An Employer Guide to Handling Substance Abuse
Substance abuse numbers are staggering: According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 70 percent of those who abuse illicit drugs also work. That means substance abuse is widespread and affects people across all demographics. Perhaps it’s the person in the cubicle down the hall who has challenges with binge drinking; then again, it could be the C-Suite employee in the corner office who seems to be a tireless workhorse.
Without solid proof that an employee is abusing a substance, there’s no need to start pointing fingers. This isn’t a blog designed to teach you how to merely recognize and respond to an addicted person with penalties. Instead, we aim to share resources to help those caught in a trap of addiction break free. And if you do suspect that an employee has a problem with an illicit substance, there are certain steps you can take to legally protect your organization.
What’s the big deal?
Being high on the job doesn’t lead to high performance. The U.S. Drug Test Centers states that $81 Billion in lost productivity occurs every year due to drug abuse and addiction. That’s healthcare costs and productivity down the proverbial drain. It’s an even bigger deal if the person impaired operates heavy machinery or is similarly engaged.
Some substance abusers argue that they can function at an optimum level even while impaired. Perception in this case is not necessarily reality. They are likely incorrect – and they are likely not very healthy. It’s most definitely a big deal to abuse drugs or alcohol at work, but most people would likely agree that it’s at least not a benefit.
What should an employer do?
Take a look at your employee handbook. It should state in very clear terms that alcohol use is not permitted during work hours. Catch an employee sipping a lager while on the clock, and you very well could proceed with standard company disciplinary procedures. However, this situation demands common sense. If a salesperson is entertaining a client at lunch and happens to order a glass of chardonnay, that is obviously a different situation than that of the cubicle worker taking covert sips from a whiskey bottle hidden in their top desk drawer.
What if I think an employee has a problem but I’m not sure?
Don’t trust office gossip. Instead, if you believe someone has a problem but do not know for sure, share resources that could help that individual – but do it collectively. For example, all employees benefit knowing that their EAP may include therapy sessions and other such wellness tools. Help with alcohol or drug addiction is yet another highlight of an EAP, which will point those in need toward organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Perhaps your workplace has offerings through the health insurance carrier for behavioral health. This assistance can be beneficial, and it is not as intense as rehabilitation center scenarios. Assistance comes through health coaching; some even have access to counselors via virtual visits. This is a solid start for those afraid to take the next step of in-person rehab.
Performance discussions are one way to proceed. Let’s assume an employee has been missing deadlines and coworkers describe them as scattered and confused while at work. Management could address these concerns and ask if there is anything they can do to alleviate the situation.
This discussion opens the door toward revealing the truth. Perhaps the person has a newly diagnosed health condition and is adjusting to new prescribed medication. The workplace has a duty to make reasonable accommodation for this situation. It could be that they are experiencing turmoil in their daily life that is hampering their work. Or the person could deny any issues, and thus the employer can proceed as they normally would if an employee is not achieving desired outcomes.
Expectations should be discussed going forward and any continuing conduct or work-related issues pertaining to the employee should be clearly documented. If the employee does admit to substance abuse, consideration of a few factors should occur. How has this situation been handled in the past at this workplace? Will the employee be given time off to attend a rehab center program? Will they simply be directed to the EAP?
Keep in mind that if a workplace has a ‘no tolerance’ policy for alcohol and/or drug use, they may immediately terminate the individual. Proper documentation of the work issues leading up to that moment should occur, however. Employers who are not sure of the right course of action should seek legal counsel.
What about offering help?
We mention the EAP multiple times because these programs are so comprehensive. However, other resources exist that can prove helpful to a person struggling with addiction. For example, addiction experts across the United States agree that a vast majority of people who need treatment for substance abuse disorders do not seek it. Though many barriers exist to discourage people from obtaining needed help, cost is a significant factor. Help.org created a guide that provides comprehensive information on topics like available care options, financial support, and free resources available in Florida.
These guides are available at no cost and are viewable at the links below. Share these with employees. Post them on the company Intranet. And know that someone who needs help with a dependence challenge may well change their course of living because of it.
We recognize Operation Par on the list; located in Clearwater, this facility is a W3 client that specializes in treatment for substance abuse and mental health.
Learn more about recognizing and reacting to drug and alcohol use in the workplace by reading this comprehensive article from SHRM.