Should You Offer Employees Over-the-Counter Medications?
A survey by the Institute for Health and Productivity Management (IHPM) found that self-treatable conditions — such as muscle and joint pain, allergies, and gastric reflux — impact many employees each workday, causing presenteeism and substantial lost productivity.
"Ready access to OTC medicines for self-treatment of these prevalent conditions enables sufferers to relieve symptoms quickly and safely [in order] to restore their functional ability while producing large financial savings," says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in an analysis of the IHPM survey.
It's therefore understandable why an employer would want to keep OTC medicines — such as pain relievers, cold medicines and antacids — at the worksite. However, employers should tread carefully.
What could go wrong?
- OTC medicines have warning labels that list potential health risks and side effects that may occur from using the products. These risks and side effects may be serious or fatal.
- Some OTC medicines cause drowsiness or dizziness, which can lead to workplace accidents.
- The employee might take the wrong dosage.
- Negative interactions may happen if the employee is taking other drugs.
- The employee or a third party (such as the employee's family member) may try to sue the employer for damages if the OTC medicine resulted in harm or death to the employee.
Does this mean employers should not provide OTC medications?
At the very least, it means employers should exercise caution, preferably by first seeking expert advice. But keep in mind that expert advice may vary.
For example, some legal and risk management experts do not recommend that employers provide any type of medications, not even OTC ones, because it could expose the employer to liabilities.
These experts generally recommend that employees assume responsibility for their own OTC medicines and that employers avoid advising employees on which OTC medicines to take. This way, the employer cannot be held liable for giving employees OTC medications or for instructing them on what to take.
Other experts may point to the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI's) "Minimum Requirements for Workplace First-aid Kits." ANSI-recommended items include adhesive bandages, antibiotic treatments, adhesive tape, eye wash, cold packs, gloves and burn treatment.
ANSI also recommends, "Oral analgesics included in a first-aid kit shall be packaged in a single dose, tamper evident, package with full labeling as required by FDA regulations, and should contain no ingredients which are known to cause drowsiness."
Some employers choose not to put any OTC medicines in their first-aid kits. However, what should go in a workplace first-aid kit depends on many factors, including the employer's industry, size and location. Call us to discuss what might be right for your company and how to manage possible risks.