Come to Work High, But Come to Work

IMG_0167by Phil La Duke

Many of you reading this are probably under the influence, and that’s okay. Most of you who are reading this while under the influence are using a legal yet potentially lethal substance that was either prescribed for you by a physician or that you purchased over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.  If any of you are using illegal or recreational drugs while reading this…well all I can say is that you’re doing them wrong.

Now think for a moment about the side effects of a decongestant or cough syrup. Read the warning on the box “may cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy equipment”. We routinely ignore these warnings and encourage workers to do these exact same things.  If a worker calls in sick because his or her medicine might his or her ability to safely drive to work and to safely do his or her job, the most likely response is either to tell the worker to get his or her ass to work or to discipline them according to the attendance policy.

Attendance policies are a tricky business. I once worked at a global manufacturer that had no attendance policy for salaried workers.  The philosophy was if you are sick stay home. (There was another policy for hourly workers that I always found hypocritical.) Of course your boss could always ask for a doctor’s excuse but that was seldom an issue.  Company-wide salaried employees took .5 sick days a year. What’s more, when investigated, 95% of all absences came from one department and the head of the department was worst offender.  After years of belly aching about no attendance policy the executives acquiesced and people were given 5 sick/personal days a year.  (When supervisors would whine to me about no policy, I would tell them “there’s no policy against me crapping in your waste basket but if I did it, you’d find a way to make me stop.”  I always thought they were using a lack of a rule for not doing their jobs.)  Once the new policy was implemented the average sick days taken by salaried employees ballooned to over 4 days!  Before, people had been treated like adults, but once the policy took place people felt they felt entitled to taking these days off.

In many workplaces coming to work sick and/or doped up on medications is passively encouraged. For many workers the choice is to come to work sick or stoned to the gills on medication or lose their jobs.  Sick workers are far more likely to commit human errors, doped up workers are far more likely to commit human errors. And yet we persist. We encourage unsafe workplaces with our “come to work or else attitude.”  Some of you are thinking, “so someone comes to work on NyQuil? So what?” okay, what about the person who comes to work high on medical marijuana? (the height of hypocrisy—I recently watched as a group of badly aging Baby Boomers passing their “medicine” around while they huddled around the dumpster behind Veteran’s lodge; apparently all five suffered from a debilitating fear of spiders. So we tell our workers come to work high.  Weather so bad it’s not safe to drive? Too bad get your ass to work.  High on heroin? Too bad get your ass to work.  And all the while we festoon the walls with safety slogans reminding us not to die, to be safe because there are people who love us (not the people who put up those posters mind you, but people).

The problem gets worse when we consider the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Many heroin addicts started out on prescription opioids to which they were prescribed after a workplace injury or a surgery required from a workplace injury that happened years prior.  Worried doctors abruptly stopped prescribing the medication for fear they would lose their licenses leaving the patient turned addict to buy those meds on the street for as much as $100 a pill. Heroin on the other hand works just as well or better and costs far less ( says that the average cost of a dose of heroin is $15-$20 in Ohio, but you have to go to Ohio to get it so you have to figure in the cost of travel if you are paying over $20 bucks). Heroin is so much cheaper than black market OxyContin that even a heavy heroin (say a $250 a day habit) user could finance his or her habit for the price of a single pill.  If employers who hurt workers didn’t create this epidemic they sure as heck contributed to it.  (Note: I lost my ex-father-in-law to a heroin overdose.  Not only was he completely disabled and racked with constant pain from a neck injury that shattered two of his vertebrae, he also won the mesothemia lottery and would have died of that in a matter of months anyway.)

So we talk out of both sides of our mouths: work safely but don’t miss work no matter what. Brave inclement weather, come to work stoned on prescription or over the counter drugs, but come to work.  Oh but don’t come to work drunk or on opioids cause we’ll fire you for that.