New Hampshire’s Opioid Crisis Continues to Challenge Employers

Published: Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce
January 19, 2018

New Hampshire continues to have more than its fair share of problems related to opioid addiction. Business owners face challenges  previously unheard of, or at least unmentioned, in this small state. As employers continue to struggle to hire adequate numbers of skilled employees to meet business needs, the opioid crisis adds a significant hurdle to overcome.

The issues are complicated both from a human and a legal perspective, and employers need to know how to assist addicted employees, minimize the impact of the crisis on business to the extent possible, and avoid legal risk.  The following are strategies to consider:

  • Be as familiar as possible with addiction:  how to recognize it, how to talk to employees about it, what resources exist for employees in trouble either because of their own addiction or the addiction of family members, and what the process of recovery looks like.  Local mental health practices, recovery centers, and the Granite United Way through resources like 2-1-1, are able to provide referrals and information.
  • Put an Employee Assistance Plan (”EAP”) in place to provide support and referrals for addicted employees, employees in recovery, family members and even supervisors who are at the front lines of the problem. An EAP can also assist if tragedy strikes your organization, such as when an employee overdoses, and grief counseling is needed.
  • Understand the legal issues like what you can ask employees about their condition and treatment as well as your business’ responsibility to provide support, time off, and workplace accommodations.  These issues are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act ( “ADA”) or comparable state laws which apply to smaller businesses.  Employees may be entitled to time off to address an addiction issue which may be a disability.  Required leave could include weeks or months at a rehabilitation facility or modifications to work hours to attend therapy or 12-step meetings.
  • Review your benefits to confirm that you are providing adequate health care and mental health coverage. Mental health and recovery services are limited in New Hampshire, but circumstances are much worse for those who do not have the ability to pay for treatment.  Check to make sure that there are enough qualified providers in the health plan your company offers and that the out of pocket maximums and co-pays do not make it cost prohibitive for employees to access care.
  • Review your policies around leaves and flexible work hours and assess your work environment when it comes to encouraging or expecting social alcohol use. If you have employees in recovery, for example, try to foster a workplace culture which does not make alcohol a center point of all celebrations and business development activities.  If alcohol is served at office functions, be understanding if employees do not want to participate.
  • Update drug testing policies to take into account new guidance from OSHA and new laws around marijuana use. More employers than ever require some type of drug testing ranging from pre-employment screening to reasonable suspicion, post-accident, and even random testing.
  • Understand the process of recovery and be aware that most individuals will need significant support after rehab. There may be a recurrence of prior drug or alcohol use.  Set out clear expectations for future workplace behavior in a written agreement with the employee.
  • Know that you likely have some employees impacted by the crisis.  Some may have addicted or incarcerated family members or may have lost children, family or friends to overdose.  They may be distracted, suffering from depression or anxiety, or have poor attendance.   Some may be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  Bereavement leave, personal leave and policies around flexible work hours and telecommuting are important.
  • Consider involving your employees in some community service and educational programs around mental health well-being to help empower them to address these issues personally and to help others.

The problem is likely not going away quickly, and local businesses can be an important part of recovery support and effect change in the community.