The Sampson County Department of Social Services board recently approved two policies, one that strives to promote an alcohol and drug-free workplace by outlining a zero tolerance stance and another that aims to ensure that those who do not understand English are still extended equal opportunity for services for which they are eligible.
The purpose of the Title VI Language Access policy is to ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on the ground of race, color or national origin by any entity receiving federal financial assistance.
In order to avoid discrimination on the grounds of national origin, all programs or activities administered by the Sampson County Department of Social Services have taken steps to ensure that their policies and procedures do not deny Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals with equal access to benefits and services for which they qualify.
(LEP) individuals are any prospective, potential or actual recipient of benefits or services from the agency who cannot speak, read, write or understand the English language at a level that permits them to interact effectively with health care providers and social service agencies.
Rolling out the proposed policy at the recent board meeting, DSS director Sarah Bradshaw said such LEP incidents and applications are an “everyday” occurrence. The policy outlines the responsibility of DSS to provide LEP individuals meaningful access to benefits and services through contractors or service providers receiving subgrants from the agency.
“We’ve had a policy in place for years,” Bradshaw said. “Recently, as a result of a federal review, there were some things that needed to be changed and added.”
Specific information was inserted into a state template, including identifying local compliance and hearing officers.
As part of the policy, Sampson County DSS will post signs at the front entrance and at all reception areas of the agency stating that LEP service is available at no cost. The signs inform applicants and beneficiaries of their right to free language assistance services and invite them to identify themselves as persons needing such services.
If, as a result of the local language assessment, it appears there are a substantial number of potential applicants or recipients of the agency (defined as 5 percent or 1,000 people whichever is less) who are LEP and speak a language other than Spanish, the agency translates and provides vital documents in the appropriate language.
According to the policy, Sampson DSS will ensure that vital documents for locally designed programs are translated into Spanish.
When N.C. Department of Health and Human Services forms and other written material contain spaces in which the local entity is to insert information, this inserted information is also in the individual’s primary language. Those forms must be accepted, the policy states.
The DSS board also revisited a drug policy that has the purpose to establish and maintain an alcohol and drug-free workplace and provide guidelines for handling job performance issues related to alcohol and drug use.
The policy will take effect Nov. 1.
DSS was allocated funds in the current budget to implement a policy requiring alcohol and drug policy to certain staff. The policy sets forth guidelines for new hire testing, reasonable suspicion testing and random testing of safety sensitive staff.
The policy covers when there is reasonable suspicion to believe an employee is using drugs or is impaired on the job, pre-employment alcohol and drug testing program; and a random alcohol and drug testing program for positions identified as “safety-sensitive.”
Safety sensitive is defined as a position in which the duties involve “such a great risk of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.” In the case of DSS, positions that may be classified as “safety sensitive” are those that involve driving. Specifically positions which require driving a county owned vehicle on a regular basis (four times or more per month).
Currently, DSS has around 40 staff members whose positions have been named as “safety sensitive,” who may subject to random testing once a month, however the number is yet to be determined. Clinton Urgent Care will handle the contracted service for DSS.
The policy highlights an effort to curb the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, sale, possession, or use of controlled and illegal substances. The department maintains a zero tolerance position on those issues.
An employee determined, by administrative or other investigation, to be involved in the manufacture, distribution, dispensation or sale of a controlled/illegal substance or alcohol on department premises or workplaces may be dismissed, according to the policy.
In other cases, possession or use of such substances may result in a written warning and require participation in the County’s Employee Assistance Program. Disciplinary action, in the form of a written warning, disciplinary suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal, may be taken when an employee refuses to submit to a required drug or alcohol test, tampers with a test or tests positive.
Marijuana/cannabinoids (THC), cocaine metabolites, opiates, amphetamines/methamphetamines, alcohol, methadone and benzodiazepines are among the substances that can be tested for — that list can be expanded for cases where reasonable suspicion identifies a need. Employees must be informed of the substances of which they will be tested.
According to the policy, and employee eligible to return to work may be required to submit to random, unannounced tests six times a year for a period of up to two years, as a condition of continued employment. An employee who tests positive in a second drug or alcohol test may be dismissed.
“I think it’s a good policy,” said Bradshaw, noting the county attorney had reviewed the policy and the Sampson County Board of Commissioners signed off on it.
“As we’ve talked about this, there are some other departments similar to ours that have people in safety sensitive positions that are now putting in place that part of the personnel resolution that the county passed last June to actually drug test new employees and folks in safety sensitive positions,” Bradshaw said. “So, we will start down that path as some other departments already do, and along the way I know senior management team and I will work on any revisions as they come up.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.