How to Handle Drug Abuse in the Workplace

drug abuse in the workplace

Drug abuse is a killer. It takes its toll on more than just the individual drug user. Drug abuse in the workplace costs companies $74 billion every year in lost productivity. 

Workplace drug abuse can instill a sense of hopelessness in those who have to deal with the addict. The problem feels monumental. Where do you even start looking for a solution?

Addiction is a tidal wave, but you do not have to get caught in the undertow. Below, we lay out six clear steps you can take to deal with substance abuse in the workplace. Read on to learn how you, your colleagues, and your company can be proactive in solving the problem.

6 Steps to Address Drug Abuse in the Workplace

The steps below are not all-encompassing. Addiction is a multifaceted topic, and it would be impossible to cover all aspects of this problem or every solution available. We hope this serves as a starting point for dealing with workplace substance abuse in an organized, chronological way.

1. Know and Follow Laws and Guidelines

The first thing to do when you suspect an employee may have a drug problem is to consult the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) both have guidelines you should follow in these situations. 

ADA-protected employees may not be terminated because of their disabilities. If you suspect the employee in question is an alcoholic, they may fall under the purview of the ADA. Illegal drug users are less likely to qualify.

The FMLA provides guidelines for employee leaves of absence, including addicts seeking treatment. Find out if your addicted employee qualifies for FMLA leave, and if they do, that leave can be part of the help you offer.

It is also important you have a company drug and alcohol testing policy in place. This should be a written policy. You can draft it with the help of an attorney or workplace consulting firm if you want to ensure its legality and efficacy.

This policy should include language about testing employees for reasonable suspicion of drug abuse. You can remove subjectivity (more on this later) and avoid dealing with situations on a case-by-case basis when you have this policy in place.

2. Spot the Signs

When you suspect a case of drug abuse in the workplace, you need to know the signs that can confirm your suspicions. Here are a few signs you are dealing with an addict.

  • Diminished performance. This can take the form of lower work volume, slower work, sloppy mistakes, and increasingly frequent sick days.
  • Changes in mood. This covers severely increased or decreased energy, often preceding or following overly long breaks. It can also manifest as increased tension in interpersonal relationships in the office.
  • Changes in appearance. Are they showing up ungroomed, inappropriately dressed, or do they have massive weight fluctuations, bloodshot eyes, or slurred speech? These are clues.

Document these signs without editorializing. Simply put down what you see and when you see it. This will come in handy in the next step of the process.

3. Confront With Compassion

Confrontation, in this case, does mean conflict. You should present your observations to the employee with concern. Tell them what you have noticed, and ask them why these things are. 

Listen to your employee openly, without assuming your suspicions are correct. This will create an environment in which they can be honest and vulnerable. You may be surprised what they own up to.

Also, it’s important that these conversations not take place one-on-one. While privacy is paramount, it is necessary for a third party to be present to observe and add objectivity to the proceedings.

4. Drug Test to Remove Subjectivity

With your drug testing policy in place, your conversation with the employee can include a request for a drug test. Again, this is all about objectivity. When the process does not rely on the observations of a single individual, all parties can trust the good faith of the proceedings. 

You can test for many different substances. Many times, your investigation will only require a straightforward alcohol test

Follow the steps outlined in your testing policy, and let your employee know the results. These results will determine your course of action.

5. Take Appropriate Action

If your employee tests positive for substances in the workplace, you have some decisions you need to make. To fire or not to fire, that is the first question. 

Again, your alcohol and substance abuse policy can guide you. If your policy does not offer a definitive answer in this specific case, make sure to avoid a rash decision. This can involve practicing patience before coming to a decision and consulting multiple supervisors to ensure the decision is not just the result of one person’s preferences.

Firing might seem like the simplest solution, but it rarely is. You have invested time and resources into every employee, and it’s rare that an employee struggling with substance abuse is a lost cause. Fortunately, there are many levels of addiction treatment available.

Inpatient rehab is one option, and it is popular because it is immersive, comprehensive, and it temporarily removes the employee from the problem situation.

Outpatient rehab is another option, and there are multiple types of outpatient services. Therapy, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) all offer varying levels of attention, immersion, and different therapeutic approaches.

12-step programs are not for everyone, but they remain popular because of their accessibility. They are free to join, and they offer an immediate support group of individuals who have firsthand experience with the struggles of addiction.

Whatever action you take, make sure your employee has a say in the process and that clear steps are in place to allow them to return to work eventually.

6. Look Within

Once your employee is getting help, there is a final step in the process that can get overlooked easily. That step is self-examination.

Are there aspects of the work environment that enable drug abuse in the workplace? Is there a culture of permissiveness around being under the influence at work, even if it’s just an office beer or two on Fridays? Does your company add unnecessary stress to employees that you could avoid with longer or more frequent breaks, wellness programs, or other benefits?

Answer these questions and others like them can help you evaluate your role in the problem. No one makes an addict of another person, but there are usually steps a company can take to decrease stress and conflict in the workplace. If you take these steps, incidents of substance abuse in the workplace can become less frequent.

There Is a Solution

No matter how overwhelming addiction can feel for an addict, their loved ones, and those affected by their behavior, there is hope. With the right combination of firmness and compassion, anyone can recover, and the integrity of your workplace can remain intact.

We hope this guide is helpful in establishing your own processes for dealing with drug abuse in the workplace. Now that you have this advice, check out the drug testing supplies we offer to help implement the policies you put in place. We want to help you as much as you want to help your employees.