Kentucky program, first of its kind in the nation, makes it less risky for employers to hire people with substance-use disorder

Published 4:22 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Kentucky has launched a new program that will lessen the risk of liability to employers who hire or retain people with substance-use disorder — if employees sign up for treatment and complete it.

“This program is the bridge between recovery and employment,” LaKisha Miller, executive director of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Center, told Kentucky Health News. She said the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program could be a model for the rest of the nation. “This has never been done before.”

The program “ultimately provides a pathway for businesses and employers to help more Kentuckians reach long term recovery, while supporting fair-chance employment,” Miller said.

“Fair chance” or what some call “second-chance” hiring is an important and necessary tool to address the staffing shortages across Kentucky, Miller said in a news release: “Kentucky currently ranks 48th nationwide for workforce participation, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem. Research shows that when the nation’s unemployment rate increases by just 1 percent, the opioid overdose death rate rises by 3.6%.”

In the interview, Miller spoke about the importance of employment for those in recovery. She acknowledged that employment is not the “silver bullet” to solve the addiction crisis, but “It is a big piece of the puzzle.”

The program is possible by Senate Bill 191 of the 2020 legislative session, which, among other things, established a framework for employers to retain and hire people who are in addiction recovery and provides legal-liability protections for those employers that adhere to the established framework.

The liability protections are key, Miller said, adding that strong legislation allows for strong programs like KTEP.

For example, she said a company that is enrolled in KTEP, and has enrolled eligible employees in it, is protected against legal action if the employee with a substance-use disorder “is using” and has a mishap.

“So that’s the power of Senate Bill 191,” Miller said. “It’s removing that legal liability from you; whereas, before you would have been open to that.”

She said the program also lets employers “pause the employment process” to allow applicants time to enter treatment, and is also meant to decrease stigma in the workplace related to addiction, treatment and recovery.

Once an employer has signed up for KTEP, Miller said, a dedicated staff person helps with the process, including resources, guidelines, training videos and for review and revision of the firm’s drug and alcohol policies.

“We want to make sure that businesses aren’t just focused on giving somebody a fair chance, but are truly committed to creating an a transformative workplace,” Miller said. To ensure the program is working as intended, data will be collected regularly from participating employers.

KTEP is sponsored by the Chamber’s foundation, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, the Kentuckiana Health Collaborative and Kentucky Opioid Response Effort.

KODP Director Van Ingram said in the news release, “We see a real opportunity for this program to do some good, and we encourage employers across Kentucky to make a positive impact in their communities. Stable employment is a critical component of long-term recovery and can provide Kentuckians with the purpose and motivation they might need to stay in remission and get their lives back.”

Miller said the state was already leading the way in fair-chance employment through the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Who’s Hiring” campaign, which has recruited 19,000 fair-chance positions in the last year and a half. More information, including training resources for employers and a form for businesses to sign up for the program, can be found online at kentuckycomeback.com/KTEP.