New law helps businesses reduce addiction
Bill with local origins educates employees on drug-free living
This week, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law a bill that originated in Calvert County and gives a little boost to businesses that commit to practicing and preaching the importance of a drug-free work environment.
“Its intention is [to] offer business owners discounts of up to 4 percent workers’ [compensation] rates. In exchange, they would need to declare their business a drug-free workplace,” said Bill Chambers, president and CEO of the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce, regarding SB505, “Workers’ Compensation Insurance — Premium Discount — Alcohol- and DrugFree Workplace Program.”
Any businesses in the state can opt into the program, but in order to make that drug-free declaration, a business must annually provide training and programs to its employees on the short- and long-term health and safety risks of using drugs. There is no requirement for mandatory workplace drug testing in the bill.
“It’s an education incentive for businesses,” Chambers said.
The statewide legislation started in the county when Maria Buehler, a volunteer with the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse Inc., approached Chambers a year ago about partnering to do some drug-free workplace training for chamber members. The pair collaborated.
“As a small business owner, I was witnessing what has been going on in our community. I was faced with a situation with a young lady working for me and I had to let her go because she had a substance abuse problem,” said Buehler, owner of Buehler’s Marketplace in St. Leonard. “I wish I had the resources to push her in the right direction . ... This totally led me to CAASA.”
According to the CAASA volunteer, in 2015, 33 percent of Calvert County residents who went into treatment for opiate abuse were employed full or part time. Furthermore, in Calvert County alone, in the last five years there has been a 350 percent increase in requests for treatment for prescription drug abuse, said Buehler.
Buehler informed Chambers there was legislation enacted in 13 states that provides a reduction in workers’ compensation fees for businesses that agree to implement a drug-free workplace policy and commit to an education and training program for employees.
Maryland did not have such a law. However, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and a handful of states in the southeast and a few in the central region have a similar law on their books. Some state laws provide as much as a 10 percent credit in workers’ compensation insurance premiums to encourage businesses to participate.
According to Chambers, seizing an opportunity, the pair collaborated, once again, enlisting the help of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) to get the ball rolling by identifying principles on a piece of legislation to benefit all of Maryland’s businesses.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) and cross-filed in the House by Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s).
Chambers acknowledged the insurance industry didn’t support the bill, as its passing would cut into the bottom line of insurance carriers. However, the bill did receive overwhelming support from the hospitality industry, including hotels and restaurants from over the state.
“This bill gets to the heart of businesses that employ a lot of part-time help,” said Chambers. “We received letters of support from the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, MGM Casino Resort in National Harbor, and from all of the National Harbor establishments.”
Chambers said he was surprised the bill did not receive support from the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
According to the Workers’ Compensation Fund, at www.wfc.com, substance abusers are five times more likely to file workers’ compensation claims. WCF recommends implementing a drug-free work policy to reduce workplace injuries. One in six workplace deaths involve drugs or alcohol use.
The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance reports that employers who implement a drug-free workplace experience a decrease in workplace accidents, employee absenteeism, employee turnover and workers’ all compensation claims.
Chambers said there is also a correlation between a drug-free work environment and, with reduced health care costs, improved employee morale and fewer disciplinary problems.
Nationwide, 90 percent of large businesses have drugfree workplace policies, while 90 percent of small businesses do not, according to Buehler. CAASA has been proactively helping small businesses in the county adopt a drug-free policy and mitigate problems.
“We trained 20 businesses last year,” Buehler said. “The ultimate goal is training supervisors on what they should be looking for and how they should handle substance abuse.”
Those establishments that participated in CAASA’s training received, at no cost, a drug-free business sign with the substance abuse hotline number on it. Now they will have an extra incentive — more money in their pockets — because of the legislation borne out of the county’s need for resources.