A recently introduced Senate bill would expand employer-sponsored substance use disorder treatment options.
Senate Bill 173, sponsored by Sen. Matt Castlen, an Owensboro Republican; would not only grant employers the ability to aid employees with “job-saving” treatment but protect themselves through offering treatment options.
The goal of the bill is to offer an opportunity for those employees who have “made a mistake” not to have to pay for that mistake for the rest of their lives, Castlen said.
“Let’s say that they traditionally show up on time, work hard and bring value to the company and the employer recognizes that they have made a mistake,” he said. “Which happens, we all do. At this point, the employer has the opportunity to say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to fire you for a mistake, but in return, you are going to a certified rehab to seek counsel and help for your disorder.’ ”
If passed, the bill will place the Cabinet for Health and Human Services, in conjunction with the Office of Drug Control Policy, in charge of “promulgating any administrative regulations” necessary to implement an employer-facilitated substance use disorder treatment program for employees who have failed an employment-related drug screen, according to the bill.
For Castlen, the potential of the bill is not only important to him personally, but as a business owner, he said.
“We live in a world where drugs are ravaging our communities, costing people their jobs and sending them down a never-ending spiral,” he said. “We have a whole group that is struggling to get past that. I started my company in my garage and now I have 120 employees. My first employee is still with me. It means something to me to not have to throw the keys away on someone but aid them in keeping their lives and families together and invest in our community. We have to approach this as a whole to combat drugs. It isn’t just law enforcement, it is all of our jobs.”
While the bill would certainly aid employees, it also takes special care to protect employers that opt to offer the treatment route.
According to the bill, aside from changes to employer drug policies to reflect the tenets of the bill, an employer can, “Require an employee to participate in recommended drug education and licensed substance use disorder treatment services as a condition of employment.”
The employer would have the right to terminate an employee who does not comply with the agreed treatment services or employer’s drug policy. The employee will have to ultimately provide written proof that they have completed the treatment.
Aside from language specifying the specifics of an employer maintaining records in relation to treatment and potential payment options, it offers one major protection for those employers that utilize and are in compliance with the policy. According to the bill, “the employer shall not be liable for a civil action alleging negligent hiring, negligent retention, or negligent supervision for a negligent act by the employee as a result of the employee’s substance use disorder.”
The bill further protects employers participating in the “drug education and substance use disorder treatment program,” by not allowing their participation to be, “admissible as evidence in an action against the employer, the employer’s agent, or the employer’s employee.”
The entire purpose of the bill is to ensure that employees fully complete every aspect of the statute and associated administrative regulations. If passed, the bill would be a “win-win” for both parties, Castlen said.
“It gives the employer an incentive to take that opportunity and pour hope and self-worth into that person,” he said, “as well as understand that when they take this chance that there is coverage for them as well for being able to do that. If we want to see people empower themselves, we have to give them hope. I am going to step forward and take that chance.”
The bill is currently in the Senate Economic, Tourism and Labor Committee, but Castlen hopes that it will move quickly with the hopes that similar bills will follow, he said.
“Next year, I am looking at aiding some of our low-grade felons to get them past that hurdle to where they can be hired more easily and have access to skilled labor training and education,” he said. “That is a large group we can train up and give a second chance to. This bill is a stepping stone to reach into an aspect of society that we want to reach and help for the best. My hope is that it will be a good example for other states as well as employers, large and small, that would carry the torch.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com