If I say ``Vitamin R, Black Beauties, Mary Jane, Dolls and Jelly Beans,'' are you thinking a new vitamin, pretty horses, little black shoes, a toy for a child and something in a basket?
Your response would be similar to mine, and I'm guessing many other members of management in the tire industry. The problem is, these are all slang terms for drugs that are surfacing increasingly in society and in the workplace.
Knowledge of these drugs, their effects and how long they linger in a person's body will help you evaluate whether drug testing is an appropriate action for your dealership.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's national estimates of substance use:
* Approximately 14.8 million Americans use illegal drugs.
* Of the 12.3 million adults who use illegal drugs, 6.5 percent are employed full time and 8.6 percent are part-time employees.
Statistics are fine, but I wanted to understand the real effect drugs have on employees and their lives. In order to accomplish this goal, I interviewed and listened to speeches by Dr. Robert Liebelt, a leading expert on addiction.
Akron is the home of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 1939 birthplace of the first addiction-focused treatment facility, Ignatia Hall, where Dr. Liebelt, a medical doctor as well as Ph.D., is the director. Since he personally speaks with every new admission to the hospital, he has met with 15,000 addicts over the last 20 years.
His experience has produced the following definition of addiction: A compulsive or chronic action/behavior that is self administered and hurts the person and/or others either physically or psychologically. According to Dr. Liebelt's research, each addict hurts himself and 10-15 other people.
Dr. Liebelt believes people take drugs because they are looking for a mood-altering effect. If the person is stressed, they take a substance to calm them (downers). If a person is depressed, they take a substance to ``jazz'' them up (stimulants). Addiction to a substance or action occurs when the thinking portion of our brain cannot control the appetite for the behavior.
This inability to control the addiction consists primarily of a genetic component-with a secondary influence being one's environment. Most addicts have a genetic predisposition toward addictive behavior patterns. These people, who may become our employees, can affect the dealership's bottom line.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance:
* Compared with the average employee, illegal drug users are more than twice as likely to have eight or more absences per year.
* Illegal drug users are three times more likely than the average employee to arrive late for work.
* Illegal drug users are nearly four times more likely than the average employee to cause injury to themselves or others on the job and five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim.
* The cost for treatment for addiction can range from $10,000 to $30,000.
Not curable-but treatable
Addiction is not curable. However, experts say it is treatable with behavior modification, medical expertise, persuasion and education.
Today's drugs are very potent compared to the mood-altering substances with which we may be familiar. For example, even if a person has the genetic predisposition toward addiction, on average it will take him 20 years from his first drink until he has all the symptoms of alcoholism. As a point of comparison, the same person could be addicted to cocaine by his second or third use.
The high one gets from crack costs around $30 and lasts only a brief period of time. These are not the drugs of yesteryear. These drugs are designed to stimulate the euphoric center of your brain. They trick your brain into thinking the need for the drug is one of your survival instincts, like your need for food, water and reproduction.
It is important for us to increase our knowledge of these drugs so we may be aware of our employees' danger signals (see chart below).
The information is important to your dealership because it will help you make key decisions in the following areas:
* Should we have a drug testing policy?
* Should we conduct drug testing on new hires? What about existing employees?
* Should our medical plan cover treatment of addiction?
* Should we drug test after a workers-comp injury?
Should we have a drug testing policy?
In today's litigious society, if you are going to perform drug testing, having a policy is necessary.
Policies can range from outlining broad guidelines with plenty of room for positive company interpretation to very detailed, procedural ``button down'' documents. I always favor policies with plenty of ``wiggle room.'' However, typically this policy would follow the approach used by your dealership on other issues.
Should we conduct drug testing on new hires-and also on existing employees?
I am a real proponent of preventing the problem before it happens. If you do not do drug testing, news will travel in the labor pool.
I'm familiar with a dealership that did not do drug testing. They were having a serious problem with ``shrinkage.'' After an investigation it was discovered that about 30 percent of their employees were habitual drug users and were stealing from the company to support their habits.
I favor new-hire drug testing and also recommend a zero-tolerance policy.
However, after a person becomes your employee, make sure you are willing to live with the answer if you ask the question. Managers have called me and asked whether to conduct ``reasonable suspicion'' drug testing or random drug testing. I always ask one question: ``What if they test positive?''
Your policy should provide an answer to this question that you can live with.
Should our medical plan cover the treatment of addiction?
It is a humane action to provide treatment to an employee. It also is expensive. Some medical plans place restrictions on such coverage, such as: one year of company service, dollar limits, or number of treatments in a lifetime, or my particular favorite-all three.
Should we drug test after a worker's compensation injury?
Each state's worker's compensation programs vary in their willingness to deny a claim based on a positive drug test after an injury. Check with your state about its policy. If they are willing to deny the claim, it is worth the expense for potential lost time injuries.
The potential savings may lie in the unreported injuries because the employees do not want to be drug tested. Of course this is not quantifiable.
However, one company with which I am familiar witnessed a decrease in its claims after the drug testing policy was implemented.
A final anecdote: We called a store manager with an employee who had tested positive for drugs. When I talked with the manager, he was less than pleased with my request that he terminate the employee. He said he was ``a really good employee'' and besides, he was in the process of loading some commercial truck tires to be delivered.
Nevertheless, he went out and terminated the employee.
When the manager jumped on the truck to assess where the employee left off in the loading process, he noticed that the tires towards the front had passenger tires hidden inside the truck tires.
To test or not to drug test your employees-the choice is yours.