Employee Struggling with Drugs or Alcohol?
5 steps to take if you suspect alcohol or substance abuse
You suspect it. You’re worried about it. But you can’t prove it outright. Having an employee who appears to be abusing drugs or alcohol can challenge any manager, and it can be a minefield of legal, ethical and privacy issues. Consider taking these five steps if you suspect an employee of abuse:
- Look for the signs. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol and drug abuse can manifest in a number of ways. Substance abusers may neglect their responsibilities or have difficulty interacting professionally with others. Their attendance and performance may suffer, and their hygiene or physical appearance may deteriorate. Of course, any of these behaviors may have causes besides substance abuse, so it’s best not to jump to conclusions.
- Focus on performance. While a change in behavior may raise concern, it is performance alone that requires action. If your employee or direct report behaves in a way that disrupts the workplace or affects his or her effectiveness, intervene immediately but sensitively. In a private conversation, relate your observations and concerns, and stress the need for improvement. Do not accuse, but allow your employee to offer an explanation, and use that response to devise a solution.
- Document everything. Your company should have a clear policy about drug and alcohol use in the workplace that also addresses what happens if an employee arrives under the influence. You and your managers should document employee performance not only with periodic evaluations, but also as incidents occur.
- Research your options. If performance issues continue, develop an action plan. Speak with your HR director, if you have one, or with an attorney familiar with employment law to understand what would be best for your company and your employee.
- Take action. Even though issues of substance abuse are rarely clear-cut, you must nonetheless take decisive action. If your employee won’t take responsibility for his or her behavior and shows no improvement, take disciplinary action according to your company’s policies, up to and including termination.
The worst thing to do in cases of suspected substance abuse is nothing at all. Only by addressing the situation head-on can you assure the safety and effectiveness of your workplace and your employees.
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