August 31, 2018
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Higher and hirer

The opioid crisis is challenging companies looking for temporary workers. Here are some tips to manage hiring during the holiday surge.

By David Maloney

It's called the "opioid crisis" for good reason. More than 90 million Americans, one in four of us, use prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Many abuse them.

With unemployment rates hovering near 4 percent, employers are facing the dilemma of either hiring people who use and may abuse opioids or not having enough people to do the work that needs to be done.

We are now approaching the holiday peak season, when logistics and supply chain operations have the highest labor demands. Facilities are hiring temporary workers in droves. With low unemployment, the pool of available workers will include people who abuse opioids and other drugs. For employers, this can lead to higher benefit costs, workers' compensation claims, and lost work time.

Assuring safe working conditions is also a huge concern. Warehouses that use forklifts and lots of mechanized systems can be dangerous places for someone whose mental awareness and physical reactions are impaired by opioids. There is similar risk in placing an opioid abuser behind the wheel of an over-the-road truck.

So how does a company find a quality work force in the midst of such a crisis and assure safety for all workers? What follows are some tips:

  • First, work with your legal team to establish a clear and concise drug policy. Make sure applicants understand the policy fully and then test for drug use before hiring. The National Safety Council, a nonprofit whose mission includes eliminating preventable deaths at work, suggests a 12-panel screening instead of the cheaper nine-panel tests many employers use. The expanded panel will screen for OxyContin, methadone, and fentanyl use.
  • Second, spend time talking to applicants. "Trust your gut. If you feel someone is hiding something, check their references thoroughly," suggests Rachael Cooper, senior program manager for substance use prevention at the National Safety Council.

    Many states require employees to disclose if they are taking any impairing medications or drugs that could be a safety concern, including marijuana. Often, these people can be hired as long as they're assigned to less dangerous positions.

  • Most importantly, keep communication lines open. Be sure workers feel they can talk to supervisors and human resources personnel without fear of judgment.

Besides new hires, you will also encounter long-serving employees who begin taking painkillers and other medications, especially as our work forces age. How can you help them be sure their drug use does not compromise safety and performance? Glad you asked. We will address that topic next month.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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