Employers' policies can aid workers who want to end their dependency


October 08, 1990|By Michael Enright | Michael Enright,Special to The Sun

As the headlines continue to talk of international drug interdictions and military intervention in the war on drugs, it's often overlooked that the business world can be a vital foot soldier in the battle.

"The figures are there," says Joann M. Levy, a liaison to the Maryland business community from Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Drug-Free Workplace Committee. "A person has a better chance of seeking help for a substance-abuse problem if they are referred for treatment by their employer than if it's a family member."

A well-articulated and enforced work-site drug policy can help alcoholics or cocaine addicts clean up their lives, as well as help a company fix up its bottom line.

Substance abuse in the workplace is estimated to absorb $30 billion annually in terms of lost productivity, health care costs and quality of performance. Surveys indicate that as much as 15 percent of the American work force arrives for work each day under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

For Gary Himmighoefer, the owner of Viens Carpet Care in Prince Frederick, a soon-to-be implemented substance-abuse policy was just as much a social issue as an economic one.

"When you're as small as we are, you work with people a long time, and you come to realize their problems and to care for them," he said. "And something like this [a substance-abuse policy] is one way you can help or at least be as supportive as possible."

Following the lead of the federal government, which established a substance-abuse policy for the workplace in 1988, Maryland unveiled its own version of the plan last fall.

Since then, Ms. Levy and her network of counselors and experts on substance-abuse policies have begun an outreach program into the Maryland business community to persuade smaller and medium-sized businesses to adopt a simple model policy.

But the program is not only open to companies seeking to implement a new policy.

Scott Beadle, a corporate training instructor at the Crofton headquarters for Davco Foods Inc., the parent company of Wendy's fast-food chain, said he used the services of the office to educate his trainees on substance-abuse problems in the workplace -- for example, how to detect signs of addiction, how to assist employees in finding help and how to enforce the company policy.

"I didn't know where to go or who to contact when I first thought about making substance abuse a part of the eight-week training program," Mr. Beadle said. "When I got in touch with the governor's office, they were a tremendous help in lining up speakers for seminars, distributing information and organizing the program."

The office will soon unveil a "Drug-free Workplace Infoline" to assist businesses in obtaining information about implementing and enforcing their own substance-abuse policy.

In the greater Baltimore area, the phone number will be 832-1200 (extension 9510) and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, 816-1616 (extension 9510). Elsewhere in Maryland, the information service can be contacted at 321-3521.

The complaints from the business world are always the same, Ms. Levy says: We don't have the resources to implement a drug policy. Her answer: You don't need much.

"A good policy takes no longer than 30 days to write, and we have a model policy that businesses can use as a starting point," Ms. Levy said. "You have to remember this, too: Your policy doesn't have to be approved by anyone, and no one is compelled to use us for assistance."

More and more smaller businesses, however, are finding that larger contractors are pressuring them to adopt policies as federal and state procurement guidelines specify the hiring of companies with substance-abuse policies.

Mr. Himmighoefer says two of his high-profile customers, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Giant Food Inc., have required that a policy be implemented. The state's assistance in drafting a policy was crucial, he said, because "how would we be sure, on our own, what was acceptable and what wasn't.

"It alleviates our paranoia about making a mistake with this policy to know the state is behind us."

The model program includes provisions for prevention and education, enforcement and performance and rehabilitation. The owner of a business who adopts a substance-abuse policy also has access to a "consultant resource network," a group of professionals with experience in occupational drug abuse.

The governor's committee recommends a policy that contains a statement of purpose, defines the substances covered, identifies the responsibilities of both the company and its employees in maintaining a drug-free workplace, and is signed by top company officials as well as regular employees.

"What we ultimately want to do is educate people to the human resource benefits of a policy like this," Ms. Levy says. "We don't want to say when an employer should or shouldn't fire an employee, but we do want them to find a balance between humanism and discipline."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.