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Substance abuse in the workplace can be a serious problem for everyone involved. The risks are many and can include lost productivity, absenteeism, and workplace accidents.
But what do you do if you suspect a coworker or employee is suffering from addiction or under the influence at work? This guide can help. We’ll cover signs that a coworker or employee may be abusing drugs or alcohol, available treatment options, and how to know when to take action.
It’s Important to Take Action: Substance abuse in the workplace has numerous risks for addicted employees, their coworkers, and supervisors. These include:1
The first step to helping a coworker or employee who may be suffering from substance abuse is to recognize there might be a problem. There aren’t one or two behaviors alone that indicate a potential problem with alcohol and/or drugs, but you may notice significant changes in behavior, demeanor, appearance, and work performance that happen over time.
Some behaviors that can indicate a coworker may struggling with drugs and/or alcohol misuse include: 2, 3
If you work in the healthcare industry, there are other symptoms for which you should be on the lookout. These include your coworker or employee:2
Friends and family members often enable people with addictions. However, most people don’t realize that enabling can happen in the workplace, too. Enabling occurs whenever a person allows an addicted person to continue with their behaviors and not suffer consequences or be held accountable for their actions.3 Supervisors and coworkers may think they are being kind, supportive, or helpful; in reality, however, they could be enabling the person’s substance abuse.
You can avoid enabling your peers by:3
Supervisors can avoid enabling their employees by: 3
If you are concerned a peer may have a substance use disorder that’s affecting performance or creating an unsafe workplace, there are some general approaches you can take, including:2
It’s important that you not attempt to diagnose your coworker or operate under the presumption that there’s a substance use problem. This is not your job. Instead, refer the person to professionals who can help and go to your supervisor or human resources department for assistance if you think the behavior is a safety issue or otherwise putting the company at legal risk.
Avoid addressing a potential substance abuse problem directly with an employee. A supervisor should not assume an employee is struggling with substance abuse but should focus on objective work-related job performance and safety issues that may be impacted by substance use. If it’s clear that an employee is intoxicated or in danger, this should be addressed immediately. If available, an employee relations or human resources specialist should be consulted for guidance.3
Some additional tips for supervisors addressing an employee with a potential substance abuse problem are: 3
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for any serious medical condition, which may include substance use.4
While employees may take leave for substance abuse, they can only do so if they are receiving treatment that is administered or referred by a professional healthcare provider.4
Company health plans may provide coverage for substance abuse screening, counseling, therapy and aftercare, including treatment follow-up.1
Should a substance use problem be identified as contributing to job performance problems or safety issues, consider setting up a Return-to-Work-Agreement (RTWA). An RTWA is a written document that clearly outlines the expectations an employer, EAP, and medical treatment professionals have for an employee that has completed mandated treatment for a substance use disorder upon returning to work.1
It will also clearly define the consequences an employee will have if he or she fails to adhere to the guidelines written in the RTWA. RTWAs are often used when an employee is mandated to attend treatment as a condition to remain employed or to be re-hired upon obtaining sobriety.1
Some supervisors are not sure when they can legally terminate a person who is using drugs in the workplace. Ultimately, it will depend on the situation. First, start by checking your company’s employee handbook and contacting human resources.
Inpatient rehab is not the only option for people suffering from addiction. Inpatient treatment programs take place in a residential facility and may require the person to be away from home and work life for a significant period of time.
This can be challenging for employees who need long-term care, as FMLA only requires employers to provide 12 weeks of medical leave. This may not be enough time for the person to receive adequate treatment.
For some, longer-term outpatient treatment may be a more viable option, and it allows people to remain employed while in treatment.
Paying for addiction treatment can often be a significant barrier to those suffering from addiction. If your company offers health insurance, the employee likely has some coverage for substance abuse treatment. Refer the employee to the insurance verification form to determine his or her benefits.