Tackling addiction: helping an employee in crisis

Employees facing drug or alcohol problems not only put their own lives at risk, but also the safety of others in the workplace. Here’s how to help them before it’s too late.

Tackling addiction: helping an employee in crisis
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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