Isle of Wight beefs up drug and alcohol policy

Published 4:10 pm Sunday, September 7, 2008

ISLE OF WIGHT—County employees are covered by a tougher alcohol and drug abuse policy following action by the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Thursday.

The new policy describes testing policies and procedures, as well as potential disciplinary actions for violations. It expands the county’s former drug policy from two paragraphs to nearly six pages within the employee manual.

“It’s much more extensive, much more detailed,” county spokesman Don Robertson said Friday. Supervisors, he said wanted “to have a little more detail to address any potential situation that might arise.”

Spurred on by the case of a former Teacher of the Year whose drunken-driving crash killed her 6-year-old son, Southampton County supervisors approved a similar policy in February.

Neither Southampton’s nor Isle of Wight’s policies, however, cover school employees, who fall under their School Board’s jurisdiction, rather than supervisors’. School employees who are required to maintain commercial drivers’ licenses, however, are covered by a federal drug policy.

Robertson said employees of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office are also exempt from the new regulations, as that constitutional office has not opted to be covered by the same employee policies as the employees of the county and other constitutional officers.

The new policy states that Isle of Wight is “committed to providing its employees with a drug and alcohol free workplace.” Prospective employees now can be subject to pre-employment drug screenings, and current employees can be required to undergo tests under a number of different scenarios in which supervisors have reason to suspect they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Examples of triggering events include slurred speech, the smell of alcohol or drugs on the employee’s breath or body, unusual lack of physical coordination, unexplained inability to think or reason at normal levels or other unusual or bizarre behavior.

Refusing to submit to a required urinalysis or Breathalyzer test can be grounds for dismissal.

Employees who test positive for drugs or alcohol must participate in a professional counseling program and be able to complete a negative drug and alcohol test before returning to full duty.

They also can be fired, depending on the seriousness of the event that led to the testing.

Isle of Wight’s policy considers an employee to have tested positive for alcohol if a breathalyzer measures a blood-alcohol content level of .04, half the legal limit for driving in Virginia. Even a level of .03, however, would disqualify an employee from performing “safety sensitive functions” within 24 hours after the test.

Supervisors anticipate about 50 tests will be completed per year, at a total cost of about $2,250. The program will be administered by a new safety and training coordinator, whose position will add about $40,000 to the county’s operating budget.

That person also would be responsible for developing and implementing a safety manual, ensuring the correct maintenance and use of safety equipment, working with other staff members on worker’s compensation issues and conducting safety training.

In another matter Thursday, the Board of Supervisors once again postponed a decision on whether to approve a rezoning request that would open the door for Bridge Point Commons, a 42.65-acre mixed-use community proposed for property at the intersection of Carrollton Boulevard and Deep Bottom Drive.

The property is owned by Supervisor James B. Brown, who has recused himself from deliberations about the request.

Brown hopes to create a community with age-restricted, commercial and affordable-housing alternatives.

Supervisors voted to table consideration of Brown’s request until their Sept. 18 meeting.