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How to Handle Employees with Addiction Issues


In our last blog we talked about identifying substance abuse in the workplace. As a manager, if you ignore workers with addiction issues, your business will suffer in one way or another over time. Identifying them is only the first step, however. Dealing with substance abusers on your payroll is more challenging. What should you do to limit the impact of substance abuse or addiction issues on your company?

Document, Document, Document

As with any employee issue, it’s vital that you document any and all negative behavior. This would of course include signs of substance abuse on the job but also tardiness, absenteeism, problems with other workers, and mistakes or lapses in their work. Taking the time to write these issues down will help you identify substance abuse patterns, and it will also be useful if you have to dismiss the worker. You will then be able to justify the decision to both the employee and any authority they might choose to appeal to.

Talk to Your Lawyer

If your employee does choose to fight disciplinary action or dismissal, you need to know what you are up against. U.S. labor law is complex in how it intersects with addiction, and a lawyer will be able to advise you about what rights your employees have and what the law requires of your company if they decide to seek treatment for their addiction while they are still employed.

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Determine What Resources Exist

Larger companies will often pay for their employees to have access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are confidential workplace services that provide counseling or referrals to employees to help them deal with stressors or life issues including alcohol and substance abuse. If your company has an EAP available to its employees, use that resource. Make a referral to the EAP and talk to an EAP counselor about how to confront the employee. The counselor can help you devise a plan of how to approach them.

 Most auto repair shops do not work in conjunction with EAPs. If the company provides health insurance, however, that insurance may include counseling or outpatient treatment for addictions. The local community may also offer some helpful services as well. Make a list of all community services and print them out. Even if you don’t think your employee will take advantages of them, it’s still good to know what is out there for them if they want to get their addiction under control.

Confront the Employee

Gather your documentation and ask to meet with the employee in a private place with no distractions or listening ears. Do not diagnose your employee, but focus on the problems that have occurred at work and why they are not acceptable. Remain calm and do not be distracted by emotional appeals. The point of the confrontation is to let the employee know that his work performance has been poor and impacted the company negatively.

People with addictions have complex coping mechanisms and are good at denying problems, making excuses, or turning accusations around. It can be easy to be distracted if they get angry or emotional, but your job as a manager is to keep the company running smoothly. If an employee’s substance abuse issues get in the way, they have to be dealt with. It’s much better if the company already has policies and procedures in place for dealing with infractions. Be firm and clear about what disciplinary measures you will take and what will happen to the employee going forward.

When you are done detailing the reasons for this discipline, you can give the employee the list of the resources you gathered. Again, do not diagnose him. You should make it clear that you are following the policies and procedures your company has already established for problems with job performance.

None of the above is particularly enjoyable for a manager. Substance abuse is hard. No one likes to cause more trouble to a person who is already struggling. Unfortunately, if these problems are left unaddressed, they will make everyone’s life more difficult – including the addict’s. If you follow the above tips, it should help reinforce to the employee that the problem, from the standpoint of the company, is that his work is unsatisfactory. If you have his work history documented, that will make any action you have to take simpler and more defensible.