The daunting challenge of maintaining a drug-free workplace

With a national opioid crisis that defies holistic solutions, the legalization of medicinal marijuana in more than 30 states and recreational marijuana in 10 states, increases in deadly overdoses in the workplace, changing state laws, confusion over OSHA’s anti-retaliatory drug testing rule, and concerns about medical privacy, no employer should think they are immune to the problem. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), 15.6% of American workers live with a substance disorder and The Hartford reports that 64% of HR professionals are ill-prepared to help a worker with an opioid addiction.

These factors, coupled with a tight labor market and low unemployment, have led some employers to soften zero-tolerance policies for jobs where safety is not critical and there is a low risk of injury or error. The decision to relax zero-tolerance policies requires buy-in from company leadership and supervisors as well as serious evaluation of the consequences. Although the legalization of marijuana exponentially increases the complexity of the issue, the reasons for maintaining a drug-free workplace remain constant: safety of employees and customers, lower absenteeism, reduced turnover, fewer workers’ comp claims, fewer workplace conflicts, and reduced liability for workplace accidents.

It’s also troublesome for supervisors because substance abuse often falls below the radar of the workplace. Yet, for five consecutive years, unintentional workplace overdose deaths have increased by at least 25%. Drug testing, which is often a critical component of a zero-tolerance policy, can identify those at risk.

Here are five things to consider when evaluating a drug policy:

Legal concerns

While federal law regulating drug testing affects some heavily-regulated industries, there is no comprehensive federal law regulating drug testing in the private sector. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires all recipients of federal grants and some federal contractors to maintain a drug-free workplace.The ADA does not consider drug abuse a disability and allows drug testing; however, disability discrimination is a significant legal risk. If an applicant is not hired or an employee is terminated because of a positive drug test and the medication was legally prescribed for a disability, the employer could be liable. Reasonable accommodations must be provided at application, hiring, and during employment.

State laws that do regulate workplace drug testing vary widely and are constantly changing. Generally, state laws allow employers to drug test job applicants. However, many have rules about providing notice, preventing discrimination, and following procedures to prevent inaccurate samples. The laws governing testing of current employees varies widely by state, with some prohibiting random testing and others requiring ‘reasonable suspicion.’ There are also laws governing post-accident testing. It’s critical to understand and stay abreast of the laws in all the states in which you operate.

Marijuana

Marijuana is one of employers’ biggest worries and one of the driving reasons for employers to relax pre-employment drug testing. There is legitimate fear that it will reduce the pool of qualified candidates. Some address this issue by removing marijuana from the test panel for many positions that are not safety-critical.

The laws vary significantly with states that have legalized marijuana and case law is limited and evolving. Some states have card holder anti-discrimination statutes and some states prohibit firing of an employee who tests positive for marijuana while others allow it. Although all marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, state courts across the country are deciding cases on medical marijuana use and accommodation. Employers are wise to consider whether positive drug tests are connected to medicinal use before making employment decisions.

Employers should be careful about penalizing employees for off-duty marijuana use, since some states have statutes protecting employees. However, most states permit employers to prohibit marijuana use on their premises and to discipline employees who come to work under the influence.

While the uncertainty is unnerving for employers, a growing number of states are writing statutes to remove the ambiguities. Statutes in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington DC, and West Virginia address employment protection for medical marijuana patients. It’s still possible to restrict marijuana use in these states, but care needs to be taken in crafting and enforcing a policy.

If you choose to differentiate marijuana policies from other drug policies, consider these questions:

  • Will treating marijuana differently create problems in the workforce?
  • Under what circumstances will employees be tested for marijuana?
  • What are the consequences of not testing (i.e. more injuries, absenteeism)?
  • What is the process to determine a medical exception to the policy?
  • What happens when an employee fails the test?

Workers’ Comp

Substance abuse can contribute to workplace accidents and a drug-free workplace helps prevent accidents, thus lowering workers’ comp costs. In some states, employers implementing a drug-free workplace receive a premium discount. As of October 2018, 13 states had such laws. While the requirements and discounts vary, the states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.

In addition, some states have enacted laws to make it easy for employers who properly drug test to deny workers’ compensation benefits. For example, Florida law provides that if the employee tests positive for drugs, then “it is presumed that the injury was occasioned primarily by…the influence of the drug upon, the employee.”

Medical marijuana raises thorny issues for employers. Can a claim be denied if an employee tests positive for using state-approved medical cannabis? Can an injured employee receive medical marijuana to treat a workplace injury? Both are new and evolving issues that will be the subject of future court cases and state regulations. The Minnesota Department of Labor & Industries issued rules allowing cannabis as a reimbursable form of medical treatment.

OSHA

The anti-retaliatory provisions of OSHA’s e-Recordkeeping rule resulted in considerable confusion about post-injury drug testing policies, which was somewhat clarified in a guidance memo in October 2018. Before doing post-accident drug testing, employers should:

  • Have a reasonable basis to conclude drug use could have contributed to the injury
  • Test all employees whose conduct could have caused an accident, even if they were not injured
  • Identify high hazard work as a reason for testing
  • Determine if the drug test can provide insight to the root cause of incident
  • Consider whether drug test is capable of measuring impairment at the time the injury occurred
  • Ensure employees are not discouraged or dissuaded from reporting injuries

Remember, the rule does not affect new hires, random testing, or testing to comply with state or federal laws or required by Workers’ Comp insurers.

Privacy

Although challenges to workplace drug testing policies on the grounds that they violate employees’ privacy have generally not been successful, the manner in which the test is conducted and how the results are used have been successfully challenged. Drug test results are considered protected health information and must be kept confidential. Further, as laws on employee privacy continue to evolve, testing that is not clearly authorized by law could be open to legal challenges.

Conclusion

Zero-tolerance policies are strong stands that send an important cultural message, but like any policy it should be evaluated periodically. How effective has it been? Has it hampered recruitment and retention efforts for positions that are not safety-critical? Has it prevented workers from seeking the help they need to deal with substance abuse? Does it impede flexibility?

Anecdotally, more employers are tailoring drug testing to the job and adding a fitness-for-duty component. Any policy changes require serious consideration as protecting employees remains the top priority. However, no change in policy should excuse an employee who is impaired while working. There’s just too much at risk.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

NLRB issues proposed rule on joint employers

As expected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has announced publication of a proposed rule on joint employers. The rule will effectively discard the expanded definition of joint employer in the Browning-Ferris Industries decision during the Obama era and return to the much narrower standard that it had followed from 1984 until 2015. An employer may be found to be a joint-employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment.

NIOSH publishes guide on air-purifying respirator selection

NIOSH has issued a guide intended to help employers select appropriate air-purifying respirators based on the environment and contaminants at specific jobsites.

Top trend in workers’ comp reform – legislation impacting first responders

According to National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the introduction of legislation impacting first responders was the top trend in workers’ compensation reforms countrywide, although few bills have passed. In 2018, there were 103 bills dealing with first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer, but only five bills passed. Washington and Florida both passed bills that would allow first responders with PTSD to file workers’ compensation claims under certain circumstances, and Hawaii and New Hampshire revised or enacted presumption bills for firefighters battling certain types of cancer. New Hampshire also passed a law that calls for a commission to “study” PTSD in first responders.

Worker fatalities at road construction sites on the rise: CPWR

A total of 532 construction workers were killed at road construction sites from 2011 through 2016 – more than twice the combined total for all other industries – according to a recent report from the Center for Construction Research and Training, also known as CPWR. In addition to the statistics, the report highlights injury prevention strategies for road construction sites from CPWR and several agencies.

State-by-state analysis of prescription drug laws

The Workers Compensation Research Institute published a report that shows how each of the 50 states regulates pharmaceuticals as related to workers’ compensation. Some of the highlights include:

  • 34 states now require doctors to perform certain tasks before prescribing
  • At least 11 states have adopted drug formularies
  • 15 states do not have treatment guidelines to control the prescription of opioids, and preauthorization is not required
  • In at least 26 states, medical marijuana is allowed in some form and nine of those states specifically exclude marijuana from workers’ compensation

Guide and study related to workers and depression

Workers who experience depression may be less prone to miss work when managers show greater sensitivity to their mental health and well-being, recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows. The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.

In March, the Institute for Work and Health published a guide intended to aid “the entire workplace” in assisting workers who cope with depression or those who support them.

11 best practices for lowering firefighter cancer risk

A recent report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and the National Volunteer Fire Council details 11 best practices for minimizing cancer risk among firefighters.

NIOSH offers recommendations for firefighters facing basement, below-grade fires

The Workplace Solutions report offers strategies and tactics for fighting basement and below-grade fires, along with a list of suggested controls before, during and after an event.

Predicting truck crash involvement update now available

The American Transportation Research Institute has updated its Crash Predictor Model. It examines the statistical likelihood of future truck crashes based on certain behaviors – such as violations, convictions or previous crashes – by using data from 435,000 U.S. truck drivers over a two-year period.

This third edition of CPM includes the impact of age and gender on the probability of crashes. It also features average industry costs for six types of crashes and their severity.

State News

California

  • Governor signed four bills related to comp. A.B. 1749 allows the first responder’s “employing agency” to determine whether an injury suffered out of state is compensable. A.B. 2046 requires governmental agencies involved in combating workers compensation fraud to share data, among other changes to anti-fraud efforts. S.B. 880 allows employers to pay indemnity benefits with a prepaid credit card. S.B. 1086 preserves the extended deadline for families of police and firefighters to file claims for death benefits.
  • Governor vetoed bills that would have prohibited apportionment based on genetics, defined janitors as employees and not contractors, identified criteria doctors must consider when assigning an impairment rating for occupational breast cancer claims, called for the “complete” disbursement of $120 million in return-to-work program funds annually, and required the Division of Workers’ Compensation to document its plans for using data analytics to find fraud.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation revised Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule Drug List went into effect Oct 1.
  • Independent medical reviews (IMRs) used to resolve workers’ comp medical disputes in the state rose 4.4 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017; however, in over 90 percent of those cases, physicians performing the IMR upheld the utilization review (UR) physician’s treatment modification or denial. – California Compensation Institute (CWCI)

Florida

  • Workers’ compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for first responders like firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers and others went into effect Oct. 1.

Indiana

  • Workers’ Compensation Board will destroy paper documents in settlements. If parties mail or drop off paper-based settlement agreements and related documents, it will trash them and notify the parties by phone or email to submit online. The board urges parties to follow the settlement checklist and procedure posted on its website.

Minnesota

  • The Department of Labor and Industry formally adopted a number of changes to fees for rehabilitation consultants.
  • Department of Labor and Industry approved rule changes that slightly increase fees for medical and vocational rehabilitation services, and increase the threshold for medical, hospital and vocational rehabilitation services that treat catastrophically injured patients.
  • Effective Jan. 1, the assigned risk rate, which insures small employers with less than $15,000 in premium, and employers with an experience modification factor of 1.25 or higher, will decrease 0.7%.

Missouri

  • A new portal from the Department of Labor offers safety data, video, and training programs.

New York

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board has launched its virtual hearings option for injured workers and their attorneys. For more information.
  • Attorneys or representatives are now required to check-in to all hearings using the online Virtual Hearing Center when appearing in person at a hearing center.

Virginia

  • The Department of Labor and Industry has issued a hazard alert warning of the potential dangers of unsafe materials handling and storage in the beverage distribution and retail industry.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Annual Report for 2017 shows claims and first report of injury are trending up, bucking the downward trend nationally. There has also been a big jump in alternative dispute resolutions.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com