Workplace Issues

 

 

Area Firms Kick the Habit

Focus, 10/28/1987, 2186 words.

 

Substance Abuse Testing: Legal Issues for Management

Focus, 05/13/1987, 2315 words.

 

Indoor Air Pollution: On a Clear Day You Can See Across the Room

Focus, 04/01/1987

 

A Legal Foothold for Maternity Leave

Focus, 02/18/1987

 

Preventing Employees’ Abuse of Sick Leave

Focus, 01/14/1987


 

 

 

Area Firms Kick the Habit

By Thomas Derr

 

10/28/1987

Focus

Pg. 48

 

 

Philadelphia, PA, US -- YEARS ago, some of the nation's biggest deals -- business as well as political -- were ironed out in the proverbial smoke-filled room. Now these times have

changed.

 

Recent federal and state legislation limiting the individual's right to foul the air in public buildings seems destined to do away with the staid old political tradition of the smoke-filled room. Now many corporations and other businesses are getting into the act as well.

 

The reasons are clear. Not only is a smoke-free work environment healthier -- it also makes good business sense.

 

STATISTICS: The American Cancer Society estimates that employees who smoke cost their employers approximately $4,000 each more per year due to increased absenteeism, increased medical care and insurance claims, loss of productivity, property damage and maintenance, and effects on non-smoking co-workers.

 

Workers who smoke have a 30 to 40 percent higher absenteeism rate than non-smokers, as well as a five percent greater chance of being hospitalized.

 

According to the society, employers spend an average of $300 per smoker each year in insurance claims alone.

 

In addition, cigarette smoking can damage rugs, floors, equipment, furniture and curtains in the workplace. Smoking also places an extra load on a company's air conditioning equipment. It takes six times as much energy to clear a smoke-filled room as it does to clear a room where there is no cigarette smoke.

 

"There has been a tremendous increase in interest in developing non-smoking policies and starting smoking cessation programs," says Stephen F. Gambescia, employee education coordinator at the Philadelphia division of the American Cancer Society. "More and more businesses are taking a stand -- in part because of the Surgeon General's recent pronouncement in favor of a smoke-free

workplace, and because of the legislative push to restrict smoking. This is a health issue, not a fad."

 

BOEING: One of the area's first efforts in the corporate war against smoking was at Boeing Corp. In April, 1984, Boeing officials announced their intention to create a smoke-free environment at all Boeing facilities.

 

Donald Burnes, Senior Manager of Human Resources for Boeing, says that the program began with a decision to limit cigarette smoking to specifically designated areas of Boeing's administrative offices. As a result, smoking was forbidden in conference rooms, hallways, reception areas, and office areas which elected to adopt a "no smoking" standard. Furthermore, two-thirds of the Boeing Vertol cafeteria became a haven for non-smoking diners.

 

"We also initiated a number of in-house 'stop smoking' programs which employees could attend if they choose to do so," says Burnes. "These were off-hour programs, but they were free to individual employees."

 

Some months later, the edge toward a smoke-free environment continued as all cigarette vending machines were removed from Boeing premises. At the same time, some divisions of Boeing adopted the non-smoking standard for all their office areas.

 

As of July 1, 1987, an even more extensive application of the non-smoking standard came about, as "no smoking" became the norm in all areas of the Boeing Corp. except for one-third of the cafeteria area and production areas, Burnes says.

 

"Our next step will be to try to decide how to continue our push for a completely smoke-free environment for all of Boeing," he says. "We're not sure yet how that will come about. But we have not yet backed off of our original objective of creating a totally smoke- free company." If accomplished, the smoke-free policy will affect Boeing facilities throughout the U.S., amounting

to more than 120,000 employees, all told.

 

ROSENBLUTH: Also joining the fight against smoking is Rosenbluth Travel, which on April 1st of this year instituted a smoke-free policy for its 1,100 employees in travel agencies spread across 19 states. But according to at least one Rosenbluth spokesperson, the going wasn't all easy.

 

"In the beginning, people growled, and the first couple of weeks were rough. But by the end of April, everyone seemed to have accepted it," says Ginger Weaver, who helped spearhead the drive for a smoke-free workplace.

 

According to Weaver, a series of support mechanisms were instituted to help smokers going through withdrawal. Apples and lollipops were passed out, along with American Cancer Society "survival kits" containing "Kiss Me I Don't Smoke" buttons and stickers, tips on quitting literature, and Rosenbluth supplied food treats. Rosenbluth also flashed various support messages across the registration centers' computer screens. In addition, ACS "Tips on Quitting Smoking" seminars were held at the beginning of the program.

 

Barbara Foster, human resources manager at Rosenbluth's Wilmington reservation center, suggests that the high pressure nature of the travel industry seemed to fuel many smokers' fires. However, that only added to the discomfort of the non-smoking population.

 

"Non-smokers were unhappy about the amount of smoke," says Weaver. "I went to management to let them know about it." And although the problem had become a serious morale issue, when she introduced the problem at a supervisor's meeting, it initially was met with a certain amount of resistance, she recalls.

 

Smoking and non-smoking areas were designated, but there was little improvement on air quality. Finally, when the problem reached a clear smokers vs. non-smokers situation, top management decided to get involved.

 

NEED FOR ACTION: "I spoke to Carl Nurick, vice president of administration, and he was very supportive," says Foster. Nurick had noticed that clients and associates were made uncomfortable by the smoke, and thus felt the urgent need for action.

 

The first breakthrough came in February, at Rosenbluth's annual staff meeting, which was designed to be an upbeat, motivational gathering. At the beginning of the meeting, Nurick proclaimed there would be no smoking allowed.

 

"The theme of the meeting was elegant service, and sensitivity to clients," Nurick explains. "We even had Bob Richards, an Olympic pole vaulting champion, speak on keeping yourself in good physical and mental shape. Obviously smoking wasn't consistent with our message of the day."

 

A detailed report outlining both employee complaints and the economic and health benefits of a smoke-free workplace was written by Foster and used by Nurick to establish the smoke-free policy. The policy went into effect in 54 Rosenbluth offices throughout the nation on April 1.

 

"We really care about our associates and clients," Nurick explains. "To care, we can't allow them to be in an environment that's destructive to them. Therefore, we must provide a physically and psychologically helpful workplace."

 

SPECIFIC POLICY: Not surprisingly, officials at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce were among the first area business interests to take a hard look at smoking in the workplace.

 

According to Suzanne Schwartz, office manager at the chamber's headquarters, the "no smoking" policy instituted there in September, 1984, is very specific about where smoking is allowed and prohibited. In shared offices with more than one occupant, smoking is prohibited during normal working hours (9-5). In offices that are segmented by partitions and which occupy otherwise open space, smoking is prohibited altogether. For individuals who occupy their own private offices, the question of smoking or nonsmoking is left to their discretion.

 

Admittedly, that sounds like a tough policy, says Schwartz, but the Chamber does provide some flexibility. Smokers, who absolutely must partake, are encourage to do so at lunch time, or "in cases of dire need" to do so in washroom or in an empty conference room.

 

According to another Chamber spokesperson, "no smoking" as a general policy has not yet been addressed from a membership standpoint. Although businesses who are Chamber members do enjoy some healthcare benefits through the organization, smoking cessation programs are not among those offered.

 

"It's something which is left up to the individual business or employer to determine," says the spokesperson.

 

WESTMORELAND COAL : In the search for clean air, a coal mine is one of the last places one would probably look. But according to Steve Anderson, director of communications for Westmoreland Coal Co., that mindset could be changing shortly.

 

In November, 1986, Westmoreland Coal brought in an outside consultant to assist employees -- on a strictly voluntary basis -- to kick the smoking habit.

 

"Prior to that in-house voluntary program, there had been a number of futile attempts to quit by people in job categories ranging from secretaries to top-level management," explains Anderson. He says that more than 20 of the approximately 100 employees in the corporate offices enrolled in the program, with the end result being that only a mere handful of smokers now remain.

 

The program was extended to other Westmoreland sites, including the coal mines themselves, where miners often opt to chew tobacco while underground to replace the smoking urge which they can fulfill when they are outside of the mines.

 

According to Anderson, the voluntary smoking cessation program arose from a long-time commitment led by Westmoreland CEO E.B. Leisenring, Jr.

 

"He refused to dictate a 'no smoking' policy to his employees. But it's something which he has been suggesting to people for more than 13 years," Anderson says.

 

And it's that kind of approach which is often the most effective in the long-run, he adds. "I would say the most important thing to keep in mind with any 'stop smoking' program is that you have to want to do it for yourself," Anderson says. "Tobacco has a certain addictive quality to it, and it can be extremely difficult to give up. No amount of courses will help unless the individual makes that choice."

 

FIRST PENNSY: In keeping with this recognition of individual responsibility, there are a number of area companies which offer employees who smoke a certain degree of leeway in their recently adopted anti- smoking policies.

 

At First Pennsylvania Bank, for example, it's largely up to the discretion of individual department heads to set non-smoking policies, says Bill Kane, assistant vice president/public relations. At the same time, though, the bank does make a number of support programs available to employees who wish to participate. According to Kane, the only clear delineation is that branch bank employees may not smoke in the presence of customers.

 

"This is more as a matter of courtesy, though," Kane explains. "When we created our 'We Hear You' image campaign, we developed a survey to find out what our customers were looking for from us in the way of good service and treatment. One of the recurring themes from this survey was that people were bothered by tellers and other bank personnel who smoked in their presence."

 

IBM: At IBM's regional sales office, the rules prohibit smoking in hallways, restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, and meeting areas, explains Brian Saderholm, IBM's communications manager in the Philadelphia area.

 

Basically employees may smoke on IBM premises where specifically permitted -- and if it's not objectionable to other people, he says. What that boils down to is an employee generally can smoke in his or her own work area, but only if no side stream smoke begins to affect co-workers.

 

PRUDENTIAL: At Prudential's eastern home office headquarters in Fort Washington, the rules are even stricter.

 

"Basically, we have a 'no smoking' building," says Mary Ann Monzo, Assistant Manager of personnel. "The only places where smokers can go to smoke are the stairwells and outside during lunch time and nonworking hours."

 

Monzo says the policy was developed from a survey of employee attitudes and an examination of what other offices in the area were doing to limit smoking in the workplace. The policy, which took effect in June, 1987, apparently has been successful. Monzo says there have been no major confrontations with employees over the policy -- and when an occasional problem does occur, it generally involves visitors who are unaware of the policy.

 

U.S. HEALTHCARE: Not surprisingly, the no smoking policy is even more strict at HMO PA/NJ, a part of U.S. Healthcare Systems, based in Blue Bell. According to Alan Letofsky, president and general counsel at HMO PA/NJ, when the firm's current headquarters opened two years ago, smoking was allowed in restricted areas.

 

"However, we soon found non-smoking employees were complaining about the smoke of their co-workers," says Letofsky. The solution - - prohibit smoking completely. This policy came into effect about six to nine months ago.

 

But here again, management was careful to institute important support mechanism, adds Dr. Jay Rosan, vice president and senior medical director.

 

APPLES: Two huge baskets of apples are now made available to employees free of charge, as well as an assortment of nutritious beverages. In addition, the firm has several smoking cessation programs that are open to employees and its 780,000 HMO membership family. A new smoking cessation program, entitled the Health Breathing program, will be introduced in the near future, he adds. As part of its wellness emphasis, HMO PA/NJ also designs and runs smoking cessation

programs for client companies when asked to do so.

 

"We provide these programs because we're committed to good health," explains Dr. Rosan. "But at the same time, it's in our interest to do so. After all, we end up paying for the health care which these member companies' employees use."

 

And that, after all, is the bottom line -- for any employer who has to pay for health insurance.


 

 

 

Substance Abuse Testing: Legal Issues for Management

By Thomas Derr

 

05/13/1987

Focus

Pg. 208

 

 

PA, US -- Several weeks ago, Reagan Administration spokesmen suggested that drug testing for school teachers may become a viable policy initiative in the near future.

 

The announcement closely followed on the heels of a still ongoing investigation of alleged drug and alcohol abuse among train crew members in connection with last winter's fatal Amtrak/Conrail crash in Maryland, in which scores of passengers were killed or injured.

 

In the face of those and other incidents, many employers are beginning to take a closer look at the viability of drug and alcohol testing for their employees -- either as a condition for employment, or as an ongoing monitoring program in situations where safety is a major consideration.

 

"Until about a year ago, employment testing for promotion or hiring was very much on the decline because of some legal holdings and because it just kind of goes against the grain of many people," says Edward Lange, regional manager and cluster practice leader for Laventhol & Horwath. "But now we have things like the Conrail/Amtrak accident, the SEPTA accidents, and drug testing is really the employers' hedge to say: 'Hey, I tried to do everything I possibly could, and if the guy is going to do drugs, I can't be with him every minute of every day.'"

 

Drug testing has grown tremendously during the last year, in large part due to the emphasis given to it by the Reagan Administration, agrees Philip E. Garber, partner in the Labor Department of the law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr, Solis Cohen. He also notes that large numbers of employers are now considering drug testing for the first time.

 

LEGAL QUESTION: Garber, who recently conducted a series of seminars for employers in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia on the subject of employee drug testing, says that a clear distinction must be made between public and private sector employers. Government employers, for example, must be much more concerned with specific provisions of the U.S. Constitution that prohibit unlawful or unreasonable searches. Private employers, on the other hand, have a little more leeway.

 

Then there is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of handicap. According to Garber, a handicap could be interpreted as drug or alcohol addiction, and because of this, there is some question as to whether testing is unlawfully asking about a handicap.

 

In Garber's view, the testing would be lawful, provided that there is sufficient follow-up to determine whether or not any addiction exists, and, just as importantly, whether or not that addiction affects the employee's or applicant's ability to do his or her particular job.

 

"It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their handicap, and the law is very specific," explains Lange. "So it really comes down to a matter of validation. If a company uses employment screening tests, they really need to determine exactly what skills are required in the specific job, and whether or not you can do those skills."

 

This creates something of a paradoxical situation for many companies, because they often have trouble finding good employees in the first place, Lange says. Unfortunately, the majority of the people who are going to fail these types of tests are in the positions where there is the greatest demand -- minimum wage and entry level jobs -- although that does not preclude the fact that there are plenty of people in responsible positions who may have some kind of substance abuse problem, he adds.

 

CONCERN FOR SAFETY: According to Bruce Farbman, corporate senior vice president of Human Resources for Reliance Companies, Inc., the question of drug testing is an especially hot issue in the industries such as manufacturing, where operators of heavy machinery could have a high potential for some very serious accidents to take place if they attempt to do so under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

 

"Drug testing is a particularly significant issue where safety is a concern," adds Garber. "That obviously would be for the SEPTA situation, but also heavy industry, where employees are dealing with machinery and they can get hurt."

 

In fact, one of the area's most comprehensive pre-employment testing programs is in place at SEPTA, where the screening process involves a number of steps, of which drug and alcohol testing is but a part, says George Spence, SEPTA's manager of Training and Development.

 

The first step of the hiring process is nothing unusual -- individuals must send a resume when applying for a job for any position. The resumes are examined to screen people as much as possible for solid work experience, a police screening for evidence of a reliable and dependable background, and to determine whether or not an applicant has been "job hopping." Next comes the first stage of

SEPTA's pre-employment tests. These consist of job performance tests, in which applicants are asked questions specifically about the craft or job they are going to be doing.

 

"If we're hiring a first class electrician, then we do expect him to know certain things about electricity," Spence says. "Or if he's a machinist, we expect him to be able to use micrometers, measuring tools, and that kind of thing. So there is a series of pencil and paper tests they would take, and they are tailored to specific jobs."

 

Sometimes applicants may be required to pass an industrial reading test, Spence explains. If they pass, they are then given an interview by the personnel department, and ultimately the hiring manager.

 

MEDICAL EXAM: "Then they go to the medical department, where they are given a full medical examination -- that includes everything you get on a full medical," Spence says. "They are given blood tests and urinalyses for a number of different conditions that might affect their performance on the job -- including potential drug use."

 

According to Spence, the testing program, which has been in place since 1979, gives applicants three chances and sixty days to pass the performance tests and the opportunity to have the applicants' own doctor or a specified laboratory verify the findings.

 

Such a policy framework is a good example of the type of structure which would go into effect in Pennsylvania if a bill currently before the state legislature becomes law.

 

HOUSE BILL: The legislation, House Bill 827, was introduced March 11, 1987, with the support of some 51 cosponsors. And according to Garber, the major impetus for the development of the bill was the desire to safeguard employees and job applicants against the abuse of drug tests themselves.

 

For example, the legislation would enable private employers to require an applicant to submit to a substance abuse test as a condition of hiring. But at the same time, that employer must notify the applicant in writing prior to the sample collection that the sample will be tested for drugs or alcohol.

 

The bill also requires that a written policy be established by the employer and posted in a conspicuous place; that the employee have the right to submit medical documentation verifying the employee's use of medication; that a confirmation test be utilized; that the results be held confidential; that a retest of the sample be open to the employee's laboratory; and that the drug tests only be performed by licensed laboratories.

 

SAMPLE IN QUESTION: One of the most interesting aspects of the bill is its requirement that there be a documented chain of custody involving the test samples. That's to make sure the sample being tested actually comes from the applicant in question, notes Garber.

 

According to William J. Trogus, Jr., vice president and laboratory manager of Omega Medical Laboratories, Wyomissing, Pa., the chain of custody is often just as important as the collection of the specimen.

 

"If you don't assure that the proper patient's urine is in that sample, it doesn't matter how good the test is," says Trogus.

 

People will put any number of adulterants into their urine sample -- including toilet water, hot water, or soap suds. So unless the person collecting the specimen has a right of observation, he or she can never know for sure if the right sample is being tested.

 

"In the younger days with the army, that's where they had problems -- they got the specimens all mixed up. Now they sort of have a model program, because they learned from their mistakes," Trogus says.

 

If industries are going to collect the samples themselves, they have to make sure the correct urine is being tested. There are many tricks used -- mail order urine samples, other substitutions, some testees even drop their samples on the floor, thereby "accidentally" ruining the test. People like to pick on the testing, but the collection is just as important, Trogus adds. He says the bottom line is that the samples should be handled as legal specimens, with a designated chain of custody and whatever other precautions are deemed necessary.

 

FINDINGS IDENTICAL: But there are other problems with testing as well, he notes. One big problem is that certain classes of drugs -- some of which are illegal, some of which are not -- can elicit an identical positive finding, depending on the specific test.

 

"Codeine cough syrup goes through a metabolism in the body and shows up as morphine. When you take heroin it also metabolizes as morphine," Trogus says.

 

"So when you do a screening test, which most laboratories do initially, you really can't determine from that screening where the opiate came from -- whether it came from a controlled preparation, a prescription pain medication, or an illegal drug."

 

That's why Omega questions individual testees before they participate so they can declare before they have the drug test whether or not they are on prescription medication.

 

"In Pennsylvania you need a prescription in order to get codeine," explains Trogus. "And if they come up with a positive result, you can call their doctor and verify it. So the test itself can't tell you whether it came from codeine or heroin, but through some other external things, you can determine it."

 

Such problems can be very important in determining whether or not an individual is using a controlled substance, and/or whether or not that substance will affect his or her job performance.

According to Garber, accuracy depends on a number of factors: the quality of the test, the quality of the laboratory, and the particular drugs that are being tested for.

 

RANDOM TESTING IS DIFFICULT: "Testing positive does not necessarily means the person is impaired on the job," notes Garber. "If someone tests positive for marijuana, for example, it could simply mean that they used marijuana over the weekend, and are not impaired on the job. That's significant, because unlike a breathalyzer test for alcohol, where there is an established correlation between the amount of alcohol in your system and your ability to drive, we are not at the same level of sophistication in determining the relationship between drugs in your system and impairment."

 

Such concerns relate primarily to testing of job applicants and current employees who offer just-cause to be tested, Garber notes. That's because the courts still shy away from any random drug testing.

 

"A private employer under this bill cannot require random testing of employees, unless the employee serves in an occupation in which the employer has a compelling interest to administer the test," notes Garber.

 

So in the normal course, random testing would be prohibited -- with the exception being if a compelling interests exists. A compelling interest is defined as an interest that justifies the administration of a drug test for the protection of the health and safety of the public, another employee, or the employee affected by the drug use.

 

INVASION OF PRIVACY: Employers who are considering drug testing also must be aware of certain tort concerns, such as defamation and invasion of privacy issues.

 

"For example, if you call somebody an addict -- if you fire him because 'We don't want addicts around here,' -- it's true that the test itself may have been lawful," Garber says. "But if you spread the word falsely about somebody, you could be defaming him, and the employer could be subjecting himself to damages."

 

Invasion of privacy can be a sticky issue as well. If an employee approaches his supervisor and confesses that he is an addict -- and that information is spread beyond a need-to-know basis -- then, depending on the circumstances, there could be possible liability.

 

It's for reasons such as these that many area companies share the outlook of Reliance's Farbman.

 

"We're somewhat apprehensive about implementing employee testing because of the legal implications as well as the employer relations implications involved," Farbman says. "So what we tend to do with new employees is do a very detailed background check. If we get indications of problems, we deal with it in that way. We also send out questionnaires to our customers to find out how our customer service representatives are doing, and if there are any problems. So we try to keep on top of it, but there is still the specter there that we have problems that we don't know about."

 

WEEDING OUT TOOL: Obviously there are still many gray areas to be worked out in the area of pre-employment and employment testing.

 

Until those problems are worked out by modern medical technology and the courts, perhaps it's best to simply keep the value of such testing programs within a realistic perspective. As Laventhol & Horwath's Lange notes, although drug tests are now being seen as a "quick fix" of sorts, their best use may be as a weeding out tool.

 

"I think it basically just divides people into one of two groups: Those who don't have a problem and can then be considered for other normal mechanisms for hiring; and those who do have a problem, in which case the employer has no interest in hiring them," observes Lange.