COPE CopeLine Supervisor

March 2019

A newsletter for supervisors and line managers

New Research on Opioids in the Workplace

According to a survey released by the National Safety Council as part of Poison Prevention Week, 75 percent of U.S. employers report that their workplace has been directly affected by opioids, but only 17 percent feel extremely well prepared to deal with the problem. Of those surveyed, 86 percent of employers believe taking opioids even as prescribed can impair job performance, but only 60 percent said they have policies in place requiring workers to notify their employer when they are using a prescription opioid. To view a copy of the survey questionnaire and information on the methodology used, click here.

The Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA), signed into law by President Ronald Reagan 31 years ago, has contributed to a greater understanding of substance abuse. However, these recent findings indicate that supervisors still need to be vigilant about the issue. "It's unfortunate that we mark 31 years of the Drug-Free Workplace Act with clear evidence that drugs continue to invade the country's workplaces. Not only have declines appeared to have bottomed out, but also in some drug classes and areas of the country drug positivity rates are increasing," said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics, a major industrial drug-testing firm. To learn more about a recent analysis released by Quest Diagnostics, click here.

Findings by the Federal government in January of this year include:

• Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
• Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
• An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
• About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
• Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
• Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states.

What can the supervisor do?

If you suspect an employee's drug use, legal or illegal, is affecting his or her performance or disturbing workplace harmony, your EAP and Human Resource Department can guide you through the proper steps to get help for the employee. "In the long run, what you want to do is help people get into recovery," said Robert DuPont, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's the best thing for both employee and employer.

Can a supervisor require an employee to use the EAP?

A troubled employee can present a supervisor with problems that range from chronic lateness to impaired work performance as the result of substance abuse. Your company's Employee Assistance Program can be a valuable asset in dealing with these challenging situations, but there are a few considerations to be aware of before implementing the program.

There are two ways in which a supervisor can turn to the EAP when dealing with a disruptive employee: a voluntary referral in which the employee is encouraged to use the benefit or a mandatory referral. A mandatory or formal referral is by its nature coercive, and coercion is seldom useful in changing behavior. It is far more productive for EAP referrals to be voluntary. In that way, the employer can make clear the behavior that needs modification and the employee can avoid disciplinary actions.

When a voluntary agreement to use the EAP can't be reached, a formal referral should be used in consultation with HR, your EAP---and the legal department, if warranted. A formal referral should be in writing and part of a series of steps to document problematic behavior. The action steps are as follows:

• The supervisor documents the employee's unacceptable work performance or conduct;
• The supervisor meets with the employee;
• The supervisor offers the EAP as a resource to the employee and explains the need to verify use of the service. The employee's decision not to use the EAP may be further cause for disciplinary action;
• The supervisor completes a Supervisory Referral Form (an example only) and telephones the EAP in preparation to receive the referral;
• The employee contacts the EAP and requests an appointment;
• The EAP counselor addresses the work-related problem and discusses personal problems that may require counseling or treatment;
• The EAP counselor reports limited status information to management or HR, such as whether the employee kept an appointment, whether a plan has been developed to improve the performance issue, and most importantly, whether the employee is following through with the plan. Additional information to management requires the signed permission of the employee---except for emergency situations.

Focusing on the deficiencies at work and not personality offers the best chance of bringing about a successful resolution and not running afoul of the law.

If you have questions about the referral process in general, or would like to discuss a particular challenge, contact COPE at

Cope Incorporated