How do you deal with drug use by a boss?

If other employees ask why their manager is off work, here’s what HR professionals need to do

How do you deal with drug use by a boss?

Employee substance abuse can be a challenge for HR professionals – but when a manager is affected, the issue can require even more delicate handling.

Tania Archer, director of business development at treatment services provider Renascent, says there may initially be few clues that someone has a substance abuse problem.

“Work is often protected by the person affected, and the illness is usually in the later stages and more advanced when it becomes apparent in the workplace,” she says.

“If an employee expects their supervisor or manager is demonstrating poor behaviours and showing signs and symptoms of impairment, they should contact HR and or the CEO immediately, as safety is everyone’s responsibility,” she says.

It’s important for companies to have a drug and alcohol policy in place, so all employees know what is expected of them – and so organizations are ready to support them if an issue does arise.

“Enabling employees [to continue their drug use] or deciding to not do anything is ... hazardous, not only to the workplace but to the individual affected, as substance use disorders are progressive, and left untreated, can lead to greater health impacts, further risks of harm and potentially death,” Archer says.

“Ensuring employee and workplaces are safe is the responsibility of all employers and can be held liable in the event of an incident.”

Treatment, too, shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Archer says the best place to start is to have the staffer complete an assessment to help determine the most appropriate treatment option for them.

It’s important that HR protects the privacy of an employee who’s dealing with a drug or alcohol problem – regardless of their status in the company – and if staff question why their boss isn’t at work, HR shouldn’t reveal any details.

“Due to the stigma surrounding addiction, getting help or seeking treatment for substance use disorders is often ‘taboo’, and as a manager, they may feel greater shame than a regular employee,” Archer says.

As with other health issues requiring leave, a worker or manager requires a note from their doctor explaining that they’ll be absent, but they don’t need to disclose the reason why.

It’s important for HR to develop a comprehensive return to work plan with the manager, and ask how they would like to be supported, Archer says.

However, it’s up to the individual to decide if they want to disclose their reason for absence to their colleagues - and treatment providers can help individuals work through those types of issues.

Archer adds: “Leading organizations understand the value associated with investing in their employees and creating a culture that promotes employee wellness and safety is an investment that more than pays for itself. Any employee who seeks out help is courageous and they should be supported.”

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