August 2, 2019

A Second Chance at Work

by Kathleen Herath, Nationwide Insurance

The opioid crisis has had a tremendous and dire impact on the families and friends of those who have a substance use problem. There is also a clear economic impact on business that few companies realize and far fewer are doing anything about. In fact, just 17 percent of employers feel they are prepared to handle opioids in the workplace.

But the National Safety Council says that prescription painkiller abuse costs employers almost $42 billion yearly across the country, and, in Ohio alone, we’ve lost 1.2 billion work hours since 1999. More strikingly, 56 percent of substance abusers are employed, and that is perhaps the place companies can have not only the biggest impact on their bottom line, but also the most positive impact on those suffering from the disease of addiction. At Nationwide, we’ve implemented policies that help these employees, and can share our advice with other businesses.

A no-tolerance substance policy can be both unproductive and uncaring, removing workers from their jobs and the support they need to overcome their addictions. Instead, look into establishing clear steps that give employees who are affected by substance use or drug-impaired at work the option of entering treatment and holding onto their jobs.

There are a few ways to accomplish this: one way we handle it is if an employee is suspected of being under the influence at work, they must submit to a drug test. If that test result shows drug or alcohol use, the employee can then agree to enter into a treatment program through an employee assistance program. Following treatment, the employee returns to work, but could be subject to unscheduled alcohol or other drug testing for two years. Any business can follow this model, or establish their own similar model.

The good news is that, since establishing our own program, we’ve witnessed a 60 percent success rate with those completing treatment and the two-year follow-up. This is an incredible motivator for both the employee and the business.

Part of that success relies on managers receiving training to recognize an impaired worker, but also the knowledge across the organization that someone with a substance problem will not automatically lose their job. This is an important educational step in getting support to those who need it most in the workplace, and making sure the entire employee base knows they can seek out that support safely.

One of the first steps a company can take to deliver support is to establish an employee assistance program. At Nationwide, for example, our employee assistance program includes a dedicated helpline, connecting those in crisis immediately with a specialized licensed clinician, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We established this option because there is a limited window of opportunity to get someone into treatment, and getting lost in bureaucracy or a phone tree can cause us to miss that chance.

For any business, providing second-chance employment can be an effective policy that is easy for employees to understand, cares for and provides support to those employees and helps keep employees and the company productive in the face of crisis.