy, or they may not believe they are the best people to enforce it, Riordon said.

But they are, Riordon said, because supervisors spend the most time observing employee behavior and performance.

Sometimes businesses shrug off creating or enforcing drug-free workplace policies because if the policies were enforced, a portion of their employees would test positive, leaving them understaffed, Moyer said.

Or maybe drugs or alcohol haven’t impacted them legally yet, Moyer said.

And there’s fear.

Supervisors may be afraid of falsely accusing someone of substance abuse or getting the company into legal trouble, Moyer said.

“I remember being a new supervisor and just – not being terrified of confronting the employee because I know that there’s a problem – but being terrified that I’m doing it incorrectly and that I’m going to get the company in trouble. So I was afraid for myself the first few times I had to deal with that,” Moyer said.

To be safe, Moyer said, always have another person with authority present when confronting an employee, decide if the policy is clear and will not promote litigation, and, when in doubt, consult a law firm before proceeding unless the safety of employees is at risk.

Going the distance

Employers should consider implementing a return-to-work program that allows employees to return to work after successfully completing a treatment program. As a condition of remaining employed, they should be asked to agree to random drug tests for a set period of time and understand that if they test positive, they will be terminated, Young said.

There are pros for businesses that retain employees who are suffering from addiction, though on average people relapse four to five times, Riordon said.

An employee in recovery can save a company money over the long term.

Each employee who recovers from a substance use disorder saves a company more than $3,200 a year. Workers in recovery help employers avoid $1,626 in turnover and replacement costs and miss five days less work per year than workers with a substance use disorder, according to the National Safety Council.

And a tight labor market means that employers are doing whatever they can to retain employees.

In addition, offering a second chance to employees who test positive for drugs demonstrates that businesses truly care about their employees, Young said.

The time off is unpaid, so there’s no real loss to the employer. The potential financial loss is the cost of a drug screen once a month. And for a valued employee with tenure, as difficult as recruiting and retention is today, it’s well worth the cost, Young said.

“And quite frankly, it looks good in your community. It looks good with your other employees. It looks good as a recruiting method because they’re going to talk about what an awesome job the employer did helping them through their challenges,” Young said.

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Shelby White

Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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