4 Steps to Deal with an Employee's Substance Abuse Problem
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The odds of substance abuse issues finding their way into your business are sizeable. According to the Department of Health and Human Services' 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 18.9 million adults classified with dependence or abuse, nearly 52 percent were employed.
"Many employers miss the signs," says Cali Estes, a certified drug and alcohol therapist who works with companies and individuals dealing with substance abuse in the workplace and elsewhere.
Those signs can be subtle, but might include physical signs like bloodshot eyes and residual alcohol smell. Others include excessive absences, coming to work late and leaving early. Some drugs might make the user active, so someone who is up and walking around all the time and who looks really busy, but isn't getting anything done might be showing signs of addiction, Estes says. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence publishes this list of common signs.
When employees have addiction issues, it can affect the company in a number of ways, ranging from lost productivity to significant liability if an employee is drunk or high on the job and causes property damage or injury.
Every company should have a written substance use and abuse policy that prohibits using drugs or alcohol during work hours and gives the employer recourse if the employee's performance is being affected by drug or alcohol abuse after-hours. Employees should be required to read and sign the agreement upon hire, Estes says.
And if you do suspect an employee has a problem, take these four steps.
1. Gather resources.
Most communities have substance abuse prevention agencies and resources. Check out a few local organizations to determine if they have any education materials or recommended resources for individuals dealing with substance abuse. Having a list of support groups, treatment facilities, and other resources lets you give your employee a place to start to deal with his or her issue. Make this list available to everyone in the company.
2. Explore your insurance coverage.
If you have employer-provided health insurance, call your insurance company to determine what treatment is covered and if they have recommended resources in the community. Estes says that insurance coverage can vary wildly from policy to policy, so it's important to understand what is covered so you can encourage your employee to take the appropriate action for his or her financial circumstances.
"Checking into rehab could be a $30,000 to $50,000 expense. Getting treatment on an outpatient basis is an option and is typically much less expensive," Estes says.
3. Consult your lawyer.
From setting your substance abuse policy to firing someone who's used drugs on the job, you need to consult your attorney throughout the process of dealing with an addicted employee. You need to be sure your policy complies with state and federal employment laws and that any termination complies with those laws, as well, while also protecting your company from liability if the employee does damage while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
4. Take action.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the signs of substance abuse. If you see an employee who shows common signs, you need to address the issue directly by having a private conversation with the employee in which you review the company's policy, express your concerns, and provide any resources you've gathered, Estes says.
"Usually if their job is on the line, we can say, 'If you don't get some form of help, you're going to get fired.' In states where that's in compliance with the law, that usually works," she says.