Nationwide Substance Free Workplace

By Mark Powell


How to be 'On Your Side' for Employees


It’s a question Kathleen Herath hears a lot. As associate vice president of wellbeing and safety at Nationwide, colleagues and professionals often ask, “Why does your company have such a generous Substance Free Workplace program?”


Her answer is always the same: “Why wouldn’t you have a program like this? It just makes business sense.”


For years, the company’s slogan has told people, “Nationwide is on your side.” Its second chance policy tells its workers that Nationwide is on their side, too.


When creating the Substance Free Workplace program, Nationwide kept two things in mind. One, there’s a major gap in connecting associates struggling with addiction to care because of the threat of termination. And two, it’s crucial to connect patients struggling with substance use disorders to treatment the minute they ask for help. With that, Nationwide set out to make an evidence-based and accessible program for their associates.


The effort began with a second chance policy in the 1990s. It was unique for the time. The program evolved into a full case management program. Associates are assigned one case manager who works with them through the entire process, building a trusting relationship to help keep patients on track. Associates stay in contact with case managers for 36 months while engaging in treatment and random drug testing to ensure they continue treatment. This relationship is key to the program’s success in promoting associate well being and productivity. Immediately, two associates reached out saying they wanted treatment. They weren’t using at work, but they still wanted to be in our program.


In November of 2016 Nationwide worked with their associate assistance plan to implement a substance use hotline: a special telephone line and direct referral process for associates and their families, struggling with substance use disorder. Clinicians determine what level of treatment is necessary, allowing for action to be taken during a moment of clarity.


All levels of associates are involved, including executives and managers. The company’s multipronged approach includes drug testing for potential associates; setting up centralized care for workers managed by a case manager; and a second-chance policy that keeps those with an addiction employed if they agree to treatment and follow-up random testing. The company also trains managers on how to spot drug misuse among their workers and how to deal with the problem.


The Substance Free Workplace program at Nationwide has provided needed hope to associates struggling with addiction. The company plans to continue providing addiction awareness, education and services that improve the overall well being of its associates.

“We take ‘on your side’ seriously,” Herath says in conclusion. “If we aren’t on the side of our associates, how can they be on the side of our members and partners? We do this because our associates are our biggest asset.”


Nationwide Substance Free Workplace was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.






J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.

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