Q: What can SAFE Project offer me that I cannot get from our health insurance broker or a Wellness company?
A: While there are some high-quality Wellness programs, the vast majority do not offer a full-scale approach to addressing substance use and mental health issues among your workforce. Though your Wellness plans, may be attentive to mental wellbeing, for example, supervisors may be at a loss as to how best to deal with staff who appear to be experiencing depressive symptoms or anxiety (i.e. already palpable, the prevalence of these symptoms has only been exacerbated by the COVID Pandemic,) and who may be missing time on the job as a result. Similarly, while your health insurance carriers may offer a variety of treatment options, within their plans, those typically don’t provide strategies to incentivize the prevention of substance misuse, and similarly, do not have well-developed programs which support workers in recovery. SAFE Project has a developed a comprehensive approach cultivated from decades of experience in the behavioral healthcare field and whose strategies are recommended by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and considered best practice.
Q: We place a premium on keeping our employee information confidential. How can we be sure in partnering with SAFE Project that company information will not get out?
A: Our primary aim is to simply support you in your efforts to facilitate a healthy and successful business. If you decide to have SAFE Project partner with your organization, both institutions would sign a mutual agreement that included provisions for complete confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. Also, if we were to collect employee data as part of an organizational assessment, it would be aggregated to remove individual-level information and would be bound by non-disclosure agreements.
Q: Can we receive technical support from SAFE Project without participating in the assessment?
A: Yes! There is much ground that can be covered working with your Human Resources Department and EAP, for example, on issues around prevention, referral to treatment, and recovery support in the absence of our full comprehensive SAFE Workplaces package. Similarly, because our approach is comprehensive in nature but flexible, SAFE Project would be happy to work with your company on any (or all) of the elements included in the SAFE Workplaces suite of products and services.
Q: Since the advent of the opioid epidemic, an increasing number of our employees may have been prescribed Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), like buprenorphine, which will show up as “positive for opioids” on a urine screen. What are the best practices in this area?
A: Creating a written drug-free policy that reflects the needs of your workplace and applicable laws is a key part of a successful SAFE workplace program.
It is important that the organization follow their written procedure on drug testing and treat the returning worker no differently than they would another employee. If your workplace does not have written policies regarding drug testing, SAMHSA recommends that after assessing your workplace’s needs, your drug-free workplace team members should develop such a policy that is customized to your organization. SAFE Project would be happy to help you develop such policies and procedures. Organizations in safety- and security-sensitive industries are subject to additional rules and regulations (See: https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/legal/federal-laws). These written policies should cover how to treat those employees who have prescriptions for Medication Assisted Treatment. Employers should refrain from asking employees about their legal prescription drug use as part of the pre-hiring or pre-promotion drug-testing process. While the case law in this area is still evolving, some state courts have ruled that requesting such information constitutes a form of discrimination and is in violation of the ADA. SAFE Project will work with your HR Team to craft policy that aligns with your corporate philosophy while remaining aligned with federal law, guidelines, and best practices.
Q: Are there any legal requirements of employers regarding the drug screening of their prospective and active employees and those they know are in (or have returned from) treatment?
A: There is no requirement for most private employers to have a drug-free workplace policy of any kind. The exceptions to this are federal contractors and grantees, as well as safety- and security-sensitive industries and positions. For those businesses that may fall within these categories, they should look to SAMHSAs toolkit on Drug Free Workplaces for further guidance (https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/legal/federal-laws).
Employers who have drug-testing programs need to be extremely careful not to single out employees for testing simply because they look or act as though they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Many of the physical symptoms that are commonly associated with intoxication—slurred speech, disorientation, or a lack of coordination—can also be the result of a serious physical disability or medical condition, such as diabetes, low blood sugar, or mental illness. Individuals with these conditions are protected under the provisions of the ADA. Singling them out for testing or disciplinary action could result in charges of discrimination.
Q: Do we test for marijuana when it is now legal in so many states?
A: Employers must navigate the growing list of those states who have legalized marijuana either for medical or recreational use, or both, in addition to complying with federal laws, as necessary. There are presently more than 35 states that have either passed medical marijuana or recreational marijuana legislation, or both. If employers are seeking to test only for impairment, they should train managers and supervisors on ways to reasonably observe when someone is working under the influence. Testing based on reasonable suspicion could be prompted by the following observations:
- Strong odors
- Questionable movements, twitching or staggering
- Dilated or watery eyes
- Flushed, confused, or blank facial expressions
- Slurred speech or an inability to verbalize
- Argumentative, irritable, or drowsy behavior
- Sleeping, falling unconscious, or otherwise being nonresponsive
Employers may also develop workplace guidelines that prohibit the use of marijuana among their employees, even off-site. Many employers are beginning to address marijuana as they would alcohol. In many of these states, there is also case law that will govern how the law has been applied. Due to the complexity of the issue and the idiosyncratic way that laws have been applied across jurisdictions it is best for organizations to consult with their attorneys around these issues and SAFE Project can also put you in touch with attorneys who specialize in this practice area.