Substance Use and the Workplace
How to Handle an Employee with Substance Abuse Issues
Substance abuse in a work environment is particularly tricky to deal with. If you run a business, or are another employee that is concerned about a coworker, it is important to handle the situation with caution. In particular, it is important to be able to recognize signs of substance abuse, handle an employee who appears under the influence, and know how to promote a drug-free work environment.
Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse
Watch out for unusual behavior.There are an array of symptoms that might point to a person being on drugs, because it will depend upon the drug and its properties. For some, drugs will make them drowsy, relaxed, and happy. Other people who abuse substances tend to be very energetic and erratic in their behavior. You may notice that the person is always on the move but never seems to actually achieve anything. Other behaviors to look out for include:
- Acting irrationally or rashly, without thinking about the consequences.
- Having trouble concentrating. The person may also have a very short attention span and does not stick to projects for long.
- Forgetting important meetings and events.
Watch out for a person who does risky activities.Many substance abusers tend to gravitate towards risky or treacherous activities. This is because, it part, they do not consider the consequences of their actions. Because of their poor judgement, they may:
- Make faulty decisions.
- Indulge in detrimental behaviors that may be harmful to themselves or others.
- Have a lot of legal issues.
- Always be out of money.
Take note if someone has a bad track record of destroying property.Someone who is abusing substances may have a track record of breaking things and mismanaging items around the office. You may also notice that the person loses things a lot, or is always asking to borrow other people’s things because they broke or lost their own items.
Keep track of nervous or confused behaviors.A person who is abusing drugs may develop a nervous attitude when they get to work. The person may speak quickly but without really thinking about what they are saying. On the flip side, the person may also talk very confidently about something that they actually know very little about.
Keep track of how often the suspected person misses work.A substance abuser may miss work often, either because they are abusing drugs or are trying to hide the fact that they are high. Their excuses may be weak or lack any backing.
Handling an Employee Who Appears Under the Influence
Do not accuse anyone of being an addict.If you do not have proof it is generally wise to avoid accusing the person of being an addict. This is because some psychological disorders have similar signs. Instead, if the person has not done anything specifically wrong, continue to monitor the person’s work.
- If you are a fellow employee and strongly suspect someone of abusing drugs, consider bringing the subject up with your boss, without accusing the person directly or explicitly. Your boss will then be able to begin monitoring the person’s work.
Keep track of the suspected abuser’s behavior.Keep a written record of your observations, including dates and times. If possible, try to have a witness for each observation that you list (such as someone else who was in the room when the suspected person began irrationally yelling at a co worker for something that the suspected person had actually done). Be attuned to the person’s odor, whether his or her eyes are glassy, speech issues, and whether they appear drowsy.
Send an employee home if they appear under the influence.If you think a person may be under the influence of drugs, but you are not sure, get another supervisor as your witness, take the employee aside, and tell the person to go home. Do not allow him to drive if you can avoid it. Then:
- Talk to the person the next day and ask them to explain their behavior. There may be a reason other than substance abuse that was causing the person to act the way that they did the previous day. If they can give no viable reason, go over the company's policies again and urge the person to seek help.
Offer support or advice.If the person comes clean and confesses to abusing drugs (which is unlikely but possible), help the person to get the support that they need. Try to help them learn more about the resources available to them. Many companies offer educational materials and other resources to employees that are struggling with substance abuse.
- Create a list of treatment plans or facilities, as well as some support groups in the area.
Avoid spending time alone with someone you suspect is a substance abuser.If you are the one that will meet with the person, do so with an observer to help keep the situation under control. A substance abuser may act irrationally or aggressively, even if you have always known the person to by a kind person. Drugs have a way of changing a person’s personality. Try to maintain a distance from the person if you suspect that they are abusing drugs but do not have evidence to prove it.
- Do not try to confront the suspected abuser alone. While not all drug abusers are violent, drugs can change the way a person acts, and the person may resort to violence to keep you from telling anyone.
Report a person if you think they might put others in danger.If you are concerned that the person may harm you are someone else in your office, you should report the person to the authorities. Do not try to engage with the person if the person is acting aggressively or violently.
- You should also try to keep others from engaging with the person. If possible, isolate the person until the authorities are able to get to your office.
Promoting a Drug-Free Work Environment
Make the rules about drug use at work clear.If you are a supervisor or owner of an organization, you should take steps to make your workplace drug free. Create rules and regulations that are discussed with each employee. This way, when you do have a situation with an employee, you have clear steps in place to deal with the issue. One issue to think about is whether your workplace will engage in drug testing to be sure that employees are drug-free.These rules should be clearly stated and should include information about:
- How employees will be terminated if they are caught with drugs in the office.
- How employees are not allowed to drink or smoke anywhere on the premise, unless at a company function that allows for those substances to be consumed.
- How employees will be terminated if they come to work while under the influence.
Consider creating a drug testing program.One way to ensure that you office is a drug-free workplace is to set up random drug tests. When a person is hired at your company, alert them to the fact that random drug tests can occur and that they will be asked to leave the company if any illegal drugs are found in their system. Wait a few weeks before enacting this rule. This time will allow any current drug users to amend their ways and seek help if needed.
Make consequences clear.The consequences of abusing drugs must be made clear to all employees and should be implemented without exception. Of course, the punishments will vary, depending on your company, demands, environment, etc. Try to create consequences that are fair but serious.
- For instance, you may ask a person to resign as a harsh consequences of drug abuse.
- On the other hand, you may choose to cut a person’s salary if they are found with drugs.
Educate your employees about the signs of drug abuse.To help keep your work environment safe, teach your employees how to recognize the signs that someone is abusing drugs.
- You could run seminars for your employees, or hang up signs with the major signs that may mean that someone is abusing drugs.
Teach stress management.Stress is one reason that may lead someone to begin to abuse drugs. Because of this, it is important to teach your employees stress management as a way to handle stress without turning to substances. You could create a seminar for your employees in which they are taught various stress management techniques.
- You should also make sure that your employees know that they can take a break if they are feeling very stressed.
Video: Substance Abuse in the Workplace
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