Addressing Substance Use in the Workplace
By Daniel Jolivet, PhD
Workplace Possibilities Practice Consultant
Substance use conditions and addiction have been a significant point of focus in workplaces over the last two decades, particularly with respect to the opioid epidemic and the movement to legalize marijuana. While employers remain mindful of additional substance use conditions, particularly alcohol misuse, they must implement comprehensive programs to mitigate and minimize the impact of substance use on their workforce.
What’s Changed: The Opioid Epidemic
More than 770,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the last 20 years. Despite a 2.9% decrease in overdose deaths in 2018, an estimated 2 million Americans remain addicted to opioids.1,2 The opioid crisis will continue to impact the workplace for the foreseeable future.
- Employers must be careful to avoid discriminating against job applicants who disclose that they have been diagnosed with opioid use disorders.3 This may come up when an applicant is asked to explain a gap in their employment history, for example.
- Similarly, employers must be mindful of the state and federal laws that apply to pre-employment questions about arrests and convictions, especially when an applicant’s record is directly or indirectly related to an opioid use disorder.4
- Some employers have reported difficulty finding qualified job applicants who can pass mandatory pre-employment drug screenings and have had to take extraordinary measures to maintain their staffing levels.5
- Employees who have recovered from opioid misuse may require accommodations to remain abstinent, such as being allowed to schedule their meal break at a time when they can attend a local support group.
- Employers need to update their drug policies and drug testing procedures to address misuse of prescription opioid medications, if they haven’t already done so.
- Employers must also verify that their health insurance benefits cover nonpharmacologic treatments for pain management, such as acupuncture and physical therapy, particularly for employees who are recovering from opioid addictions.
- Although employers can require employees with opioid use disorders to comply with their employee conduct guidelines and drug-free workplace policies, those employees may be more likely to take Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or short-term disability (STD) leave to seek treatment following a relapse.
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