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Addiction in the Workplace: Tips for Employers

Posted 8/30/2017 by UHBlog

Do you know the signs and symptoms of addiction? Talk to us about ways to handle this growing issue.

Addiction in the Workplace: Tips for Employers

When employees come to work, do they leave their life challenges at the door?

Of course not. Personal problems often creep into the workplace, including alcohol and substance use disorders.

"Substance abuse in the workplace is more common than the average person would think," says employee assistance program (EAP) manager Jill Fulton, LISW-S, LICDC. "Estimates are that 9.4 percent of people will have an addiction or have been addicted in their lifetime."

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), 70 percent of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. NCADD estimates that drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually. Alcohol abuse is costly as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that excessive alcohol consumption cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006.

The problem is on the rise, Fulton says, primarily due to accessibility, stress and other factors. Additionally, certain industries have different cultures – for instance, the construction and restaurant trades – and some of them promote alcohol use, which can easily lead to abuse.

In the workplace, employers are impacted by alcohol and substance use disorders and their consequences in the form of:

  • Lost workplace productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Increased health care expenses
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Increased law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses

Often, drug abuse is caught through pre-employment physicals, but once a person is employed, it might take certain events and behaviors to signal that an employee is struggling with addiction.

“Attendance is often a first clue,” Fulton says. “Employees who often call off on Mondays, Fridays or have a holiday pattern of absences may indicate there’s a problem. There can also be behavioral and performance issues, such as looking disheveled, smelling of alcohol or marijuana, having glassy eyes, falling asleep or being overly exuberant, making a lot of errors or forgetting things.”

If you suspect an addiction problem, Fulton recommends following these guidelines:

  • Document suspicious behaviors. Make sure to offer drug-free workplace training to employees and managers so they know what to look for. If they see suspicious signs and symptoms, they should use a checklist to record what they observe. Additionally, they should have another witness, such as a manager or supervisor, confirm that they are seeing the same issues.
  • Contact your human resources and EAP departments. There are certain procedures that will need to be followed. For instance, the employee may need to undergo an alcohol and/or drug test on the spot.
    ”At University Hospitals, we take the employee off duty until we can confirm their drug test results,” she says. ”The employee also sees one of our EAP staff immediately that day, and we make sure they’re medically and emotionally able to leave.”
  • Protect others. This might entail removing the employee from his or her duties, especially if he or she works in an area that could cause harm to someone else. You also want to ensure the employee won’t harm him – or herself. Finally, make sure the employee gets a ride home from a family member or friend or through a transportation service such as Uber.
  • Develop a plan to address the problem. ”We see addiction as a disease and medical condition,” Fulton says. ”We want employees to get the help they need and will make the referrals to ensure they get treatment.”

This might include:

  • Seeing a chemical dependency treatment center for a formal evaluation and abiding by the treatment center's recommendations, whether that is counseling or partial hospitalization
  • Participating in mandatory meetings
  • Undergoing random drug screening for a certain period of time upon returning to work

“It’s important to establish a good drug-free workplace policy upfront that indicates what will happen if an employee is under the influence of a substance at work. It should include all elements of your EAP program, such as protocols, resources for help and strongly encouraging your employees to seek out help prior to having problems in the workplace,” she says. “It should also cover the consequences of policy violations, as well as what kind of second chances are offered to employees as long as they fully cooperate.”

To learn more about University Hospitals’ occupational health and safety services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Jill Fulton, LISW-S, LICDC, is manager, Employee Assistance at University Hospitals.

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