Tackling addiction: helping an employee in crisis

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While many organizations are able to overlook the occasional overindulgence of wine or beer, rampant drug and alcohol abuse costs employers $81 billion in the U.S. alone, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
The first step HR can take to intervene is identifying when an employee is struggling with addiction. Common indicators include:
  • Frequent inexplicable absences
  • Accidents that occur both on and off the jobsite
  • Unpredictable work patterns
  • Reduced productivity
  • Lowered standards in personal hygiene
  • Recurrent mood swings
  • Changes in physical behavior such as exhaustion, slurred speech, or walking incoherently
  • Theft
After a problem is detected, punitive measures may be considered – down the line. First, however, HR should try to support the employee and seek rehabilitative efforts. These include:
  • Education and training – providing information to all employees about how alcohol and drugs can cause harm in the workplace
  • Counseling – companies should consider making counseling a mandatory treatment if drug tests yield a positive result. This may help workers get back on their feet instead of resorting to more drugs or alcohol as a result of their dismissal.
  • Brief interventions – HR can speak to employees about problem behaviors and try to stop patterns before they spiral out of control.
  • Peer interventions – training employees to recognize addiction, and become positive agents of change for those who may be facing a struggle.
In order to maintain morale and limit workplace disruption, HR’s goal should always be to help the employee through whatever means necessary.
“Many good employers will have systems in place to help rehabilitate and assist employees to overcome addictions, be it alcoholism or drug addictions,” said Steve Bell, Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. “That should be the primary focus of any system they introduce: not necessarily to make sure employees are terminated but to assist them to comply with the requirement to attend work safely, which in the end is what it is all about.”
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  • Katelyn on 2015-02-12 12:03:20 PM

    I find this article to be a little concerning when it comes to the comments regarding 'terminating' an employee due to a drug and alcohol related disability (specifically the comment following the suggestion of 'counseling'). If the employee acknowledges that they have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, does an employer not have an obligation to provide support to this employee and continue the employment relationship, so long as the employee agrees to commit to some sort of treatment and follow up plan? I work and reside in Canada - I'm not sure if the rules regarding accommodation are the same in the United States.

  • Kellie on 2015-02-15 2:41:11 PM

    As someone who has had to deal with these sort of situations and support employees, what I can say is that not only does the employee have to accept that he or she has a problem, but they have to also take part in seeking assistance to get well. An employer must accommodate drug and alcohol problems only if the employee accepts his or her illness. Part of the problem is that denial is one of the symptoms, so counselling can help with that. It's important to be direct and give examples of where you're concerned (as an employer). It's also important to let the employee know that his or her job could be at risk if the problem isn't dealt with. Of course, you offer whatever supports you can - but at some point - the employee either recovers (and we continue to help them for a period of time) or the employee stays drinking and using. There is no exact number of times, it's very situation and employer dependent - but accommodation is to the point of undue hardship and that also means how employee morale is impacted (it's not just about dollars and cents)

  • Michel Jorden on 2015-02-18 4:29:12 AM

    It is important that as a manager and investors always provide help to all employees, whether they are suffering in crisis, and they have any other problems. Any human resource consultant always suggest this because engage with the employees must be important for business success.

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