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Alcohol, drug abuse costing Mississippi business

Alcohol- and drug-related problems in the workplace cost the nation’s businesses an estimated $85.8 billion per year for loss of productivity, workplace injuries and fatalities. But many employers may not know they have a problem until they have an accident or absenteeism becomes a major problem.

“One of the things employers are beginning to find out in the state is that the way you recognize alcohol and drug abuse problems is when you begin to see absenteeism, especially on Mondays and Fridays,” said John Hodges, a master’s level alcohol and drug abuse counselor and director of chemical dependency services and the employee assistance program at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson. “Employees don’t come in on Mondays, and leave early on Fridays.”

Workplace accidents can be another indication of employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems. When people drink heavily the night before, they go to work the next day feeling ill, and are more prone to accidents. Hodges said another indication of problems is disputes or fights in the workplace. For example, an employee might borrow from other employees to purchase drugs, and a fight will break out when the money isn’t repaid.

Ignoring the problems can be costly for a business. And studies have shown that just testing employees for drugs and alcohol, and firing those who test positive, also is expensive. Hodges said it costs more to hire and train new employees than to get help for employees who have substance abuse problems.

In Mississippi, the Drug-Free Workers’ Compensation Premium Reduction Act initiated a program in 1997 allows employers to get 5% off their Worker’s Compensation premiums by participating in a program to address drug and alcohol problems in the workplace.

“If calls to my office are an indication, then interest in the program is very high,” said Scott Clark, senior attorney, Mississippi Worker’s Compensation Commission. “I get a lot of calls about it all the time.”

Scott explains that his agency isn’t really involved in running the program. The program works by employers applying to their Worker’s Compensation carrier for a 5% reduction in premiums in return for instituting a program to address drug and alcohol programs.

Employers are required to have an anti-drug program that contains a written policy setting forth the policy against drug use in the workplace that is confidential and advises employees of the availability of assistance though internal or external programs. Employers must also have a substance abuse testing program, and an anti-drug program that offers employees assistance and explains the benefits of the programs.

Other requirements include providing all employees with an education program on alcohol and drug abuse on an annual basis. The program must contain a minimum of one hour of instruction on the disease of addiction, the effects and dangers associated with commonly abused substances in the workplace, and the employer’s policies and procedures on drug use as well as the availability of treatment.

The employee must also provide all supervisory personnel with a minimum of two hours of education prior to implementation of the program, and then at least annually thereafter. Supervisors are to be instructed on how to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, the proper documentation of abuse, and the availability of any health insurance that would help defray costs of treatment to employees.

It is up to the insurer to determine whether the employer’s drug-free workplace program is in compliance with the act in order to qualify for the program.

Hodges said one way to provide help for employees is the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

“One of the best ways to help is to have either a national or local EAP provider come in an evaluate your problems as an employer,” Hodges said. “The provider looks at disputes, absenteeism, whether anyone has been caught at work drinking or using drugs, and what the company’s drug policies are.”

After the evaluation, help is provided developing drug testing policies, and determining procedures for what happens after an employee tests positive. Supervisors are educated and trained to handle the program. For example, it is not a good idea for a supervisor to directly confront an employee with accusations about drug or alcohol abuse because the employee may respond that the supervisor is not a physician or psychologist, and isn’t qualified to make that accusation.

Instead, the supervisor might say, “I don’t know what the problem is, but I want you to talk to our EAP representative.” The discussion between the EAP representative and employee is confidential. Supervisors aren’t told what the employee has said, but will be informed about what the employee needs such as counseling, outpatient treatment, or hospital treatment.

“Employers lose a lot of money each year because of absenteeism, and accidents also cost a lot,” Hodges said. “EAP does cost the employer something, but in the long run they see that it keeps their employees healthy. They want to continue to educate employees, and offer services that will keep them healthy rather than let a big catastrophe happen.”

For more information, contact Hodges at (601) 364-3060. A three-page summary of the Drug-Free Workplace Act can be obtained by calling Clark at (601) 987-4200.

About Becky Gillette

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