County officials consider employee drug testing as way to save money
By Jonathan PleasantWith the recent efforts to battle shortfalls in the budget, county officials have been looking at all options to help save money and operate more efficiently. However, one of one of the most controversial alternatives carries with it changes that reach well beyond simple dollar figures. As part of the Department of Labor’s Drug Free Workplace program, officials are discussing the potential benefits of random drug testing for their employees. Not only would this mean a five percent cost reduction in county insurance premiums, it would also help ensure the safety and well being of the county employees as well as adding an extra level of accountability for the taxpaying public.
Even utilizing the Local Government Insurance Pool to get the best possible rate, Johnson County still pays more than $100,000 each year in work premiums. One reason that the cost is so high is the simple fact that many county jobs, such as those in the sheriff’s department, naturally place employees in potentially dangerous positions. Because the presence of drugs or alcohol can dramatically increase the potential for serious and life threatening situations there is obviously a cause for concern.
As a result, some departments including the transfer station and county highway department are already utilizing the testing, but to fully participate in the program and receive the discount, all other department heads must also be willing to comply. For some, such as Sheriff Mike Reece, the decision is very clear. “I have employees driving emergency vehicles,” said Reece. “My official opinion in my capacity as sheriff is that yes they should be drug tested. However, I think it needs to be done fairly and county wide, which is how it must be for our insurance policy.”
Although this would also mean that employees in clerical positions such as the Register of Deeds office, Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and County Clerk’s office would also be subjected to the testing, many officials feel that the positive elements of the program far outweigh the potential inconvenience to the individual employee.
Testing would follow the same regulations that are now used by the highway department. Those selected for testing are chosen at random by computer and not every employee in every department will be tested each year. Beth Jennings currently oversees collection for the highway department, sending the samples to ASMS in Selmer, TN to be analyzed.
Having received training to collect the samples, the county pays Jennings $20 per person tested, in addition to $15 for single testing kits, and $25 for each analysis. Although creating a countywide policy would also mean a need for additional funding, the savings from the FIVE percent reduction in insurance premiums would still save the county a significant amount of money overall. r worker’s compensation insurance, 6.87% covers the sheriff’s department, 18.16% percent for the highway department, 0.62% for clerical positions, 17.39% to the transfer station, and 8.5% for county custodians. In all, the county would save more than $6000 by participating in the program.
Marc Fogarty with the Local Government Insurance Pool met with several county officials at last month’s county safety meeting to go over some of the specifics of the program. If implemented, the county would have to create and adopt a policy to be agreed upon by the individual department heads and accepted by the board of commissioners. The policy would include specifications on how the testing is to be conducted, what types of chemicals are to be tested for, as well as consequences for failure to meet acceptable testing guidelines.
According to the rules of the Drug Free Workplace Program the county would have to ensure that at least 60 days had elapsed between issuing a general one time notice to all employees that the program is being implemented and the effective date of the program. However if the employee fails to pass the test beyond the effective date they would then be subject to the consequences of the policy, which may range from mandatory substance abuse treatment or education for first time offenders to eventual grounds for termination in more serious cases.
Substances covered by the program include alcohol, amphetamines, cannabinoids (Marijuana), cocaine, opiates, and phencyclidine. Although the highway department currently pays $250 to train an employee to oversee sample collection, there is also the potential for free training through the insurance provider if the county does take part in the program.
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