Employed and Addicted

Employed and Addicted

Do you know someone living with an addiction? Chances are you do. As many as two out of three Hoosiers know someone with an addiction to drugs. For about a quarter of us, it’s a friend. For one in five of us, it’s a family member, according to data from IU. What are we supposed to do when it’s an employee?

This widespread problem has touched companies in every Indiana county. As such, it has produced a range of new options for employers about how they’d like to handle the issue.


It Starts with a Choice

After first learning of an employee’s addiction, employers have a tough choice to make – help them recover or don’t. Indiana is an at-will employment state, after all, so employees can basically be let go at any time for any reason. This might be necessary if the person came to work intoxicated or violated another important company policy.

But employers are having difficulties finding talented and qualified people to fill their open positions. If the employee came to you and informed you of their addiction, or if you’ve learned of the problem in a way that didn’t violate any of your company policies, helping them recover might be the preferred option over termination.

Lately, more and more companies in Indiana have been choosing recovery. Many have even extended the offer of assistance to applicants in addition to existing employees.


Successful Program Goes Statewide

For employers that want to implement recovery programs, there is a new statewide option that can provide a support framework and recommendations from experts. It’s built upon an existing program recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor that has already helped thousands of employers and employees in central Indiana.

Indiana Workforce Recovery is an initiative formed just over two years ago by the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI), the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and Governor Eric Holcomb’s office. It was created to fight the opioid epidemic by educating and guiding employers on steps they can take to help their workforce.

Since Indiana Workforce Recovery was formed, it has provided in-person education to nearly 3,000 employers and employees. The employer guidelines available on its website were downloaded more than 1,000 times over the last six months of 2019, as were related educational videos. The organization has also distributed more than 40,000 prescription disposal kits.

Early this year, Indiana Workforce Recovery launched a new partnership with Centerstone, a mental health and addiction treatment services provider. Centerstone’s nationally successful Workforce Investment Program provides hands-on direction and consultation for employers who are developing recovery programs. Through Indiana Workforce Recovery, the Workforce Investment Program is now available to Hoosier employers statewide.

“We all know that good workers are hard to find and retain. An increasing dilemma has been what to do about quality employees or prospects who test positive on a drug test or alcohol assessment. Or how to help a worker who comes forward on their own, while also protecting the business,” says Mike Thibideau, director of Indiana Workforce Recovery.

“Today, more employers are willing to provide that second chance to these workers – they just need guidance to make that happen. That’s why we believe this exclusive partnership with Centerstone is a real game-changer for companies and their workforce — both in helping to turn lives around and to keep valued employees working.”


Financial and Liability Protections for Employers

Companies that complete the programs with Indiana Workforce Recovery or Centerstone will have internal policies and protocols that are in compliance with Indiana’s new substance use and treatment law, which provides civil liability protections and the ability to partake in wage assignments for participating employers.

The law provides that if an employee and employer comply with best-practice guidelines defined under Indiana’s House Enrolled Act 1007, the employer can avoid liability in a civil action alleging negligent hiring due to the negligence of the employee.

There are also financial protections for employers. Per HEA 1007, it is the employer’s choice whether to pay none, a portion, or all of the costs for any of the services necessary for the employee following the clinical, diagnostic assessment. If the employer and employee choose to assign the employee’s wages, amounts may be deducted from the employee’s wages to pay for a part of the employee’s drug education and addiction services.


Why Should Employers Help?

Employers are major stakeholders in the fight against all forms of addiction because they’re among the entities that will likely incur the most losses from its effects. Opioid addiction, as one example, generates huge costs for employers.

A 2018 report from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation (RMFF) found that “$2.1 billion of damages result from the opioid epidemic’s impact on the labor market, which includes Hoosiers experiencing unemployment as a result of substance misuse and employers struggling to fill open positions due to labor shortages.”

It should be noted that illicit drugs aren’t the only concern, legal ones are incredibly costly too. For example, a separate RMFF report found that “Hoosier companies experience a total productivity loss due to tobacco use of $2.8 billion annually. This includes $2.1 billion due to lost productivity from unsanctioned smoking breaks and an additional $700 million due to higher absenteeism and reduced performance while at work among smokers.”

The Wellness Council of Indiana offers smoking cessation resources for companies that wish to offer them alongside other addiction services.


A Big Part of the Solution

Indiana Workforce Recovery reported that almost half (45%) of Indiana employers have a plan in place for directing employees to assistance. But there’s still a lot more work to be done. As many as 35% of employers lack a basic written drug and alcohol misuse policy, which is a critical first step.

Whether they like it or not, companies are involved in the work to address addiction in Indiana. In fact, they’re at the forefront. By developing a strategy to help employees recover and receive treatment, employers become a big part of the solution. And with the state’s new protections and support, there is every reason to do so.

Category Cover Story, Features