Editor’s Note: Do you know the costs?

March 19, 2018 -  By

With an unemployment figure near a record low and a problematic seasonal guest-worker program, landscape companies are strapped for legal labor options. Some landscape company owners confess they must resort to merely looking for “warm bodies,” which presents its own set of challenges.

In a country where states are legalizing marijuana and an opioid crisis is raging, employee substance abuse should be on your radar if it’s not already.

Nearly 21 million Americans suffer from a substance use disorder, and three-quarters of them are part of the workforce, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). The Surgeon General estimates this situation costs the U.S. more than $400 billion in lost workplace productivity per year. That’s a big number, but what does it mean for your small business?

A tool on NSC’s website clues us in. By plugging in your state, industry (it doesn’t ask about landscaping specifically, but you could choose “construction” or “other services”) and employee count, it generates a report that reveals the financial impact of untreated substance use disorder on your business. The report comes from the latest research on employment costs with data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

For example, the average cost to a service industry company in Florida with 20 employees is more than $8,000 a year. That includes lost time, turnover and health care costs. Employee errors and safety incidents weren’t accounted for, so you can imagine how those costs could quickly rise. The calculator doesn’t ask about age or gender of employees, but the research shows industries with younger, male-dominated workforces—like landscaping—have high rates of substance use disorders.

I’ve seen discussions on this topic pop up on industry-related message boards and social media groups lately, and the response ranges from one of “zero tolerance” to “there’s no way we could drug test—we wouldn’t have a workforce.” I believe our cover story with its real-life examples from landscape professionals makes the case that the solution should be somewhere in between. Zero tolerance sounds good on paper, but it’s only effective if it’s applied consistently. What happens when a long-term employee or your “best guy” tests positive or comes to you confessing a problem? Are you going to fire him on the spot? It’s complicated.

No matter your stance, I encourage you to have a plan. Confer with your legal and human resources advisers to come up with a consistent policy to control your risk and to do what’s best for your people.

The NSC research shows employers can avoid significant costs if they can assist their employees in receiving treatment. The one-year cost avoidance for each employee who recovers from a substance use disorder is more than $3,200. Plus, you’ve retained that person.

More importantly, giving people a second chance—with stipulations and follow-up drug testing, certainly—could be the push toward recovery they’ve been needing. And it could save their lives.

Marisa Palmieri

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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