Tire dealerships that lack a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy could be setting themselves up for trouble, according to experts in the field.
While implementing a drug testing program has its costs, including the possibility of employees leaving their employer, such costs are minor compared with the potential financial liabilities involved with employing an addict. Those costs include lost productivity, property damage, workplace injuries and fatal accidents.
Seventy-two percent of all drug abusers are employed. That's a really frightening statistic, said Michael Russell, national account executive for Federated Mutual Insurance Co., which provides insurance plans for the Tire Industry Association's (TIA) membership.
Here's the rub for tire dealers and small business owners in this country, Mr. Russell said. Where do you suppose the users of drugs and alcohol are employed? They are employed at businesses that don't test.
If you abuse drugs and alcohol, where are you going to go to work? Well, you're not going to go to work at the tire dealer that's testing, you're going to go to work for the one that's not.
Mr. Russell cited statistics that claim substance abusers are 10 times more likely to miss work, five times more likely to injure themselves or another, five times more likely to file workers' compensation claims, 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents and 33-percent less productive.
With your industry, for every mechanical-type claim you have for a wheel-off or a drain plug that wasn't tightened, we have 10 of the carelessness of somebody, (such as) smashing in or banging a corner . You would think the exposure when you're working on vehicles would actually be the work you worked on. It's your workers' compensation and people driving vehicles and bodily injury to other people and property damage. And most of those are avoidable, Mr. Russell said.
According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, illicit drug abuse cost industry an estimated $160.7 billion in 2000 with 69 percent of those costs caused by productivity losses due to drug-related illnesses and deaths.
When Mr. Russell presented a seminar on setting up a drug-free workplace at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas last November, only a handful of attendees showed up. Maybe it was due to scheduling conflicts or maybe tire dealerships and auto repair shops don't see it as an important issue, he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Russell and TIA's Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president, education and technical services, who moderated the seminar, see the issue as a dire concern for the tire and auto repair industry.
I have a suspicion that this industry is particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, Mr. Russell said during his presentation, with Mr. Rohlwing interjecting: It wouldn't surprise me a bit.
Mr. Rohlwing said many tire dealership employees are at or below high school graduate education level.
We are an industry that is very transient tire guys that have worked for multiple companies and they keep moving around, and it's definitely the level of worker that is very susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse. There's no question about it.
There's the physical side of it as well, Mr. Rohlwing added. It seems those physical industries are the ones that are more susceptibleconstruction, mechanical, anything that involves the wear and tear on the body. A good way to alleviate that pain is to take other means, and some of them are doing it during the day .
It depends a lot on where you're at and what company you have. But certainly our industry is very susceptible to that based on the pay level, education level and the type of work that it is.
Small companies, in particular, are reluctant to implement a program due to the perception that there is little value and, more importantly, the perception that the programs are too costly and time consuming, according to Mr. Russell.
It's not that difficult to put a program in place . If you do put one in place, it demonstrates that your employees are important to your business, he countered.
Employers may think a testing program implies they don't trust their employees, he said. Quite the opposite. Tell them you are protecting them. You put a program in place so the next time you hire somebody, you're making sure you're not bringing a bad apple into the group.
A drug-free program also can lead to improved workers' comp modifiers and lower insurance premiums due to fewer workplace injuries, Mr. Russell said.
Creating a policy
Mr. Rohlwing said tire dealerships generally are afraid to implement a drug testing program because they are afraid to lose workers, but many are creating policies because they can lower their workers' comp and liability insurance premiums.
It's driven by the insurance companies, he said. Insurers are rewarding companies that implement drug-free policies that at least involve pre-employment and post-accident drug testing.
There are 22 states that give businesses discounts of 3 to 7 percent upfront on their workers' compensation policies if they meet the requirements for setting up a drug-and-alcohol policy, Mr. Russell said.
Tire dealerships usually implement the pre-employment and post-accident testing policy, but Mr. Rohlwing hasn't seen many retailers take the added step of random drug testing.
They feel pre-employment and post-accident testing is sufficient, he said. Random testing pays off if you're working with heavy machinery . It's more dangerous.
The biggest cost to developing a drug-free workplace program is the time needed to set up the policy, Mr. Russell said. The largest upfront expense is the attorneys' fees, he said, recommending that businesses have an attorney review their policies for legal compliance.
You will pay the attorney a lot less to review something that has already been put in place (by other organizations), Mr. Russell suggested.
Drug testing is only one component of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program, which should include:
* A written policy that clearly outlines employer expectations regarding drug use;
* Training for supervisors on the signs and symptoms of drug use and their role in enforcing the policy;
* Education for employees about the dangers of drug use; and
* An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to provide counseling and referral to employees struggling with drug problems, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The DOL suggests a written drug-free workplace policy is the foundation of a drug-free workplace program. While each policy is tailored to meet the needs of specific businesses, all effective policies should have these common attributes:
* Explanation of why the policy is being implementedThis can be as simple as a company stating it is committed to protecting the safety, health and well-being of its employees and customers.
* A clear description of prohibited behaviorsAt a minimum, the policy should include the statement: The use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs by employees is prohibited.
* An explanation of the consequences for violating the policyThis could include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws.
The DOL said businesses should share all its policies with their employees and ascertain that all employees are aware of the policy and the drug-free workplace program.
A pre-hiring drug test can be the first line of defense against potential liability problems.
Every employer who has a drug and alcohol program will tell us, I think without exception, 'You know what, I had an applicant and told them that as part of this process we do a drug-and-alcohol test. We have a drug- and alcohol-free workplace. We do drug testing before someone comes to work here.'
And, without exception, the employer says, 'I've had someone that didn't come back for the second interview.' What is that telling us? They knew they were going to test positive, Mr. Russell said.
The most popular in our industry seems to be the pre-employment and post-accident (drug testing), Mr. Rohlwing said. Dealers can tell applicants upfront: 'We're not going to hire until you pass the test, and we're going to let you know right now if you have any type of accident whatsoever that involves an injury or any kind of workers' comp or property or any kind of damage claim, testing is going to be mandatory within hours of the accident.' And, again, you get guys that just won't come back, he said.
It is also important to have a written policy on random testing of employees to help protect a company from harassment claims. The policy should state whether the company will conduct random testing and when random testing will be initiated.
You can have it where you can test on suspicion, Mr. Russell said. If I don't have a program in place and I say, 'Dude, you're looking as high as a kite. You go home,' and he's not high, I've got a harassment claim. I've got all sorts of things involved because I didn't have a policy. I just pick and choose.
According to the DOL, it is legal for employers to test employees for drugs in most states, and there is no federal law prohibiting testing. However, the agency warned, there are several states that restrict or question an employer's ability to drug test employees randomly who are not in safety-sensitive positions.
So the agency said it is important that employers familiarize themselves with the various state laws that may apply to their organization before implementing a drug-testing program.
Mr. Rohlwing suggested that, depending on the type of business, pre-employment and post-accident drug testing should be the minimum requirement in a policy.
From our experience, even on the pre-employment side, people could just be good for a month or two. It's not hard to pass a test if you know it's coming, he said. Depending on the level of risk that you have, I know some companies that we work with, some of our big training customers, they're random testing. I can test you any day of the week for any reason, just because you're slow today or your eyes are a little bloodshot or whatever.
The key there is having a policy that they know that (you're going to do it). The worst thing you can do is to invade someone's privacy and expose yourself to that. Now you've created problems for yourself trying to help yourself.
That's why it is imperative for businesses to document that employees understand the policy.
Mr. Rohlwing said businesses should have each employee sign and date a form stating they understand the policy. Those types of things are huge for every employee. And any employee that is working without that type of documentation is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Mr. Russell said Federated Insurance has an outside company that can be designated with the responsibility to randomly pick names of employees at a company for random testing so as to deflect claims of harassment.
He suggested employers can save downtime and money on random testing by using a simple swab test instead of a blood test. The swabs cost about $1.50 each and involve swabbing the inside of the mouth for saliva and sent out for testing. This test does not definitively test positive but can result as non-negative, which means there is a need for a more detailed blood test at a testing facility.
What happens when a long-time and/or valued employee fails a drug test? I would always have 'may result in termination,' not 'will result in termination' (in the written policy.) That allows you, as a business owner, to make that qualified determination for this employee, Mr. Russell said.