Thursday, July 30, 2015

Using Firm Choice and Last Chance Agreements Revisited

Firm choice agreements are often used with substance-abusing employees. They employ the leverage of disciplinary action held in abeyance only if there is an immediate decision by the employee to accept a exclusive source of help for a personal problem (usually substance abuse that has been documented or is overtly existent in the form of "documentable" performance issues.)

Firm choice agreements are a last chance, true, but they are not "last chance agreements." Last chance agreements do not employ immediate leverage of disciplinary action, but a postponement of it...certain and assured disciplinary action...until the very next infraction occurs. This is a recipe for disaster with addicts.

Why? Because addicts always, always, always believe that if the urgency to do so is great enough, that they can control their use alcohol to avoid problems with it. All they need is threat as a motivator. Unfortunately, the rules of the disease trump this insanity.

Firm choice agreements are the way to go with substance-abusing employees. They can work well damn well, but there are a variety of reasons they can easily fail, the most important of which is lack of EAP involvement and close monitoring by pros to help the newly recovering addict avoid relapse by staying involved in ongoing treatment and a recovery program.

Another reason firm choice agreements often fail is lack of immediacy. The employee is offered the option of being referred for help along with one last chance in terms of job performance. If he or she declines help, nothing happens except to wait for the next infraction.

Any employee with a substance abuse problem will try again to control his or her substance use without treatment, and relapse under these circumstances is virtually assured. Dismissal and loss of human capital is the outcome. This is a big "ouch" for all concerned. EAPs must understand how to consult on firm choice agreements so HR sets them up properly. It is a fantastic demonstration of EAP cost benefit that continually is ignored in the EAP literature.

The formula: Firm choice agreements require (1) immediate agreement to (2) attend an assessment, (3) accept referral, (4) enter treatment, and (5) follow through with recommendations (6) monitored by a professional with whom (7) a release is signed and kept active.

All of this is voluntary and completely up to the employee, but the leverage is so powerful that, in my experience, almost all troubled employees (with the exception of those who are past retirement age--they have a paycheck waiting if they quit) agree to it.

The bottom line is that no agreement means immediate dismissal for cause and documented performance issues (not for addiction, alcoholism, or failure to accept help).

Here's the crux: Only the employee's acceptance of the accommodation--and it is a magnificent accommodation--being offered can save the job at this moment in time. It is either a) the assessment and follow-through or b) "bye--pick up your check from on the way out."

This approach saves lives and effectively intervenes in the dynamic of addictive behavior, denial, procrastination, and manipulation common to employees with substance abuse problems. If dismissal results, it is always based on performance problems, attendance issues, or conduct, not on failure enter an assessment. This is a key point. And the organization must be at "wit's end" with the employee. If the employer is not willing to lose the worker, this approach will FAIL. It is a "he who cares least wins" model of intervention.

The opportunity to accept an assessment in lieu of termination is an accommodation for addictive illness, but it is up to the employee, not the company, to say that it is needed. No employee, unless a financial incentive awaits somewhere else--real or imagined--will decline the offer. And no employee's level of denial is so engrained that they will not be moved to accept the offer.

The employer officially doesn't care--either choice is fine. He who cares least wins in this intervention model, because it is the attitude of "detachment" that is the key dynamic driving successful intervention. There is no "next time" factor in firm choice agreements. Next time is already here.

It has been my observation that companies usually have more interest in constructing firm choice agreements with highly valued or long-term employees, but EAP involvement is essential to their success nevertheless.

This classic intervention technique was first fleshed out as a process by the U.S. federal government using guidance issued via its FPM Letters back in the 1970s, shortly after the occupational alcoholism movement began. (NIAAA was formed in 1972 at about the same time this movement took off.)

Unfortunately, the science of how to arrange firm choice agreements has gotten lost and it has become murky as the real pros of yesteryear have faded away. Part of the problem is the loss of EAP professionals inside large business with experience in consulting on these arrangements. The other is the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After passage of the ADA, alcoholics lost coverage and protection afforded to them by Section 504 of the national Rehabilitation Act governing handicapped persons. Surprised? It's true. They are worse off because of the ADA. Not better off. The ADA dealt with discrimination and stigma, not job security for affected addicts out of control with their disease. This made mandatory interventions (once required by OPM) obsolete, and indeed discriminatory to use with one group of people but not another. It is my argument that the ADA may killed more alcoholics than it saved, but got more employed.

Here is the long and short of this post: You'll save a ton of bucks on turnover, training, workers' comp, and EPL risk if you use firm choice agreements properly.

Remember, firm choice agreements that omit professional monitoring will fail almost every time they're tried. They always end up with the famous phrase, "Oh my, such a shame... he was doing so well, but we had to fire him...he relapsed!"

Of course he (she) did!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

EAPs Can Do More to Protect Workers and Employers Against OSHA Fines Related to Workplace Violence

When you promote your EAP (...and hopefully you are using a monthly newsletter like Frontline Employee EAP Newsletter to do it) be sure to encourage employees who are victims of workplace violence to come to the EAP for support and appropriate assessment. Remind them you are available, and here is why: You can help them deal with the traumatic stress of such incidents. And you can play an intervention role in reducing the likelihood that an employee will quit, take mental health days, or suffer the effects of acute stress in the days or weeks ahead. These reasons are obvious to good core technologists.. but of course the practical reason is to also increase your EAP utilization so you stick around. If you think a managed care 800# will do this sort of thing after you're dumped for low utilization, guess again. So increasing EAP utilization and finding awesome ways to do it that benefit everyone is always a good idea.

Now, let's give you another reason. That is helping the employer not be fined by OSHA for failure to take due care in helping to prevent workplace violence.

Oh yes, when employees get bitten, punched, stabbed, or killed...these incidents must be reported to OSHA. OSHA, then decides to fine the hell out of the employer (or not) based upon whether it discovers a lack of controls, meaning proper safeguards, training, and prevention mechanisms to prevent workplace violence. It's no different than Asbestos.

The EAP can be a canary in a coal mine for the employer and learn about risks directly from injured employees and others, and whether a larger problem of risk to the employer exists that OSHA might possibly discover. In other words, the EAP can help prevent future workplace violence incidents and do the right thing to save the employer's bacon.

Now, EAPs can't tell management how high to jump. But they can create what you have heard me describe in the past as a "Annual Risk Mapping Report". This concept entails a series of recommendations to the employer that gently, and with their invitation please--never send unsolicited--explain what the EAP has discovered in the way of important, addressable risk issues that may prevent loss in the future. No confidential information is divulged, of course. These environmental observations gathered in the course of EAP work.

These risks could be, say, perceived tension between race demographics (black and white employees), untrained supervisors ignorant of employment practices liability and improper behavior, that with education, could reduce risk of an EPL lawsuit to the organization. And, of course, communication about exposures to violence from lack of training and protective measures. Any organization should welcome such a report from the EAP, and when in writing, it becomes important stuff. The report should be written collaboratively so is not an indictment of issues management has ignored. You finesse this sort of thing, but it powerful stuff to advance your program's mission and effectiveness.

For example, here is a press release from OSHA: It describes a company fined by OSHA for employees being harmed because of Workplace Violence, one that did  not have proper safeguards in place.

An active and engaged EAP could have increased the likelihood of a program of intervention being established long before this intervention by OSHA. And the EAP could have saved employees from further injury or harm years (perhaps even death, although that is not an issue in this report) before this employer was fined.

This is how EAPs prove financial cost-benefit and worth. You do not need a research firm in Switzerland being paid $100,000 to do EAP research on cost benefit to quickly the return on an EAP investment with scenarios like this one.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Marijuana is a Gateway Drug, No Matter What Gate

Well this is hilarious research: - Researcher showed that marijuana (well this research anyway) isn't a gateway drug despite the fact that researchers admit that most people use other drugs used marijuana first. That's a fact they admit it. But you got it all wrong if you are thinking 'gateway." Huh? Yes, it's true. The chemicals in marijuana do not cause teens to go on and use other drugs in the future. (Like whoever said they did!?) The researchers instead are saying that teens use marijuana for different reasons, (and peer pressure is not one.) These reasons are boredom or seeking insight and truth and inner understanding. Those who are bored may then go on to use Cocaine! Those who seek insight and self-understanding will go on to use magic mushrooms! (They failed to say what happens if a teen is both bored and seeking insight.) So, shame on you for thinking marijuana is a gateway drug. You are just plain wrong. It's the reasons that kids use marijuana are the real gateway. So, the next time you learn of a teenager smoking pot, don't worry about it. Just find out if they are bored or looking for insight. Then worry. Otherwise back off because there is no gateway thing going on. (This is my tongue in cheek reaction to this study that SOUGHT to show us all that marijuana is not a gateway drug.) Of course it is!