Bert Alicea | BenefitsPRO

Domestic violence may frequently occur behind closed doors, but the repercussions of abuse have the potential to spill over into the workplace. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness of this important and difficult topic. For organizations who may employ either victims or perpetrators, domestic violence can impact the individuals involved as well as those around them, leading to a ripple effect of lost productivity, legal concerns, and other costs, not to mention the risk of an incident occurring at work.

Unfortunately, no business is immune to the issue of domestic violence. According to the most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately a third of women and a quarter of men report being the victim of violence by a partner at some point in their lives. This means the likelihood of an employee being either a victim or perpetrator is higher than many may realize.

It is important to note that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. It can include any range of assaultive and coercive behaviors used by an individual to hurt, dominate or control and intimate a partner or family member, such as stalking, emotional or verbal abuse, financial control and more.

While this is a difficult subject matter to tackle within the workplace, taking a proactive approach to domestic violence can help organizations simultaneously protect their employees while minimizing their risk. Brokers and business leaders can work together to create an action plan and implement prevention and intervention strategies to address domestic violence within their workforce.

The impact on the workplace

Domestic violence impacts people of all ages, races and backgrounds, including employed adults. Although domestic violence is not always physical, tragically, 78 percent of women killed in the workplace between 2003 and 2008 were murdered by their abuser. While alarming, the effects on the workplace begin much sooner, and everyone pays the toll.

Consider that each year, domestic violence victims miss about eight million days of work, the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs. Because of this and other factors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that businesses lose $729 million each year in lost productivity related to domestic violence. Employee turnover is also a contributing factor; up to 60 percent of employees experiencing domestic violence reported losing their job as a result, either because they were fired or had to quit.

In addition to indirect costs, health care costs related to domestic violence can also add up for organizations. Domestic violence victims frequently require medical attention and support as a result of abuse, leading to combined medical and mental healthcare costs of more than $4 billion a year.

The effects of domestic violence are not limited to victims; a survey conducted by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found that at least 44 percent of those who worked with a victim of domestic violence reported feeling personally impacted, including concern for their own safety. This can also have a devastating effect on workplace morale.

Recognizing instances of domestic violence

In order to effectively support employees experiencing domestic violence, it is critical to understand some of the common signs that may indicate a problem:

  • Unexplained bruises
  • Unusually quiet/withdrawn
  • Frequent absences
  • Lack of concentration
  • Wearing concealing clothing, even in warm weather
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Change in performance attitude
  • Frequent breaks or appointments with friends/family
  • Receipt of harassing phone calls

If an employee demonstrates any of these red flags, intervening in a sensitive and private manner can make a difference and encourage them to seek help before the problem escalates. In order to be most effective, it is beneficial for managers and other employees to be prepared to handle this important yet personal matter. Yet surprisingly, 65 percent of respondents to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management reported that their organization does not have a policy or program in place to prevent or address domestic violence.

It is important for organizations to realize that domestic violence does not solely happen outside working hours – a survey from the National Safe Workplace Institute found that 94 percent of corporate security directors reported domestic violence as a high security issue at their organization. Keep in mind the workplace is somewhere perpetrators know they can locate their victim. This increases risk and liability for businesses, which can also lead to additional costs, especially without a plan in place to address this issue.

A proactive approach

Many organizations may be hesitant to get involved in instances of domestic abuse or violence. Yet organizations and their partners have the potential to make a big difference by stepping in early and supporting employees, making it critical to have a comprehensive prevention and response plan ready.

  1. Assess current plans (or lack thereof). The first step is to analyze past incidents, assess the potential for issues and determine current preparedness. Taking the time to review this information will help create a plan that meets the organization’s unique needs.
  2. Develop comprehensive policy. Based on the results of the assessment, this should include internal reporting procedures, support mechanisms for victims, including enhanced security measures, and disciplinary procedures for perpetrators.
  3. Implement company-wide training. In order for the policy to be effective, it is important to raise awareness of the issue and educate both managers and employees on how to identify potential situations, follow reporting procedures and respond appropriately. This may also include what to do if an incident happens at work.

Ensure employees are in the know – Get the message out to the workforce through a variety of channels, including newsletters, posters in break rooms or restrooms, the intranet and more. This can include information about the company’s program as well as how to access available resources, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), community organizations or even local law enforcement.

Benefits professionals play an important role in this process by helping organizations proactively implement the right programs to help should the need arise. Waiting until something happens might be too late. By raising awareness of this important issue and connecting businesses with EAPs and other resources, brokers, consultants and others can ensure employers are prepared to address issues related to domestic violence should they arise, reducing liability while ensuring the safety of the workforce.

Norbert “Bert” Alicea, MA, CEAP, is executive vice president of EAP+Work/Life Services at Health Advocate. Alicea is a licensed psychologist and premier trainer with over 29 years of experience in the EAP field. He has a specialization with executive coaching and management consultations in assisting with difficult workplace situations and also conducts corporate training locally and on a national level.

Combating the Effects of Employee Stress

By Norbert “Bert” Alicea, MA, CEAP, Executive Vice President of EAP+Work/Life Services, Health Advocate

Employee stress, dubbed the “nation’s fastest growing occupational disease,” has become a major problem for organizations of all sizes.

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, nearly one third of American workers reported feeling stressed or tense on a regular basis while at work. The causes of stress are widespread and include a lack of work/life balance from juggling household and family responsibilities; everyday challenges from student debt to retirement concerns to information overload; and workplace stressors such as feeling undervalued, under-compensated and overworked.

Whatever the cause, stressed workers tend to be fatigued, prone to mistakes and injuries, and are more likely to be absent. Most significantly, they incur healthcare costs two times the average of other employees. In total, the consequences of stress-related illnesses, from depression to heart disease, costs businesses an estimated $200 to $300 billion a year in lost productivity.

However, with a proactive dual strategy of organizational change and individual stress management, businesses can take steps to promote healthier, more productive employees while reducing healthcare costs.

The True Toll of Stress

The American Institute of Stress estimates that one million employees miss work each day because of stress. But even when employees come to work, emotional distress can reduce a worker’s capacity to perform by up to 50 percent.

If the stress is not addressed, a variety of potential issues may result including absenteeism, job resignations, and an increased risk of developing chronic and costly diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and/or mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, as a means to cope with stress, many employees turn to the risky use of alcohol, prescription pain medications and other substances. Left untreated, substance abuse can cost an employer upwards of $13,000 per employee per year, according to a recent National Institutes of Health study.

How Employers Can Be Proactive

The first step is to evaluate the scope of stress in the organization by looking at absenteeism, illness and turnover rates as well as performance problems. Employee surveys, Health Risk Assessments and internal committees can pinpoint specific stressors and identify if they are company-wide or concentrated in a particular department. It’s also crucial to work directly with employees, including through exit interviews, to get their input about strategies that could help reduce stress.

While some changes to the corporate culture may need to be instituted, such as flexible work hours, workload redistribution, and better employee recognition, the following are some key ways to address and reduce employee stress:

  • Provide access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs, which often include in-person and/or telephonic counseling benefits, help assess and provide support for personal/emotional issues that affect performance and productivity as well as those that create stress. Issues may range from substance abuse to family problems and financial issues. EAPs that help address substance abuse issues, for example, can reduce workers’ compensation claims, employer healthcare costs, and absenteeism. These programs can also help employees with related work/life issues that may impact their stress levels, such as locating resources for eldercare support for those who may be caring for older loved ones.
  • Incorporate health advocacy into employee benefits. Offering an expert who can personally address healthcare issues, such as helping to resolve medical bills and interacting with insurance companies and providers, can help employees reduce worry and stay focused on their job.
  • Offer an accessible, well-rounded wellness program. A multichannel program that addresses the overall well-being of employees–including physical, emotional and financial health–through web-based workshops alongside traditional coaching components can help reduce stress while increasing productivity.

As an integral part of these efforts, engagement strategies can include built-in incentives to reward enrollment and sustained involvement as well as for making healthy lifestyle changes. Additionally, providing consistent employee communications can help drive them to take action.

Don’t wait to take action. Contact us.

Beyond lowering healthcare costs, a continued commitment to reducing stress and providing support to improve the well-being of all workers, no matter what they are going though, produces many benefits. Workers who are less stressed, for example, are more resilient and inclined to stay with their companies.

Learn how Health Advocate can help you create a customized, comprehensive program to promote total well-being, leading to a stronger, healthier, and more productive and satisfied workforce and reduced healthcare costs.

 

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By Norbert “Bert” Alicea, MA, CEAP, Executive Vice President of EAP+Work/Life Services

Despite the nation’s improving economy, fear and anxiety about money is a leading stressor for today’s workers, and this stress negatively impacts both health and productivity. In fact, 7 out of 10 American workers say finances are their top cause of stress, with 80 percent reporting that it affects their productivity. Furthermore, surveys show an increase in the number of employees who say their financial woes are negatively affecting their lives and are worried about their future financial situation.

The issue is compounded because many employees lack budgeting skills and are ill-prepared to handle current financial responsibilities or future risks. For example, 68 percent of Americans have no emergency funds, let alone money left over for unexpected injuries or illness. Nearly half do not save any of their annual income. Another third have no retirement savings.

When coupled with student loan debt and other financial burdens, it is not surprising that these issues create stress. And financial stressors can change throughout the course of an employee’s life, from college debt to mortgage payments to retirement planning. Unstable finances and the resulting stress can negatively impact relationships, productivity, and mental and physical health, all while lowering profitability for employers.

Creating an Effective Program

No matter what their financial struggle, it’s important to offer employees the right online and personalized support and tools to help them learn how to manage their money, reduce debt, and save for the future, all to lower stress and increase productivity.

An effective financial wellness program includes a variety of components to engage and prepare employees to meet a spectrum of financial needs, including but not limited to:

  • One-on-one consultations with financial specialists to discuss financial planning or more complex matters on a range of issues, from IRS matters to divorce financial planning. This is a great first step for overwhelmed or confused employees who prefer access to a “live” resource for help getting started with specific issues or general planning.
  • In-person workshops and webinars on topics such as estate planning, managing life transitions and paying for college.
  • Online calculators to determine a plan for loans, credit payoff, mortgages and taxes.
  • Articles and worksheets with information on a variety of relevant financial issues such as identity theft, budgeting, investing and more.

Integrating a financial wellness program with other programs can maximize its effectiveness by raising awareness and increasing convenience, making it more likely that employees will know about and use the program.

Value of Financial Wellness in the Workplace

With access to financial wellness programs, employees are able to effectively address the issues creating their financial stress, leading to higher productivity. Further, these programs guide employees toward related benefit programs and resources, maximizing engagement in tuition reimbursement, health spending accounts and retirement plans.

Most importantly, incorporating financial wellness into workplace well-being programs can have a positive effect on employees’ physical and emotional health. By addressing one of the primary causes of stress, it’s possible to mitigate issues like high blood pressure, poor eating and more, leading to better overall health and well-being. When employees are healthier and less stressed, they can re-focus their time and energy on other matters, including work.

Contact us. We can help.

Learn more about how Health Advocate can help you develop an easily accessible financial wellness program through a single portal that guides employees to financial solutions that work for them. You benefit by having more resilient, productive workers and an improved bottom line.

 

 

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James Davis | HR Daily Advisor

At the recent #SHRM2018, I attended a session entitled “Addressing Prescription Overuse in the Workplace,” given by Norbert J. Alicea, Executive Vice President with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life Services, and Raffi Terzian, the Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations and Senior Medical Director at Health Advocate. Their session addressed the astounding and alarming impact that addiction has on the workplace.

Much of the session was eye-opening and deeply concerning. Perhaps one of the most powerful things that Alicea said was that “People lose their family 5 years before they lose their job, it’s the last thing to go.” Addicts on average experienced destruction because of their addiction for at least 5 years before their addiction cost them their jobs. That’s 5 years that an addict would, at the very least, be underperforming at work and, at worse, be destructive to his or her organization.

I can’t think of a better way to characterize how important it can be to address addiction in the workplace.

The Numbers

The session covered a wealth of facts and figures. Here are a few that were presented, all about 2016:

  • 116 people died every day from opioid overdose—over 42,000 a year.
  • 2,100,000 people misused prescription opioids for the first time.
  • The economic cost due to opioid misuse and overdose was $504,000,000,000 (2015).
  • The total cost for opioid addiction and overdose treatment for enrollees in large employer plans was $2,628,000,000. In 2006, it was $278,000,000, just shy of a 10-fold increase.

While opioid deaths and new opioid addictions grow every year, and while organizations lose resources and productivity, employees who are abusing drugs continue to work. The numbers above are just a tiny slice of the true impact of opioid and prescription drug use and abuse. But how do they specifically influence the individual workplace?

Alicea and Terzian explained that, according to the National Safety Council, employees who abuse drugs are 2–5 times more likely to:

  • Take unexcused absences.
  • Be late for work.
  • Quit or be fired within 1 year of employment.
  • Be involved in workplace incidents.
  • File workers’ compensation claims.

Those costs add up very quickly with just one employee struggling with substance abuse at work and even faster if there are multiple abusers.

Addiction Is a Disease

Terzian introduced the session by saying, “We have to view opioid use through the lens of addiction. It’s not a moral failing, it’s a brain disease.” Both presenters repeated this statement many times because it’s that important. Alicea elaborated, “I’ve never run into the person who wants to be an addict in 25 years.”

The image of a hooded figure slumped in an alleyway with a needle in his or her arm does not represent the clear majority of prescription drug abusers. Most are now, or were, like everyday people, with families, lives, and careers. The difference? They have a powerful addiction, and without help, they will succumb to it.

The Red Flags of Addiction

If employers are to help, they need to be able to identify the warning signs of a drug abuser. Alicea exclaimed, “I’d bet every person in this room, in this conference, across the states, knows someone with a substance abuse problem. We all know at least one person. But if I asked that question, we won’t see a lot of hands go up. That’s the power of denial.” The presenters also mentioned that drug abusers’ fellow employees know about substance abuse problems long before the employers do. How? Because the warning signs are visible to those who know them best.

The more of the following red flags that an employee exhibits, the “greater the probability of an issue,” said Alicea.

Monday and Friday absenteeism—Users who have kept it together for the workweek might be hurting to use their drug of choice unimpeded or be spent from using over the weekend.

Absenteeism the day after payday—These habits are expensive. Payday might be the only time a user can afford to purchase his or her drugs.

General tardiness and/or absenteeism—Especially opioids can drain users of energy and make it difficult for them to come to work on time, or at all.

Poor quality of work and/or poor quantity of work—If a user can’t use at work, he or she might be experiencing the beginning of withdrawal. If he or she can use at work, the effects of the drugs have an equally distracting effect. Either way, his or her work will be affected.

Theft—The power of addiction leads many to make choices that you or I would never consider, especially if they are struggling to pay for their habit. Stealing equipment and other goods and money from work can help fund their addiction.

If drug abusers’ fellow workers know about their cohorts’ drug problems, “they are looking to see what HR or a manager is doing about this problem,” says Alicea. By not addressing the problem, what message is the company sending to its drug-abusing employees, never mind its loyal and clean employees?

Drug Abusers Know Where to Apply

Alicea said, “people who use drugs and alcohol know exactly where to go and apply for a job. They know.” What does that mean for employers that don’t drug-test new employees? It means a high probability that the workplace will experience continuous problems from drug-abusing employees. After the session, I asked Alicea and Terzian about that phenomena. They related to me a few examples of organizations that, for various reasons, wanted to avoid preemployment drug tests. “And they wonder why they constantly have problems,” said Alicea.

What Can You Do?

Once an employer realizes that employees who abuse opioids and other prescription and illegal drugs need help, it can begin to find a way to administer that help.

“A lot of companies had zero-tolerance policies. A lot of them are doing away with it, and I’m all in favor of a second chance,” said Alicea. He explained, “If you have an employee who worked for you for 10 years and they are relatively good, and they end up testing positive, and you terminate them—you don’t know if the new person has a problem, too, and you lose all of that knowledge.”

Alicea said the best way to help is to offer employees a one-time chance to get clean through a program (and prove it after the program is over) or be fired. Work, he said, represents a critical part of many people’s identity. Remember, by the time they are potentially losing their jobs, many drug abusers have already pushed their friends and family out of their lives. Their work identity might be all they have left. And that can be a powerful motivator, says Alicea. That makes them decent candidates for rehabilitation.=

Alicea said, “by threatening the job, the core values of a person, that person has a high probability of success in making the change provided that it’s monitored.” He focused heavily on the value of monitoring and reinforced it when we talked after the session. He said, “the success rate in treatment today is really, really low. But if you have someone monitoring that person for 90-120 days after the treatment, the rate is really, really high.” The reason is that they know that if they don’t follow through with aftercare, they will lose their job—their core personality—and that’s too much.

The Takeaway

This topic is incredibly complicated; the research is far from complete; and even with treatment, drug abusers have very real challenges ahead. If you deal with substance abusers at your organization—and it’s just a matter of time before you do—it behooves you to explore how you can help those people.

Help with the human side of recovery after a traumatic event

Health Advocate assists organizations with every phase of the disruption of everyday business and the return-to-work cycle. Our services ensure that your organization is ready for potentially disruptive life events, able to respond successfully to these events (including critical incidents like natural disasters, threats of violence, or sudden death of an employee), and equipped to accelerate employee recovery and return-to-work outcomes. You can be assured that we will connect you with the right solution and the right people at the right time.

Learn more about Disruptive Event Management

By Norbert Alicea, MA, CEAP, Executive Vice President, EAP+Work/Life Services

Amid the flurry of alarming disruptive events from hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, to acts of violence, a growing number of employers are recognizing the need to have a quick response in place to help employees impacted by a traumatic event. More organizations are turning to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for support to plan for these critical events and provide direct assistance to help employees recover, stay motivated, and create a path forward.

Although it’s not always possible to predict when a massive flood or other disruptive incident may occur, Health Advocate partners with organizations to ensure that they have the right tools in place for recovery and to accelerate a return to work, no matter what the event.

How we do it: A customized response

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery or planning for a critical event. Our vast national network of highly trained counselors and psychologists are experienced in adapting to situations to deliver the appropriate level of support, with a 24/7 response anywhere in the country.

For example, in the case of natural disasters like a hurricane, our team serves as a hub, connecting those impacted to essential resources and relief services such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) that are necessary to begin reestablishing some sense of normalcy and reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed during this difficult time. In situations when our team cannot be physically present, we provide telephonic support to help with anxiety and stress. Later, in the healing phase of recovery, our counselors address the personal impact of the disaster with individuals and the steps they can take to get back on their feet.

We also provide help to the friends and family of those affected as well as to those who are impacted by news of the event.

An unexpected employee death drives EAP involvement

Among the common disruptive events, the most likely issue employers will typically face is the unexpected death of an employee. In fact, supporting employees who are impacted by a coworker death accounts for 70 percent of Health Advocate clients’ requests for help.

Again, a flexible response is crucial. Some deaths may be natural after a long illness, for example, while others may be the result of a tragic accident or a suicide. Our team adjusts their strategies accordingly, providing customized support to employees as a group and on an individual basis as needed.

Just as importantly, our team consults with the organization’s leadership about the next best steps to support their staff through the loss. When a tragedy strikes, employees look to leadership for direction. It’s essential that leaders know how to acknowledge the event with transparency and facts, demonstrate the seriousness of the loss and an awareness of the impact to the organization and their workforce, and to communicate an expectation of recovery.

Now’s the time to plan for a crisis

Whether a sudden death of an employee or a large-scale natural disaster, a disruptive event can happen in seconds, but the effects can be long-lasting. It’s important to have a plan to help employees cope with the trauma, minimize disruption and lost productivity and get your business back to normal as quickly as possible. Research shows that companies that have a plan in place after a tragedy have reductions in disability claims, worker’s compensation claim costs, healthcare costs, absenteeism and employee turnover.

Contact Us. We’re Always Ready.

Learn more about how Health Advocate can help you prepare for and address a full range of disruptive incidents to create a culture of psychological safety with a focus on maintaining productivity, returning to work and staying at work.

 

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Employers must be aware of drug abuse

By Chrstine Hansen | The Daily Record (Md.)

In a 2017 survey conducted by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating preventable deaths at work, more than 70 percent of employers in the U.S. have been impacted by prescription drugs. The prescription drug epidemic in the U.S. is far-reaching, and costs organizations billions of dollars each year. Yet, only 19 percent of employers feel extremely prepared to deal with prescription drug misuse, according to the survey.

Navigating Maryland laws regarding drug abuse is somewhat tricky, says Brian Markovitz, a Beltsville-based labor and employment attorney at Joseph, Greenwald & Lake. While Markovitz largely focuses on helping victims who have suffered severe injustice in the workplace, he says when it comes to drug abuse in the workplace, employers should take immediate action.

“If you have anyone abusing drugs, you fire them. If they are currently abusing drugs, you can’t have someone working there. You just don’t know what they will do,” Markovitz says. Under current Maryland law, employers can drug test their employees, as long as it is a “legitimate business reason.” The law dictates the procedures for testing, confidentiality and other procedures. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act has provisions that may protect workers who have been rehabilitated or in recovery.

“You cannot discriminate against anyone because they used to be a drug abuser,” says Markovitz. “If they have a history, and they are rehabilitated, they are protected by the ADA.” Markovitz says the courts are not super clear on what constitutes being in recovery or rehabilitated, especially how long of a period an employee has not been on drugs. That’s why he says it needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. Employers also have to keep liability in mind.

“These drugs in particular are so addictive, and it takes a certain amount of income to keep getting these drugs. Sometimes people are so desperate, they will do things you don’t want,” Markovitz says.

Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist and vice president of employee assistance programs at West’s Health Advocate Solutions says employers should not only make their drug policies clear, but to also make all resources – wellness programs and services – easily available so employees know how and where to access them.

He and his colleague, Dr. Raffi Terzian, a board-certified emergency physician, senior vice president of clinical operations and senior medical director at Health Advocate, recently presented at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference on the topic of opioids and the workplace.

“A lot of attention has been placed on the opioid crisis and it’s a critical public health problem – specifically, prescription opioid use, misuse and abuse,” Terzian says.

Alicea and Terzian recommend employers develop clear guidelines on their drug policies. Eighty-one percent of employers lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy, according to the National Safety Council survey. That shouldn’t prevent employers from developing guidelines says Alicea. The U.S. Department of Transportation has one of the best.

“DOT’s guidelines really are the gold standard of guidelines. It includes clear policies on testing and is a legal- and federally-mandated policy,” Alicea says.

What makes the Department of Transportation’s drug testing policy stand out is its inclusion of the testing of opioids. According to the National Safety Council’s survey, 41 percent of those who drug test all employees are not testing for synthetic opioids at all.

Recognizing the signs of opioid use and abuse are key. Employers should provide training programs for managers and supervisors and provide a safe anonymous place for all staff to report potential issues.

“Turn this from an ‘I’ issue into a ‘we’ issue. It takes a village – not just the chief – to raise levels of awareness,” Alicea says.

Alicea believes employers should, in addition to substance abuse training, consider adding “reasonable suspicion” training for managers and supervisors. This training prepares supervisors on how to appropriately and effectively identify possible substance abuse in the workplace, and what to do when they suspect it. Reasonable suspicion training also helps mitigate potential liability for companies. While slurred speech, staggering walk, lack of concentration and sleepiness may be signs of substance abuse or misuse, there may be other signs an employee is struggling, such as excessive tardiness or absences.

Overall, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, says Marc Engel, a Bethesda-based partner and employment attorney at Lerch Early Brewer. Engel represents for-profit and nonprofit employers in employment claims, and with more than 30 years of litigation and counseling experience, is a sought-after speaker on employment issues.

“Employers need to be careful. It’s a delicate balance of empathy for an employee versus taking appropriate steps to ensure an employee’s actions do not harm them or others in the workplace,” he says.

By Dave Shadovitz | HR Executive

The workplace is the perfect place for intervention, experts suggest.

Attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference who were in search of some disturbing numbers weren’t disappointed during a Monday morning session on the opioid crisis titled “Addressing Prescription Overuse in the Workplace.”

Below are just a sampling of figures fitting that description. They were shared by Health Advocates’ Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations Raffi Terzian and Vice President of EAP+Work/Life Services Norbert Alicea at SHRM’s gathering in Chicago this week:

  • In 2016, 11.8 million people abused prescription medication;
  • 116 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses;
  • More than 70 percent of employers are impacted by prescription drugs;
  • Prescription-painkiller abuse costs employers almost $42 billion due to loss of productivity; and
  • Providers wrote nearly a quarter of a million opioid prescriptions in 2013, enough for every American adult to have his or her own bottle of pills.

Employers are worried—and rightfully so. A recent study by the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit association of more than 420 large U.S. employers, found that eight in 10 employers were concerned about the opioid crisis at work, Terzian said. Yet despite this fact, he added, only 30 percent of them reported they have restrictions in place for prescription opioids.

(NBGH issued a recommendation earlier this week that employers work with their health plans and pharmacy-benefits managers to ensure they are implementing national guidelines for prescribing opioids.)

Alicea addressed the necessity for more thorough training so managers and supervisors are better equipped to recognize the red flags. They need to be able to identify the early warning signs, such as absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays (or the day after a payday), lateness, poor quality of work, theft and morale, he said. (He also touched on this topic in a brief video recorded at the conference. See below.)

Workers, he said, often know long before HR that a person has an issue, and they’re looking to see what HR is doing or what the manager or supervisor is going to do about this troubling problem.

“I can’t even tell you how many times an HR person has called me about a problem employee who has tested positive, even though it has been going on for five years,” said Alicea, adding that the problem often has less to do with the employee and more to do with the manager or supervisor who has allowed it to continue.

“HR needs to help the managers and supervisors understand that this is a real issue and teach them how to supportively confront employees, including what to say and what not to say,” Alicea said. “That’s where HR can come in as a partner, helping them focus on identifying the early warning signals and helping them remain objective.”

HR also needs to educate them on the barriers they are likely to run into and how they may be enabling the problem to continue.

“I always tell managers and supervisors to use ‘I’ messages,” said Alicea. “When you’re speaking to an individual about work-performance issues, stay away from those blame statements that include the word ‘you.’ ‘You need help. You have an alcohol or substance-abuse problem.’ I think it’s a lot better that they take a step back and address it as, ‘We have a problem. The organization has a problem. We are concerned about your work-performance issues and, based on what we have observed in the last hour, we’re going to send you for a medical evaluation, which includes a drug and alcohol test.’ ”

Employers have a critical role to play in addressing the opioid crisis at work, Alicea said. “Think about it for a second: What’s the second or third question that you’re asked in a social situation? ‘How are you, how’s the family, how’s the job?’ Whether we love our job or hate it, we all take pride in it.”

By threatening a person’s job, he explained, you’re threatening the “core values” of that individual and therefore have a much higher probability of success.

“If you have an employee who’s worked for you for 10 years—and they’re a relatively good employee, and they end up testing positive—to terminate that employee, retrain another employee, and then go ahead and hire that [other employee who could also have a substance-abuse problem] will cost you more money in the long run than to give that person an opportunity for rehabilitation by putting them on a last-chance agreement,” Alicea said.

The workplace is “the perfect place for the intervention, better than any place else in the world,” he said.

By Simon Shaykhet | 7ABC Action News (WXYZ-TV)

Opioid abuse in the US is staggering. One place you may not think of it being a problem is at work, but the most recent stats show the number of people dying from overdoses on the job has increased 32 percent in one year. And we found some employers are finding new ways to help employees who want to fight their addiction.

Joe used to be addicted to prescription painkillers and opioids and heroin. The disease drove him to constantly crave the high, even on the job.

“I used to come to work under the influence of drugs every day and, obviously, in the world that I worked in, construction, it’s obviously an unsafe mix,” Joe said.

With opioid abuse at an all-time high it’s now becoming an on-the-job issue. One poll found misusing prescription drugs impacts more than 70 percent of US workplaces.

“People have a vision or a misconception that a drug addict or a drug user uses out in the streets, whether it’s in alleys or hidden corners,” Dr. Sal Raichbach, psychologist with the Ambrosia Treatment Center, says.

Raichbach helps people fight addiction and tells us the person in the cubicle next to you could be abusing drugs.

“We’ve seen impaired professionals. We’ve seen teachers, we’ve seen physicians, we’ve seen blue collar workers, we’ve seen white collar workers. It can inflict just about anyone, because addiction is a disease,” he says.

That same poll also reveals 65 percent of employers say on the job drug use is a justifiable reason to fire someone. But we found some companies aren’t showing these workers the door, they’re offering them a second chance.

Norbert Alicea, a licensed psychologist with Health Advocate, tells us, “What they are now doing is saying, ‘OK, if we had an employee that worked for us for 10 years and they now test positive for drugs or alcohol, do we really want to terminate that employee? Or do we want to give that employee an opportunity to get into, you know, some type of program that we can help them and still retain their job?'”

Some employers put employees with drug problems under special contracts. It’s like a last chance agreement: Get professional help, sober up and your job will be waiting for you.

“These programs can be a win-win for employers and employees alike,” Raffi Terzian, MD, medical director at Health Advocate says.

Joe says his employer and union paid for him to go to rehab. Now he’s kicked drugs, is back at work, and married with a family. “I do think this program saved my life,” he says.

The opioid crisis is also hitting America in its pocket book, costing employers, the health care and criminal justice systems hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

To view the video broadcast, click the link here.

By Nick Otto | Employee Benefit News

Employers weighing how to deal with substance abuse issues among their workforce are facing an expensive task as the cost of abuse continues to skyrocket from healthcare costs and lost productivity.

“We’re all aware and have come to understand this has become a major public health crisis on a national, state and community levels,” said Raffi Terzian, senior VP of clinical operations and senior medical director at Health Advocate.

The cost burden for people with employer-based healthcare coverage saw an eight-fold increase since 2004, Terzian said Monday, speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference here.

Employees who often abuse drugs are two to five times more likely take unexcused absences, quit or be fired within one year of employment or be involved in workplace incidents, he added.

But Terzian points to recent National Business Group on Health data that shows only 21% of employers have programs in place to help manage prescription opioid abuse.

And for employers looking to put a program in place, or beef up existing programs, Norbert J. Alicea, executive vice president of EAP+ Work/life services at Health Advocate says managers need to focus on the red flags and early warning signals — both physical and behavioral — of substance abuse.

Among some of the early warning symbols, he says, are frequent absenteeism on days like Monday or Friday, or drastic increases in tardiness and use of sick leave.

“Also look for a change in morale among colleagues,” he added. “Employees know long before HR knows that a person has an issue.”

In addition, Alicea advised employers to train managers to focus on these early warning signs and teach them how to supportively confront workers.

“Use ‘I messages.’ Stay away from blame statements which are ‘you need help’ and instead ones like ‘I am concerned,’” he said. “Managers and supervisors struggle with tact. It isn’t so much what they say, but how they say it, and that’s where HR can come in and assist them with that conversation.”

In addition to employee engagement in combating substance abuse, Alicea said many employers are also taking steps to change culture, such as moving away from a zero tolerance policy.

From a financial standpoint, it is 4 to 5 times better to offer rehabilitation for workers than to terminate, hire and retain new talent, he added.

He also says employer scan take more proactive approaches to stemming the stigma around substance abuse. Alcohol awareness month, suicide prevention numbers … create visibility around the topics and engage workers, he added.