Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

All county department heads approve employee drug testing

Several county officials met last week in an ongoing discussion of the state’s Drug Free Workplace Program. The issue first came up several months ago at a county safety meeting, when Karen Manual first began working with the county’s insurance company to receive training and a consequential one percent discount. At that time officials learned about the Drug Free Program and discovered that in addition to increasing the county’s accountability with its employees, there was also the potential for an additional five percent savings of around $6,000.
However, to fully comply all county department heads and elected officials covered under the insurance plan would have to unanimously agree to participate, allowing the county to become certified with the state as a Drug Free Workplace. A safety meeting was held in September to give officials the chance to meet with Marc Fogarty, representing The Local Government Insurance Pool.

Fogarty explained that the program consists of four distinct types of testing allowed under federal law. The first requires testing for all new hires, the second following any accident on the job, and the third for reasonable suspicion by a department head. Each of these would be required of every employee in every department, but the fourth type of testing in the program, random testing selected by computer, would only affect positions deemed safety sensitive. Exactly which positions would be randomly tested would have to be set forth in the county’s drug free policy.
Although several department heads were not in attendance, Fogarty still answered many questions about the plan’s implementation and left officials with a better understanding of how it works. With more than one third of the state’s 95 counties choosing to participate, a proposed policy was drawn up for Johnson County which was based off a model that has been incorporated in many areas around the region. Ultimately, Manuel, along with County Mayor Larry Potter, brought the subject to the full commission for their consideration.
Although several questions were posed, including whether or not elected officials should be tested as well, participation in the program was generally well received, culminating in a unanimously approved motion to accept the new drug free policy. With the commission’s support, Manuel then went around to each of the county department heads to request their participation.
However, by the next month’s commission meeting there were still a few missing signatures, and, as a result, the commission requested that Mayor Potter hold another meeting to address any further concerns. The last two names on the list, Sheriff Mike Reece and Clerk and Master Linda Morefield confirmed that they did not feel comfortable agreeing to the policy until their questions about its implementation had been answered. At the same time both Reece and Morefield went on to express that they were not opposed to drug testing in general and felt it could be a very positive change for the county if done correctly.
Along with Manuel, Mayor Potter, and County Attorney Bill Cockett in attendance, a detailed meeting was held to look at the specifics of the newly adopted policy. Sheriff Reece brought up the first point, questioning how the testing would be paid for and whether or not the savings would ultimately justify putting the program in place.
Manuel had already been looking into potential costs and testing providers, including the Johnson County Community Hospital. Accounting for the lowest percentage of randomly tested employees, Manuel found that even after taking out the cost of the testing the county would still save approximately $4,865 of the nearly $6,000 associated with the five percent discount.
To further prevent any possibility that a department head would be left to cover the cost of testing their own employees, Mayor Potter went on to suggest that the county would likely set aside a separate line in the budget to cover the costs and then could assess the actual savings at the end of the year. In this way the testing costs would be pulled from a separate pool and would not affect individual department budgets.
Reece also had questions about exactly which employees would be randomly tested, suggesting that it might be fairer to have all employees included. However, because of the potential for infringing on the employees’ Constitutional rights, the federal government has determined in the past that only safety sensitive areas are subject to this testing, typically meaning only positions where even a momentary lapse in attention could have disastrous results.
For this reason, employees with commercial drivers licenses are already tested, including those at the transfer station and the county highway department. The specific positions called for in the county’s policy include law enforcement/corrections officers, maintenance workers, any employee that drives a county vehicle, any employee eligible to drive county vehicles, highway department employees, and transfer station employees.
For her part, Morefield expressed concerns about the testing of elected officials, noting that the Chancellor, who actually has final authority in her office, appoints her position as Clerk and Master. However, even with her appointed status, the office of Clerk and Master is still considered by the same standards as an elected official. According to the state’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) these positions cannot be randomly tested because they are not considered safety sensitive.
Another big question that both Morefield and Reece expressed was the consequences if an employee tested positive. While the state requires that regardless of the outcome the employee must be offered treatment at his or her cost, the county has the right to dictate what ultimately happens with the employee. The policy specifically states that violations are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. However, County Attorney Bill Cockett pointed out that while a first offense termination was a possibility, the actual action taken was up to the discretion of the individual department head.
One of the last big items brought up was the problem of random testing for employees that were off duty, on vacation, or otherwise unable to be tested on the specific date their name came up. While the policy actually counts a refusal to be tested the same as a positive test result, Cockett explained that this would likely also be an area that was also up to the discretion of the individual department head.
Because this scenario, along with several other items, was not specifically addressed in the policy it was suggested that Cockett take a closer look at the policy and draw up any necessary changes. Ultimately the discussions went through all the main components of the policy and by the end of the meeting both Reece and Morefield seemed satisfied that their questions were answered.

To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.