How to Address an Employee's Substance Use Disorder

An employee’s substance use disorder presents unique risks and challenges for any employer. Unfortunately, the chances are good that at some point, you will have an employee with a substance abuse problem. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 20.2 million adults—or 8.4 percent of the American adult population—had a substance use disorder, including addiction, in the past year.1

Signs of an Employee’s Substance Use Disorder

The signs that an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol can be subtle, but knowing what to look for can help you determine whether someone who works for you has a drug or alcohol problem. These signs include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Residual alcohol odor
  • Excessive absences
  • Arriving late and leaving early
  • Neglecting duties while at work
  • Extremely high or extremely low energy

How to Handle an Employee’s Substance Use Disorder

The worst thing you can do for your employee—and your company—is ignore the signs and hope things will get better. The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that professional help is almost always needed to overcome an addiction.2 Getting your employee into treatment will help protect your company and improve your employee’s life. Here’s what to do if you think your employee is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Discuss it with your lawyer.

The first step in dealing with an employee’s substance use disorder is to consult with your organization’s legal counsel to ensure your company’s substance abuse policy complies with federal and state employment laws, and that it’s within the scope of the law to terminate the employee if it comes to that. It’s also a good idea to know where your company would stand if the employee were to cause damage or injury while under the influence.

Gather resources.

Check with your community’s substance abuse prevention agencies for treatment programs, support groups and other resources in the community. Compile a list of groups, inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities and other resources and programs that give your employee a starting point for getting the help they need to overcome the addiction.

Check your insurance coverage.

Treatment can be expensive, and your employee may not be able to afford it out-of-pocket. If your company offers employer-provided insurance, check with your insurance company to see whether treatment is covered, and if so, what the deductible is. The insurance company may also be able to offer resources you can pass on to your employee.

Talk to your employee.

Once you have all of the information you need, have a private conversation with your employee. Explain the signs you’ve noticed, and point out any other evidence you have that substance abuse may be at the heart of the problems. Present the employee with a list of the resources you’ve compiled, and explain the insurance coverage if it’s applicable. Be kind and supportive, but also firm. Let your employee know that termination might be a possibility if the problem isn’t addressed.

Your Support Will Make a Difference

Ideally, your employee will get the help needed to end the addiction and dramatically improve their life. During your employee’s early months of recovery, offer as much support as you can. Help your employee keep work-related stress to a minimum. Consider alcohol-free work-related parties, and offer plenty of encouragement and support.

Recovery is possible. Many people recover from drug or alcohol addiction and go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives. With your help, your addicted employee may be one of them.


References:

  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction